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Soft & Blurred Backgrounds – Aperture Practice

I am no professional photographer…but I sure do know what I like in photos.  Maybe it’s a phase or just my current favorite flavor, but right now I’m super into soft backgrounds!

After attending a full-day photography class, I am now shooting in “manual” mode on my camera all the time, as opposed to using Auto, or the presets like flowers, landscapes, sports, etc.  However, I learned a lot right before my class simply by shooting in another mode I’d ignored — aperture priority.  Aperture controls a few aspects of photography, but one of them that I love to play with is those soft and blurred backgrounds I see in so many photos that I love.  Before I played around in aperture-priority mode, the only way I knew how to get this effect was to tap my screen on Instagram (youknowwhatI’mtalkinabout).

When you shoot in manual, you are mostly playing around with two things: (1) aperture and (2) shutter speed.  There are quite a few other things you can play with too, but that’s another conversation for another day.  Soooo, in manual you’re concerned with the two previously mentioned things, but if you switch to aperture-priority, the camera takes over shutter speed for you and lets you focus on learning one aspect of your camera.  Alternatively, shooting in shutter-priority mode gives the photographer full control over shutter speed while the camera picks which aperture setting to use.

Do you have a DSLR?  Get it out.  Right now.  If the battery is fully charged, you’re a step ahead of where I’m sometimes at.

Now…change your spinny wheely thing at the top to whatever is your brand’s aperture-priority mode.  On my Nikon, it’s the ‘A’.

Aperture Priority Dial

Okay, now…look at your screen and you’ll see an ‘F’ followed by a number.  That’s your aperture setting!  Now…of course they couldn’t make it easy and scale things by single units from 1-10 (side note: who came up with how to keep score in tennis?  I mean…what on earth??)  Each camera is different so figure out on yours how to change that number (usually some type of moveable dial or something).  Your f-stop scale (how low and high your aperture can be set) is based on what lens you’re using (I think??)…so everybody’s will be a bit different.

Okay, soooo…the lower the number you set your f-stop (aka aperture…the terms seem to be interchangeable) to, the softer your background will be and less of your photo will be in focus.  If you’re shooting something like a landscape scene and you want the whole shabang in focus, you would want to use a high f-stop.

Here…does this help?

Manual Cheatsheet - Aperture

click to see bigger

The lower your f-stop number (or the lower your aperture), the more soft and blurred your background will be (aka your depth of field will be very shallow).  Conversely, crank your f-stop all the way up and your background will be in focus (aka a deep depth of field).


These delicious macaroons (frozen from Trader Joe’s!) were shot at f/1.8.  This low aperture hides the fact that these beauties were sitting on a plate…on a toy…on my hardwood floor…by my backdoor (hey…go where the best light is, right?).

On the flip side, this picture below at the park was shot a bit higher, at f/7.  I obviously was loving the subject matter (my husband and my little lady flying a kite), but I was also loving the pre-rain muted colors coming out in all the trees in the park.  I wanted to see some (but not all) of the detail in the trees…so a mid-point of f/7 seemed to fit for what I wanted to remember about this moment.


I encourage you to shoot in aperture priority mode for a bit and play with how much you can control by playing with your f-stop!  Even though we don’t always feel this way, you ARE smarter than your camera!

Happy shooting!



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