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The lens, of course, isn’t the only thing that plays a role in creating a blurrier background. What follows are some tips on how to bring together a number of factors that will help you achieve the “best” possible bokeh in your shots.

  1. Use a large aperture. To be more specific, use the largest aperture (smallest f-number) available on your lens. A large aperture decreases depth of field, dramatically isolating focus on a narrow part of your subject. Everything surrounding this focal point will be blurred, thus creating bokeh.
  2. Use a fast lens. Lens speed refers to the maximum aperture (smallest f-number) of a lens; the larger the maximum aperture, the faster the lens is considered to be (f/1.8 is faster than f/4), the more light you can let in, the more you can decrease depth of field, the more likely your image is to exhibit smooth, pleasing to the eye out of focus areas.
  3. Go long. Zoom lenses are often criticized for not being up to par with the image quality of prime lenses (though there are some notable exceptions), but if you have a zoom lens, use it to your advantage. Zooming in on your subject will separate it from the rest of the scene and, depending on your lens, should leave you with beautiful bokeh.
  4. Move the subject closer. The closer you get to your subject, the blurrier the background will be. Every lens has a minimum focusing distance (MFD); this is simply a measure of how close you can be to your subject and still lock focus. The concept of getting in close to your subject while blurring the background is maximized in macro lenses. Any lens can be used this way, however, though to considerably less dramatic effect. And it’s probably not advisable for most portrait work. What will also help is moving the subject further from the background.

Continue to lesson 27: Manual vs. auto focus

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