Background blur and bokeh are the current rage in photography. As soon as a person gets their first dSLR, they often quickly fall into the trap of trying to get the background of their images ultra creamy and blurry. I love bokeh. I love blurred backgrounds. I love shallow depth of field. I understand why those starting out as photographers want it too.
Bokeh and blur may come at a price.
Often times as photographers aim to get shallow depth of field, the result is blurred ears, hair, sometimes one eye out of focus, or missed focus where the subject appears soft. Shooting at f1.4 or 2.0 when you are learning might be the very reason your images aren’t as sharp others. Have you ever taken images off your camera to find that many have just one eye in focus and the other is soft?
In the image below, of my daughter Ellie, I was using the Canon 50 1.2 lens at f2.2. I was close to her and focused on the eye closest to me. But since her head was tilted, the back eye is slightly soft. I corrected most of the softness by using the Sharp as a Tack from the Eye Doctor Photoshop action, applied just to the out of focus eye.
With that fix, it is no longer a deal breaker on this image, but on some, it could be. I love how her hair is soft as it gets further away, but the background was black and I could have been at f22 and it would not have mattered. If I had shot this at f4.0, both eyes would have been in focus. I’m not suggesting what I did was horrible or wrong, but that you should make these decisions knowing the impact. Analyze your camera data after each shoot and learn from it for the next time.
As photographers we often love the artistic. But much of the general public does not understand a photo like this one below of my daughter Jenna. Shallow DOF, eyes are tack sharp as they are on the same plane, but earrings are out of focus and top of head is chopped. This photo was shot with the Canon 70-200 2.8 IS II. Settings: 1/500 sec, f/2.8, ISO 100.
If I shot this at 4.0 or 5.6, the background still would be blurry as it was very far away, I was close to her, and I was using a long lens (at 190mm). I like the impact at 2.8. But as you are starting out as a photographer, you may have been better off at f4.0. And even professionals and seasoned photographers might want to reconsider if you always shoot shallow. Try to mix it up.
There are very valid reasons for shooting a more wide open apertures, whether it’s low light or you really want the fall off on the face as I did above. But understand WHY you are shooting with the numbers. That is the key.
There’s more than one way to get a blurred background.
If you start learning more about depth of field, you will realize that not only does your focal length and aperture play a role. Two other key factors are the distance from yourself to the subject and the distance of your subject to the background.
Who is ready for a challenge? For one week, unless needed for your professional work to do otherwise, take all your portrait images at f4 to f11. Experiment and come share your results on our Facebook Group. Tell us your thoughts. Be conscience of the background and try to separate your subject from it without rushing to f1.8. If you are a newer photographer, we’d love to hear from you in the comments too. Did this help you get more images in focus? What did you learn?