Using Aperture to Create a Soft Background
a.k.a. Shallow Depth-of-Field
A shallow depth-of-field is a powerful technique used by photographers and videographers, which allows the background (and sometimes foreground) to go soft and blurry while maintaining sharpness on your subject. The benefit of this is that it brings more visual focus to the subject. With other elements occupying the background of a photo, the subject can sometimes get a bit lost in the commotion. Sometimes the background has so much going on that it is simply too distracting, and so you can make it all but vanish with a shallow depth-of-field.
The depth-of-field of a photo refers to the distance between the nearest and farthest objects that appear acceptably sharp. The driving force behind depth-of-field is your aperture. The aperture is an opening within your lens. The size of the opening is controlled by blades that slide together to make the opening larger and smaller. The larger the opening, the shallower the depth-of-field.
The size of the aperture is measured by a ratio called the f-number, or f-stop. The smaller the f-number, the larger the opening of your aperture. For example, an f-number of f/1.4 creates a very shallow depth-of-field. How large the opening can be will depend upon the individual lens. Your lens should have the maximum aperture listed somewhere on the barrel.
A few tips to optimize shallow depth-of-field:
- Move your subject farther away from the background.
- Move the camera closer to your subject.
- Shoot with a longer focal length (wide angle lenses don’t produce a very shallow depth-of-field).
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Gear recommendations, and gear used in this video:
The lens I was holding is a Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto lens. The video was shot on a Nikon D750, with a Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 lens. The aperture in the photos is from the same 50mm f/1.4, which is a terrific lens for shallow depth-of-field shooting, and it’s affordable.
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