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Do You Love Blurred Backgrounds?

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I would say that about ninety percent of the time, I photograph using aperture priority. Aperture refers to how wide the camera lens opening is set. It really is easier for me to capture kids in changing light with a camera set on aperture priority. I have an exposure dial on top of my camera that makes adjustments faster than adjusting the dials for manual mode. In addition, the eye instinctively focuses on what is sharpest in a photograph. When I use a wider aperture I can manipulate focus so that I get a sharp subject on a softly blurred background. To say that I love the look of a softly blurred background with a tack sharp subject would be an understatement. I have been fascinated with aperture since my first DSLR late in 2010. That’s also why I have used prime lenses almost exclusively up until recently; they have wider apertures. Prime lenses are the ones with the fixed focal length. Oh, I bought an 18-55mm f/2.8-4 zoom with my Fuji X-T1 two years ago. I have used it, but I never thought it was as good as my older macro lens for blurring backgrounds.

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However, last fall, following a discussion with Michael, a professional photographer teaching a class I am taking, I learned that there is something else that contributes to blurred backgrounds. It’s called compression. Basically it means that even if I am further from my subject with a longer focal length lens, the distance from my subject to the background doesn’t change. It flattens so that the background objects appear larger and closer to the subject. That creates some blur in the background.

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For the last four months, I’ve been trying to understand how this concept of compression works with an 18-135mm zoom lens, equivalent to a 27-206mm on a full frame camera, that I purchased on sale at my camera store. I have used it far more than any of my other lenses in the last four month, more than ninety percent of the time. However, for yesterday’s class, I decided to bring along my 60mm macro for comparison purposes. While my macro lens doesn’t focus as quickly, I didn’t think it would matter since the flowers I wanted to photograph weren’t going anywhere quickly. My macro lens does produce a beautiful bokeh with a wide aperture.

What’s my take away from experimenting in class? The zoom created some lovely blur when I zoomed out, especially when close to my subject. For the butterfly hanging from the ceiling above me, I used my zoom lens, 1/500 sec at f/5.6, ISO 400, 135mm. Did you notice the spider web on the antennae? Yet the background is softly blurred and the subject sharp at f/5.6. For the second photograph, I used my 60mm macro, 1/320 sec at f/8, ISO 1250. I wanted to see how much blur I would get up close with a narrower aperture. On the third photograph, I again zoomed out to 135mm, 1/320 sec at f/8, ISO 4000. Looking at the flower petals, I think I may have moved just a bit as I snapped the shutter button. (I’ll bring a monopod next time.)

For the images below, I used both my 60mm macro and 18-135mm zoom lenses. Can you tell which lens I used based on the backgrounds of these photographs?

The photograph of the orange orchids was taken with the zoom, 1/320 sec at f/5.6, ISO 2500, 88mm. The other four were taken with my macro. I still have a lot to learn, but I like the idea that I can blur my backgrounds by changing the aperture of a lens and by using the compression of longer lenses when zoomed out and/or close to a subject. I am going to tell Michael that I liked the Velvia film simulation mode too. The colors are more vivid than standard, but perfect for flowers I think. Yes, I still have lots to learn!!

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2 Comments

  1. Adryane

    Beautiful photos and an interesting read. I do see the spiderweb!

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