Usually, landscape photographers strive always for the highest possible sharpness from the front to the back in their photos. They use all possible techniques to achieve this like, using the focal distance, cameras, or lenses with in-body stabilisation, tripods, wire release, remote controls, folded mirror, or even by focus stacking (combining different images with a different focus distance) etc.
But there are occasions, that, at least part of the image can benefit from intended blur in your picture. This opens a new door to creative pictures. We will do this in cases where we want our subject to stand out, get all the attention, and make sure it doesn’t get lost in the background. We will achieve this while playing with the depth of field (DOF) that is defined as how much of an image is acceptably in focus (sharp).
One big category of landscape photography where blur or bokeh can add a lot to your photograph is in nature and macro photography. When you add bokeh outside of the depth of field, magic happens. Bokeh comes from the Japanese word “boke”, which means blur or haze. The more colour and light spots in the background, the more visible the bokeh effect.
We do this while optimising the composition and possibly placing the focal point in the frame based on the rule of thirds.
Depth of field
You probably know that getting a blurred-out background or shallow depth of field(some call it bokeh) depends on your aperture setting. You want to use the smallest f/number that your lens allows. So, it will depend on the f-stop possibilities of your lenses.
The aperture is the opening in the lens which allows light into the camera, measured in f-stops. The use of a wider aperture (lower f-stop number) lens such as f/2.0 or f/2.8 increased the capabilities of the lens in comparison with F4. There are lenses with f/1.8 or 1.4 or even 1.2 around but the lower the f-number the higher the price. There is a direct correlation between the maximum aperture size and how much the lens costs. There is one exception and that is 50 mm lenses, which you can find fairly cheap for F-1.8.
Keep in mind that the aperture controls the amount of light entering the camera sensor and that will influence the shutter speed to obtain the proper exposure.
This technique is heavily used by portrait photographers. Landscape photographers usually don’t mind using a narrower aperture like f/8 or f/16 so that all parts of the image are in focus.
It is probably counter intuitive, but the lower the F-number the larger the aperture. That is because the F-number is expressed as a fraction: an aperture of f/2 is equivalent to ½ (one-half). The one-stop difference also means a doubling or halving of the amount of light let in when taking a photo.
When using a lens that has a changing maximum aperture for example of f/3.5 -5.6, this means that the maximum aperture when you are zoomed all the way out is f/3.5, but as you zoom in the maximum aperture setting gets higher and higher until it reaches f/5.6.
The photos that I added to this blog however show that with F-numbers of 4 and above, bokeh is still possible.
So, after choosing the lowest possible F-number, we focus on our subject of course. A wider aperture should give us bokeh, a fancy name for a softer, blurry background with light spots.
The first step in obtaining a blurred background is to use a large aperture, but there is more. To get a good result, you need some distance between what you are focusing on and what you want to be blurred out. Things do not immediately go from sharp to blurry but this happens progressively. The more room you have for this, the more blur you can create.
This will be defined by the choice of our position and viewpoint. A very busy distracting background will not contribute to a peaceful picture.
It also helps when you are focusing on an object close to you. You need to try this and find out by trial and error what works best.
The background will be more blurred at longer focal lengths (the distance from the lens to the camera’s sensor measured in millimetres). A photo taken with a longer focal length will “compress” the subject, creating a shallow depth of field and blurred background. Lenses with a shorter focal length will cause all more of the elements in the photo to be in focus.
Alternatives in post-processing
Achieving a blurred background in photos is not too difficult, as long as you understand how to control the settings on your camera and know how to compose the shot. But there are ways to blur the background during post-production in Photoshop. But that is not the ideal method. Caution should be taken when doing this not to make it look fake. I will not elaborate on this because, first of all, I believe you should try this in-camera and secondly, after all, it takes a lot of knowledge of Photoshop techniques that can’t be explained in a few lines.
Thanks for reading this blog. I hope you will learn from it. Get outside and start experimenting. And as always, I will be happy to read about your experiences, comments, or questions