Creating a Blurry Background with a Kit Lens

May 5, 2011

in Andrea Riley, Camera Tips, Photography Tips, Photography Tutorials

Post image for Creating a Blurry Background with a Kit Lens

Written by: Drew from The Picture Show

The other day, I got to thinking back to when I was a brand new photographer with only my Rebel, an 18-55 kit lens and the zeal to capture beautiful photos.  I started noticing this really cool “effect” that professional photographers achieved…a blurry background.  No matter how hard I tried, the blurry background was not happening.  Sadly, I started thinking that photographers must be creating this with a Gaussian Blur in Photoshop.  (You don’t even want to see those photos I edited!)

Here’s what I learned. It’s difficult to get bokeh with a kit lens but not impossible.

Let’s get started and learn how to accomplish this!

Determining Factors

Here is what helps you determine the blurriness of the background:

1.  Aperture – Make that aperture wide! (which means smaller numbers)
2.  Focal length – Zoom in!
3.  Distance subject is from the background – Pull the subject far away from the background.
4.  Distance photographer is from the subject – Get close to the subject.

Why is it Difficult?

There are two reasons why it is difficult to capture great bokeh with a kit lens:

1.  A kit lens does not have a wide aperture.  Most kit lenses can only open up to 4.0 when zoomed out and 5.6 when zoomed in.  When you consider that higher end lenses range in apertures from 1.2 to 2.8, it’s easy to see how an aperture of 4.0 can be limiting.
2.  A kit lens does not have much zoom.  Most likely, your kit lens reaches a maximum of 55mm.  Photographers that have telephoto lenses that can zoom to 200, 250, 300 and so on can get a blurry background without even trying.

What can I do now?

Since we are working with our kit lens and can’t open the aperture any wider and are similarly limited on zoom, there are two options remaining from the list to work with:

1.  Distance subject is from the background
2.  Distance photographer is from the subject combined with focal length

Creating Bokeh Examples

Let me illustrate with my “model” (he was chosen because I knew he wouldn’t move on me!), Fetch.

Example #1:

In these 2 photos, Fetch is right next to the fence in my backyard.

For consistency, I stayed in AV mode with an ISO of 200 and aperture of 5.6.  I no longer have my kit lens, so I used a lens with similar focal lengths (Tamron 17-50mm).

  • This photo is zoomed out (17mm):


  • In this one, I backed up and zoomed in to 50mm.  Fetch did not move a muscle.

The background is slightly blurrier in the second photo due to  zooming in, but because Fetch is so close to the fence, the difference is negligible.  (A side benefit to zooming in rather than using wide angle is that Fetch’s nose doesn’t look nearly as bulbous.  This applies to people too!)

Example #2:

In the next set of photos, I moved halfway across my (very small) yard.  We are now about 25 feet away from the fence.

  • Again, this one was taken at at 17mm:

Isn’t Fetch a great model?   So cooperative!

  • And now at 50mm:

It may look like Fetch moved, but he is in the same exact position.  The background is blurrier and the fence appears closer.

Example #3:

Next, I moved as far away as I could from the fence (approximately 50 feet).

  • Starting at 17mm again:

  • And changing to 50mm:

The difference in blurriness between the two backgrounds is really starting to show!


In summary, to get a blurry background with a kit lens:

1.  Get the subject as far away from the background as possible.
2.  Back up, fully zoom in on the subject, and then step closer until the subject fills the frame.

Now, just for fun, check out the bokeh you can achieve when you are able to adjust the aperture and/or increase the focal length.

Opening up the Aperture

I took this photo with my 50mm prime lens at 1.4 (wide open) about 25 feet away from the fence:

Fence?  What fence?

Increasing the Focal Length:

This photo was taken at 250mm with the dog about 25 feet away from the fence:

Makes it a little more clear as to why photographers have so many lenses on hand!

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Andrea RileyAndrea Riley is a photographer and teacher from Ohio and a proud member of the I Heart Faces Creative Team.  She and her sister Angie currently specialize in fusion high school senior photography with their company The Picture Show. When not in the role of photographer or teacher, Andrea enjoy spending time with her husband and three children and their dog.  Follow her on her blog Happy Chaos or on Twitter at

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Kakkar July 12, 2014

Thanks for a simple and so informative tutorial …


Andrea June 8, 2012

@Melissa, Generally a prime lens is going to have better quality, but outdoors where it is well-lit, I find the difference less noticeable. For me, the zoom lens provides a little bit more freedom in getting the shots. My sample with the 50mm may not be as vibrant just because the lighting was changing on me quite a bit as I was setting up each shot….sometimes sunny, sometimes with cloud cover. I didn’t custom white balance, so that might be part of the inconsistency in color.


Andrea June 8, 2012

@Becca – One of the best focal lengths for getting your feet wet with achieving blurry backgrounds is the 50mm. (85 is also a great one!) There is a 50mm f/1.8 that is around $100 which help you achieve the effect you’re looking for. The camera has very little to do with achieving a blurry background. Instead, it has much more to do with the focal length and aperture.


Andrea May 16, 2012


Sorry. I just saw this. The 50mm f/1.8 is a great budget lens that allows you to get a taste of what a prime is about without spending lots of money. I have the 50mm f/1.4, and I have a friend who has the f/1.8. Differences I have observed: 1.4 has more solid build quality and it seems to lock focus better. Quality wise, though, you’re going to get a lot of bang for your buck with the 1.8.


Jennie February 23, 2012

I am considering buying a lens for my Rebel…i was told to get the 50mm f/1.8…any thoughts? I have a 6 3/4 year old and I am wanting to take awesome pics of friends and fam…thoughts? Tips? Thanks!!!


fa January 23, 2012

“Distance subject is from the background” is wrong , “Distance subject from the background” is correct


Isabel Varela December 13, 2011

this was so helpful. one of the questions I always wanted to ask someone. thank you so much for this great tutorial!


cassi December 2, 2011

This was a great tutorial thank you


Beth November 10, 2011

So glad I found this! This is so helpful and explained in such basic terms it is really easy to follow. I like that you listed the settings on each photo. Thank you so much! I can’t wait to try some of these techniques.


Mandy October 19, 2011

I am so happy I found this blog!!! I just got my first SLR camera (Rebel) and I just love it! Thank you so much for putting this together!


Becca June 10, 2011

I so happy I just found this blog!
First off I’m NO photographer not in any sense of the word so bear with me. LOL
I just bought my rebel xs yesterday it has the 18-55 lens. I want to take picks of my new g-daughter lots of close-ups with very blurred backs, like her feet with everything else blurred. Should I have bought another camera or could you recommend a lens.
Thank you, Becca


Shianne June 6, 2011

you guys are my hero’s! 🙂 lol ive been wanting to know how to do this for ages and there never seemed to be tutorials that would help out people with camera’s like the Canon T2i or T1i. 🙂


Fake May 30, 2011

You helped me a lot in choosing my lenses!
Bokeh of longer lenses looks better. 50 mm make the model’s nose appear too big! XD



Paula Francovig May 20, 2011

Wowww, this tutorial is so helpful and neat!!!!!!!! Love all the explanations and the fabulous examples!!! Thank you very much!!! Love it!!!


Amy May 18, 2011

I’ve had this explained to me in a workshop but this time it really hit home. Your consistent photos made it so easy to understand. Thanks!


Cécile May 7, 2011

Very clear and neat tutorial! Great job.


Photogirl61 May 6, 2011

Thank you, thank you, thank you! You have cleared the mystery. I have struggled with this very subject since switching from film to digital. The switch to digital was with a kit. It has been driving me nuts trying to get the same type of photos with digital as I could with film.


Snekcip May 6, 2011

Kit lense user here and new to the game!! Thank you for this tutorial!!! I so needed this…now how do you remove the lens cap!! LOL!!!!! Jusssst kidding!!


Armada Volya May 6, 2011

Love this post, glad I found it. Now I’ll go ahead and share it, perhaps it will help someone else.


Amy Locurto May 5, 2011

RT @AngieArthur: Fantastic, simple explanation! –>RT @iheartfaces: Creating a Blurry Background with a Kit Lens


Dana May 5, 2011

LOVE LOVE LOVE! 😀 I love your sense of humor too! LOL And the MODEL! WOW! Perfect! 😀

Thanks Drew, VERY well written!


Gina @ Chic Homeschool Mama May 5, 2011

I LOVE posts like this- they help tremendously for us newbies!! Thanks!!!


Jenny May 5, 2011

I LOVE this explanation – I have had such a hard time understanding the difference between prime; focal length; aperture; zooming or not zooming; wide angle… phew! Trying to think of all of that at once makes my head spin.

This was absolutely a “Fetching” article {a’hem} … delightful 🙂


Life with Kaishon May 5, 2011

This was such a great post. Thanks for sharing! I know this will help many. Me included : ) P.S. I would LOVE to see your gaussion blur examples… I know they are stunning!


Marisa May 5, 2011

Love the comparison shots! Thank you for taking the time to do this!


Megan May 5, 2011

THANK YOU from all of us beginners who only have our kit lens (for now). I am off to photograph (for real) a flock of plastic flamingos in my front yard, so Fetch had good timing as an assistant teacher!


LeeAnn Townsend May 5, 2011

Creating Bokeh with a Kit Lens | Photo Challenges, Photography …: Beginner photographers learn how to create b…


Natalie May 5, 2011

@babybabylemon Did you see this: ?? Maybe it's kind of obvious, but nice that they touched on the subject.


Angie May 5, 2011

Fantastic, simple explanation! –>RT @iheartfaces: Creating a Blurry Background with a Kit Lens


Marie May 5, 2011

GREAT POST! I’m a beginner so I really value these types of posts. More please.

Fortunately, my friend who is a talented photographer recommended I buy a body only camera and use the savings to put toward the Sigma 30mm 1.4. Great lens, even better bokeh. 🙂


Angelica May 5, 2011

Its not hard, I did it by accident all the time when I first got my d3000. It just LOOKS hard haha.
I have the 18-55mm kit lens and bokeh all day with it. Its the smaller of my two lens and I shoot nature so I use it for my close ups. The above tips will pretty much get you at least a blurred background if not bokeh circles. Good explanation!


Tess May 5, 2011

I had to figure out all of that on my own when I first started. Great advice!


Susan Keller May 5, 2011

Drew –
you’re totally brilliant! Fetch’s nose looks “less bulbous” and “this works with people, too!” 😀 You just handed IHF readers gold on a platter …


Leasa May 5, 2011

Thank you so much for this. I have been wanting to achieve this and got lucky a couple of times but wasn’t sure how it happened. Now I know how to make it work with my kit lens. Its what I’ve got for now so I need to make it work. Thank You!!


valerie May 5, 2011

I’M LOVING THESE TUTORIALS!!! I’m finally learning to use my DSLR (that hubby gave me only a year and a half ago!). Maybe if I learn to fully use it I might have an excuse to buy a real lense. 🙂

Thanks iheartfaces!
Keep the tutorials coming…


Kel May 5, 2011

Thank you so much for this tutorial!
I love these kind of shots, and I haven’t been about to figure out how to do it with my kit lens, which is 18 – 55mm.

Now I am going to have to go and try this! 😀


Laura May 5, 2011

This was fantastic way to explain dof and also to prove that you CAN do it with limited equipment. Getting rid of my kit lens was one of THE best things I could have done for my photography. But, man when thats all I had I rocked it and other people can too! Now you have me drooling over your 1.4! Glass envy never ends! 🙂


Melissa May 5, 2011

This was really great, thank you for posting. I always question if it’s best to use my 50mm outside (since it a better lens) or use my zoom lens, like you explained above. It seams close up I love the 50mm, but the color is not as vibrant as will the zoom. Any tips there? Thanks!


Heather May 5, 2011

What an awesome and simple tutorial!! Love these kind of shots, in all formations 🙂


Tracy P. May 5, 2011

Drew, you are my hero! New camera and kit lens are my reality, and I am so very lucky to have them. Thank you (Angie and Amy too!) for keeping iheartfaces relevant to non-pro photographers trying to get the most out of what we have. This post is perfect for demonstrating the “what and why”. Beautifully done with your adorable model. 🙂


Inspired by christy May 5, 2011

This is a Fabulous tutorial for people! I have people asking me this all the time and it’s so hard to explain….now I’ll just refer them to this post!


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