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Taking better photos of your kids- Part 2 – Blurry Backgrounds

Sleeping toddler natural light f2.0 Av mode shooting

Go get your camera

So hopefully you completed the first task I gave you in Part 1, and you’ve taken your camera out of storage and put it somewhere visible to you. I’m also hoping you’ve set your camera to Av (Aperture Priority) and you’ve been experimenting with photos for the past few days. If so, great! You will be slightly more comfortable with holding and using your camera and hopefully less worried about breaking it.

Now that you have been using Av for a while we can talk about what Av actually does and what Aperture is. Camera settings can be a bit confusing but if you take them one at a time it’s less daunting.

How to get Blurry Backgrounds

Many people who are interested in learning about photography want to know how to make “blurry backgrounds” in their photos. If you use Instagram then you’ll know there’s a filter on there that blurs the background and if you have an Iphone then you use portrait mode to do this as well. The “blurry background” is usually the first thing that someone notices to tell the difference between a photo taken with a point and shoot camera and one taken on a “nice camera” (SLR) We will talk about what aperture is and how you can use it to get blurry backgrounds for your photos.

What is Aperture?

Naturally you might be wondering, what makes the background blurry in these photos? There are a few different ways to make the subject in focus and the background “blurry” 1 is through a slow shutter speed and another is by using a small f stop number. We will talk about shutter speed later so for now we will just talk about Aperture.

Example of Aperture from Wikipedia

The Aperture is the opening to your lens, the hole that lets light into your camera to expose your film or be captured on your digital camera’s sensor. The aperture is created by pieces inside the lens sliding open or closed to let more light in. A small opening is created with a large number ex. f8 and a big opening is created with a small number ex f1.4. This is because the opening is measured as 1/8 or 1/1.4. If you want to read a wikipedia article to understand aperture more you can follow this link. For simplicity sake just remember small number = big opening, large number = small opening.

How does aperture affect depth of field?

After explaining this many times over the years I have tried to come up with a way to remember this and so far the best memory aide I’ve come up with is if you look at the lenses above, if the white opening is the lead of the pencil then compare the pencils for f 1.4 and f 8.0. F 1.4 is a thick lead and you won’t be able to draw fine detailed drawings, lead f8 is a thin lead which is perfect for sharp detailed drawings. F1.4 is blurry, f8 is sharp.

What is depth of field?

This analogy is helpful but doesn’t explain why or how depth of field works so I will tell you the best analogy I have heard so far. If you think of a loaf of bread and you look down the length of the bread, each slice of bread represents a plane of focus in your depth of field. If you use f1.4 you can only see 1 slice of bread in focus but if you use f8 you can see the whole loaf in focus. The f1.4 has a smaller depth of field and the f8 has a longer depth of field.

If that is still confusing for you I found a short video that does a good job of explaining aperture in a visual way

Video Explanation of Aperture and depth of field

What Aperture should I use?

Now that we have covered what aperture is and what it does to your photos we can focus on the thing that many moms would like and that is to get a photo of their child with the background blurry. If you want to get the strongest affect for a blurry background (the smallest depth of field) then you will want to set your lens to the smallest f stop number. Each lens has a range of aperture numbers that it can do. On the side of your lens you will see your lens focal length 35mm with a number underneath 1:2 is shown here in this example below. This lens’s smallest fstop number (widest aperture) is f2. You can find a row of numbers along the bottom of the lens that show 22–> 1.8 this lens aperture can be set between f22 and f1.8. So for this lens the f you would want to use is f1.8 for the blurriest backgrounds. Most kit lenses that come with your camera will not have as wide an aperture option and usually don’t go lower than f4.5, what that means is that you won’t be able to get a really blurry background using the aperture.

What lens is best for you?

If you decide you would like to buy a new lens for your camera so you can start experimenting with small aperture numbers to get really blurry backgrounds then you will have to make a few choices about what you will be using your lens for. If you are doing landscape, portraits, weddings, bird watching- you will want different lenses for each of these genres. For the purposes of this post I will assume you are a mom and you want to take portraits of your kids at home and so I will suggest you start with the 50mm lens. The nifty fifty will give you a natural look without too much facial distortion and is wide enough to use in most settings. The other wonderful thing about the 50mm lens is that you can buy a very inexpensive lens with a nice wide aperture. The Canon 50mm 1.8 is a great lens and will only cost you about $150. Compare that to the 50mm 1.2L which will cost you $2,120. That’s a huge difference for a difference between f1.8 and f1.2.

Phew! I hope I didn’t lose you there but I promise if you take each camera setting on it’s own you can break down how your camera works with the least amount of stress.

If you missed part one be sure to check it out next by following this link

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Portrait Photographer Cloverdale BC