How to Get Blurry Backgrounds in Your Work

Common questions I hear, especially from newer photographers are “What lenses should I buy,” or “how do I get that creamy, blurry background in the photo?” Another very popular one is after posting a photo is “what lens did you use to get that soft background?” Well, there are several different answers for the blurry background, one method is in post after the fact, but it’s better to get it in camera. So, how do you get a blurry, bokehlicious photos in camera?

There are a few factors that can contribute to a nice, creamy background in your photo including the lens you are shooting with as well as distance and focal length. Sheldon Evans explains in more detail on which types of lenses you should look for, how it works, and which two lenses are his favorite. Since he is using Canon cameras, his two personal favorites are the 50mm f/1.4 and the 85mm f/1.8. Now if you want even more bokehlicious backgrounds… and if your budget allows getting your hands on them, the Canon 200mm F/2 or for those with Nikon systems, the Nikon 200mm F/2 is great for super creamy backgrounds. The Canon is on my dream gear list and probably will be on it for a while. Which lens if your favorite for those soft bokeh backgrounds?

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Richard Kralicek's picture

I'd recommend the old Zeiss Planar T* 85/1.4 (at f1.4 not usable at the near distance, but just a few inches more and it works) or the Canon 135/2. The quite cheap Canon 200/2.8 is also quite usable, but it's near distance of 1.5 m is less comfortable. For a more dreamy view I'd use the Zeiss Planar T* 50/1.4, oldie but goldie. Stopped down to f5.6 it easily beats the Canon 50/1.4, but at f1.4 you get a slight swirly dreamy bokeh, a bit soft but still very nice imho.

Chris Rogers's picture

Are those pretty pricey?

Richard Kralicek's picture

Well, the Zeiss Planar T* series is quite old, but still of a higher price than those of Canon (and lacking AF, of course). The 50mm Zeiss is relatively cheap compared to what they usually cost, and so I bought the 85 second hand (those older models tend to be a bit more soft at near distance when shot wide open, but well, Zeiss lenses have a nice sharpness that rather quickly falls of into the background to get that smoothness compared to the Canon 85 showing a slightly vivid, sometimes disturbing background when stopped down to f2.8 - f4 imho). Even Canon's 135/2 can be bought second hand quite often.

If you have less budget I'd recommend the Samyang line, owned the 85/1.4 which is quite nice when shot at 1.4 even at the near distance, and up to f4 it's quite ok. It's not that sharp as the old Zeiss, of course, but I was very happy for quite a time (until I found my second hand copy of the Zeiss 85/1.4; sold the Samyang and bought the Zeiss).

There are quite a lot of nice old lenses on the market, Russian ones for example, that have similar optics, but one has to get the hands on them (some have fungus, and it's not always easy to clean them).

Chris Rogers's picture

Ahhhh thank you for the advice. i will use it as a base to start a "new lens search". I just bought a Fuji XE-1 and am looking into buying some new lenses for it. I got the 18-55 f2.8-4 to pair with it and it is pretty sharp but I have this problem with it where it won't let me change the aperture in manual modes. In program mode, it will go up f22 but in any of the manual modes, it's either f4 or f4.5. It's weird I have never seen anything like this before. So I figure I'll return it and get a different lens.

Paul G's picture

If you want a longer lens with great bokeh I like the Canon 300L F4, got it originally because it focused relatively close and for some insects having the reach of a 300 lens over a macro made a lot of sense. An old lens these days and despite having an 100-400L mk2 I can't bear to part with it because it takes such lovely shots even in my cack handed paws.