Thursday, May 22, 2014


My favorite use of f/stops is to convert backgrounds, especially ugly ones, into nice, pleasing backdrops. Given the right conditions, those converted backdrops can look like 
I was in the studio and pulled down a backdrop to suit my subject. 

There are a few factors to remember that will help us achieve that illusion.
1) Select wider f/stops, like f/2.8, f/4, f/5. Your choice will depend on exactly what it is you 
    want your image to look like.
2) Don't get too far from your subject. The closer you are, the easier it is to blur the 
    background. Different lenses create different-looking blur effects. But, any type of blur is 
    better than too much depth of field. Caution: be aware of how close your lens can focus!
3) The distance of the background from your main subject. The farther the background 
    elements are from your subject, the easier it will be to blur them out.
4) A 100mm lens will create more blur than a 17mm lens, given the same f/stop. The   
    reason for that is that the actual f/stop diameter size is larger in the 100mm lens, or any 
    large focal length lens. I take advantage of that when I want to distance myself from my 
    subject, yet still get some nice blurred backgrounds.
5) The focusing point is very critical. It doesn't help, even at an f/2.8, if I focus on the 
    background, or close to it, instead of my subject. The technique I use to maximize the 
    amount of background blur is "selective focusing"-- I shoot in manual focus, so I can 
    carefully and selectively choose the point within the scene which I want to focus on.

Here are a couple of examples to illustrate the above points. I could have blurred the background even more for the second image. Ordinarily, I would have chosen f/2.8 or f/3.2.  Additionally, I could have done some selective focusing on the first example to increase the non-blur effect. However, I chose the f/stops I used to illustrate that, even with less expensive lenses, you can still blur the background. The focus point was on the center of the yellow flower, for both images, because that would be a typical thing to do--not the way 
I would do it. Again, I did so to illustrate that anyone can do this.

At f/22, the flower doesn't stand out like I would like. The background is not blurred sufficiently to give me that backdrop effect. Therefore, the background competes with the flower for attention. Also, the image looks too one-dimensional with that minimal blur in the background.
Much better, even at f/5.6. The flower really stands out. The background doesn't compete for attention the way it does in the first one. And, sharpness in the foreground, contrasted against the blurred background, gives this image more of a two-dimensional effect. 

This simple technique to photography is a great way to make a one-dimensional object, a photograph, appear to be two-dimensional. Through the creative use of f/stops, we can produce artistic results which we are not used to seeing with the naked eye--and therein lies the beauty and fun of photography!
You can find other examples of this technique on my website, in my Abstracts & Close-Ups room. See if you can spot them.

So, now go out there and explore, experiment, push the envelope, and have fun with it. Enjoy!