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How to blur the Background

Ashish Rajput , Apr 12, 2012; 01:37 a.m.

Hi everyone,

I am an extreme virgin 4 this photography thing and I have a much simpler camera i.e, Nikon coolpix L310. Can anyone suggest me how to blur the background of the images with this camera. Waiting 4 ur response :)

Responses


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John Williamson , Apr 12, 2012; 02:03 a.m.

The blue the background, you need to use the smallest aperture setting your lens will allow AND try to get the objects in the background farther back from the subject.

The smaller aperture makes the range of things in sharp focus more narrow. Your CoolPix camera has a lens aperture range of f1.8 ( which would make lots of things out of focus behind your subject ) all the way to f5.9 which will allow many things in the shot be in focus as well as the subject. To be able to use that 1.8 and the settings slightly above that, you need to stay in the wide angle range of your lens zoom.

Leslie Cheung , Apr 12, 2012; 02:33 a.m.

Use some software programs in post. There's no way to blur the background much with digicams such as your coolpix. Separate the subject and background as much as possible...

JC Uknz , Apr 12, 2012; 03:20 a.m.

John should have said "use the smallest numbered aperture you can" becuase the large apertures have small numbers and small apertures have large numbers. Though with most P&S camera the range is rather limited. The smaller the aperture the greater the DoF. So you want the aperture 'wide open', the biggest you can.
One trick I came up with would be to take half trigger with the camera pointed at something close and then holding HT re-frame for the shot you want. But since you have so much depth of field this is somewhat hairy and not guaranteed ... just an untried but logical idea of mine :-)
Far better is to have a editing programme where you can organise a second copy of the photo stacked [ like plates on the shelf] as 'layers' and you blurr one of them and then erase the sharp bits of the top copy you want blurred to reveal the blurred version below. I use Paint Shop Pro X4 which recently cost me about US$60 at the shop when I updated* ... it is also a very powerful programme which will do many many other things for you ... so a good long term investment if you hope to become more proficient in photography.
*I have been using PSP for best part of a decade now. At first is was mind boggling and I nearly gave it away but in those early days the only alternative was Photoshop v.7 costing about four times as much so I hung in there and now wouldn't be without it.
I also have the free download Paint.Net and did rather roughly and fairly quickly the photo below where I have blurred both foreground, my wife, and background sky and sea. With greater care I expect I could do a better job but it is rather different from PSP which would be easier for me to use. Editing usually is time consuming but I enjoy finishing photos to what I want.


Roughly done using Paint.Net a free download. PSP would make it easier I think.

JC Uknz , Apr 12, 2012; 03:49 a.m.

I cannot find details of the L310 camera but looking at other Lnnn cameras I see that they have no provision to manually adjust the aperture so much of what we have written above is pointless and academic. :-(
The only way you can try to get the background out of focus is to stand back and use the telephoto/long end of your zoom to take your picture. The greater the focal length of the lens the less depth of field it has. Depth of field is the area in front and behind where the camera is focused that appears to be sharp. As well as standing back and using tele you should also follow Leslie's advice of separating subject from background as much as possible.

Andrew Garrard , Apr 12, 2012; 06:35 a.m.

you need to use the smallest aperture setting your lens will allow

The way to avoid this confusion is to realise that apertures are described as f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, etc. Just as 1/2 is bigger than 1/4, f/2.8 is a larger aperture (bigger hole, lets in more light, blurs the background more) than f/4. What's more, you can work out exactly how much blur you're going to get, since "f" means the focal length. Don't miss out the slash (divide) symbol when talking about f-stops - saying "f2.8" is both wrong and confusing. Not that this helps Ashish if the camera doesn't let the aperture be set - although it may be possible to fake this by putting the camera in the right (typically "portrait") scene mode.

The greater the focal length of the lens the less depth of field it has.

That's true, but only just - the depth of field with a subject at a fixed size in the frame and at a given aperture is almost independent of focal length. However, using a longer focal length enlarges the background more, which will make it appeared more blurred. (Just heading off an argument about this technicality.) Bear in mind that with most compact cameras, the maximum aperture (f-stop) will reduce as the lens is extended. It's usually still worth using the long end of the lens, though.

You can blur the background with a compact camera if you're shooting something small - basically, you need the lens to be big compared with the distance to the subject (and subject distance from the background), so you either need a big lens (usually on a DSLR) or a small subject. Photograph a daisy with a compact and the background will be out of focus. To get the background of a portrait out of focus with a camera that only has a small lens, trying to blur the background in software is probably the best bet.

If you have control over what you're doing, a trick that works for still lifes (lives?) is to take a (very) out-of-focus picture of the background, print it large, and put it behind the subject as a backdrop - in the final image, you can't usually see that it's not 3D. It depends what you're shooting, though - printing something large enough to be a backdrop of a group portrait might cost more than just buying a DSLR and fast lens...

I hope that helps.

William W , Apr 12, 2012; 08:27 a.m.

The main difficulty to overcome is the sensor size of these types of cameras.
I understand your camera has a 1/2.3 inch sensor - which is very small.
The smaller the sensor: the less the capacity to achieve a shallow DEPTH of FIELD (DoF).
Also I understand the lens’s range is 4.5~94.5mm at F/3.1~F5.8.

To maximize the Shallow Depth of Field – for example for a Portrait - (i.e. to make the Subject in sharp focus and the background blurred) - you will to need to do the following –

  1. Use the lens at the WIDER Focal Length setting - something about 8mm would be a good start.
  2. Use the lens at the largest aperture available – at FL = 8mm you should be able to get the aperture to be about F/3.5 or F/4.
  3. Set the Subject Close to the camera – about 4ft (1.25mtrs) – if you turn the camera to vertical framing this will make an HALF SHOT Portrait. (i.e. the upper body from the belly button to the head)
  4. Make the background far away from the subject – at least 13ft to 20ft (4 to 6 mtrs).

This will make a Portrait, with a DoF of about 2ft ~ 3ft and a reasonably blurred background.

This is an example making Shallow DoF using a 1/2.5 inch sensor, for a Tight Head Shot using F/3.5 – background is about 12 ft behind:

WW

William W , Apr 12, 2012; 08:41 a.m.

You’ll note that I specifically wrote that you should use the wider end of the lens – there is a mathematical reason for this, and, whilst not wanting to get into long arguments with those who suggested using the telephoto end of the lens – it is simply explained in two points:

  1. As you zoom in (using the telephoto end of the lens), you have much less a large aperture to use AND, most IMPORTANTLY every third stop of aperture is critically important to achieve as shallow DoF as possible, as the sensor of the camera becomes smaller.
  2. For any given camera format, for most useable shooting distances, the DoF will remain the same for any given FRAMING, using any given APERTURE. This means that the TIGHTER you can frame the Subject and the LARGER the aperture you use - the shallower the DoF will be .

So the trick is to use a WIDER Focal Length (so long as the image looks OK and not distorted) so that you can use the LARGEST APERTURE and also get the Subject as far away from the background as possible.

WW

William W , Apr 12, 2012; 09:00 a.m.

That's true, but only just - the depth of field with a subject at a fixed size in the frame and at a given aperture is almost independent of focal length. However, using a longer focal length enlarges the background more, which will make it appeared more blurred. (Just heading off an argument about this technicality.) Bear in mind that with most compact cameras, the maximum aperture (f-stop) will reduce as the lens is extended. It's usually still worth using the long end of the lens, though.

Specifically for my colleague Andrew -

Hi Andrew,
No it’s not “usually”.

The problem is the effect of every little bit of large aperture which is lost as the lens extends into the telephoto end.
The difference of DoF between F/3.5 and F/5.6 for anything around the framing of an HALF SHOT PORTRAIT for these small sensor cameras is astounding . . .

The maths of it:
At F/3.5 the DoF is about 5ft (1.6mtrs) . . . at F/5.6 the DoF is about 15ft (4.5mtrs)

The next point is that, on these types of P&S cameras, the lens gets to that minimum aperture as its “maximum aperture” very quickly, as the lens zooms into the telephoto end: much more pronounced towards the WIDE end, than what we are used to on a typical DLSR lens, for example.

I think you will find that these factors are more important considerations - for these SMALL sensor cameras.

Regards,

William

William W , Apr 12, 2012; 09:18 a.m.

"You can blur the background with a compact camera if you're shooting something small . . ."

I note however that you mentioned shooting subjects very small – like a can of soft drink or a flower, for example . . . then I agree that the tele end would be a progressively more reasonable idea, provided you could get the background far enough away.

We might be advising from the same logic - I am not sure:

But it is possible to make Portraits using these P&S cameras, with the background OoF . . . and that's what I was getting at.

WW


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