Sample Lesson: Background Blur


It's All About the Blur...


What is it about a gorgeous blurry background that we can't seem to get enough of when taking pictures of our children? Why do our images tend to feel more "professional" when the background is blurred? And what, exactly, is the secret to achieving it?

It turns out that we love that blurry background effect in photography because it replicates how our brains are used to seeing things! Try this: look at an object somewhere close to you, noticing how the area around it falls out of focus. It's actually uncomfortable for our brains to see a picture with everything in focus; when the background is blurred, however, our brains give a happy and contented "Ahhhhh..." 

Let's Get Down to Business...

Although many of us purchased a DSLR with the intention of seeing a blurry background, achieving the effect can be more difficult than expected. Here are some tips for maximizing that lovely blur:

1. Separate your subject from the background.

One of the easiest ways to increase background blur is to simply put more space between it and the subject. The image below was taken with the exact same distance between the camera and the subject. The only variable here was the distance from the wall:

background distance.jpg
background distance.jpg

2. Get closer to your subject.

Another easy tip for getting more background blur is to move closer to your subject. The closer you are to your subject, the blurrier the background will be!

photographer distance.jpg
distance from subject.jpg

3. Zoom in.

Increasing your focal length is another simple way to boost the blur! Consider putting on your telephoto zoom lens and taking the same image from farther away... you'll see a significant increase in background blur!

focal length.jpg
focal length.jpg

4. Buy a prime lens.

Prime lenses tend to be the go-to lenses of photographers, and for good reason! This kind of lens offer gorgeous background blur and stunning sharpness... two fantastic qualities when you're taking pictures of your kids.

The secret behind the prime lens' blur lies in it's low aperture. Not sure what that means? The aperture is the hole in the lens, which can open up to different sizes:


As the hole gets wider, the background gets blurrier, so a larger aperture is more advantageous than a smaller one. Prime lenses are notorious for having apertures that open wider than most zoom lenses, which is why they're an easy choice if you're hoping to get blurrier backgrounds in your images.


Once you've put the prime lens on your camera, turn the mode dial from Auto to "A" (Nikon or Sony) or "Av" (Canon or Pentax). The use the main dial to bring your aperture number as low as possible. You should see a wonderful difference in the amount of blur!

 31760068 - 50mm camera lens on white

Purchasing a Prime Lens

Buying your first prime lens doesn't have to break the bank! Prime lenses are have a fixed focal length, meaning they don't zoom in and out (your legs will be doing the zooming!), so you'll want to look for a lens with medium-range focal length (50mm or 35mm are ideal for everyday shooting).


Below are links to some commonly-purchased prime lenses that are ideal for taking pictures of everyday family life:

Creative Prompts

  • Take a beautiful close-up of each of your children, paying close attention to how the background looks when you photograph them closer-up and further away. If you have a zoom lens, experiment with that too!

  • Go for a photo walk with your child, stopping along the way to practice. Look for backgrounds that would look better when blurry... a row of bushes, a brick wall, a group of trees, etc...

  • Look for a place in or around your home with a fixed, textured background and ample space in front of it to experiment with these new concepts. Try moving closer to and further from your subject and bringing your subject further from the background, noticing the differences in background blur.

We hope you have learned some new tips and tricks! Sign up for our classes to learn even more: