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Wedding with blurred background.(Photo by: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Secrets of taking good pictures: Professional touch
Photography expert Tom Langford gives his advice on how to turn an average shot into the perfect photograph.

As you can see, the wider zoom captures a wider expanse of background. Although the background is slightly out of focus, it'is full of distracting detail and certainly does not have an artistic look to it.

In this next picture I have marked a small area of the background in green.

If I now move backwards to a distance of about four meters the relative sizes of the subject and background will be greatly affected. I will have to use the telephoto end of the zoom to frame a similar shot and produce the result shown below.

The telephoto end of the zoom captures much less of the background - exactly the amount I had marked in green. Since a smaller area of the background now fills the frame, it appears to be "stretched" and more out of focus than before. It has that arty, blurred effect that you used to get so easily with film SLRs.

The next time you take a portrait try using this technique of shooting from further away than usual and zooming in. Not only will the background be more out of focus, but you will find it's easier to select an uncluttered area to artfully blur. Of course if the background is too close to the subject it will be in focus too; it’s best if the background is about two meters or more behind the person.


I mentioned apertures and their effect on the depth of field. The pictures above were all taken at about the same aperture, F5, set automatically by the camera. In very bright conditions the camera may set a very small aperture, such as F20 and the background will probably look too sharp. In this situation you will have to take control and use the Aperture Priority shooting mode. Simply turn the dial on the top of your camera to the "A" or "Av" position. You will then be able to select the aperture by turning a thumb-wheel or dial. Select a wider aperture such as F5.6, F4, etc.

Compact cameras

Compact cameras have tiny image sensors that produce an enormous depth of field. This is fine for family snapping since you generally want to see everyone in focus. If you would like to explore creative artistic blurred effects, you will need to upgrade to a SLR.

About the only way you will get an out of focus background with your compact camera is to take a really close-up shot. At macro distances depth of field is severely reduced, so if you take a shot of a flower the background will usually be blurred. For most portrait shots, however, the background will be sharp. I would still advise moving further back from the subject and zooming. You will then be able to choose a smaller area of the background to fill the frame and be able to produce a good, clean and uncluttered image.

Send me your picture

If you are aspiring to develop your photography skills, send me a picture and I will publish one at the end of my next article with some constructive feedback. 

Send one picture only, at a reduced size to 

Tom Langford is a commercial photographer, website designer, and professional retoucher. He teaches photography courses for beginners and advanced. Details of his courses and field trips at:

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