Have you ever wanted to shoot photos with a blurry background having that dreamy bokeh quality?
They’re the ones captured with those expensive DSLRs and lens attachments, probably costing several hundred dollars or more. It would be a bummer if all you have is a little digital point and shoot camera you carry with you in your pocket.
What if I tell you with that tiny camera, it’s possible to achieve that same effect? Okay, maybe not as good as a DSLR, but still decent enough to make your photos prettier and more exciting.
What is Bokeh?
If you’re unfamiliar with “bokeh,” it’s a Photography term derived from a Japanese word that means “blur.” Keep in mind that those out of focus backgrounds behind a subject are called background blur, NOT bokeh.
Bokeh refers to particular qualities, such as the creaminess, and the smooth transition between the colors. It can also be the softness of the light circles and other highlights present across the entire blurry area.
On the picture above, notice the area behind the subject. It’s an example of a blurry background with a “good bokeh” that attracts your attention and draws your eyes towards the subject.
But what kind of bokeh quality can you get with a point and shoot digital camera?
Out of Focus Background
When you take a regular shot, you try to get a good focus so that the entire image – with both subject and background – will come out sharp.
This time, you only want your subject to look sharp but want the background to be out of focus. Most modern digital cameras have a way of creating these out of focus areas.
Steps to Get a Blurry Background
Follow these steps to get a blurry background in your photos:
If your camera has an advanced setting called “Aperture Priority,” make sure it’s switched to this mode first. If it doesn’t have one, switching to a “Portrait” or “Macro” mode should do the trick.
Turn off the flash.
Preferably, you want to do this outside during bright sunny conditions, or in well-lit areas when indoors. Any darker, and you’re going to need a tripod.
Your subject must be relatively small with enough textures for the camera to focus on it quickly.
To be sure your camera would only focus on your subject, see to it there are no other objects behind at least 5-6 feet.
Pick a background (or set one up) that has reflective surfaces such as glass and metal.
Now hold your point and shoot digital camera near the subject. You want it to come out as sharp as possible in your photo.
Start focusing on the subject with a half-press of the shutter button, and make sure it’s in focus before you fully press the button.
Take the picture and look at the LCD for the result. Your subject should appear sharp with an out of focus background behind it.
Try again with the optical zoom zoomed in all the way.
Take a look at this indoor shot I took:
The subject bottle in the foreground looks crisp and in focus, while the vase and plastic flowers look blurry. Also, the yellow blinds came out blurry as well. This helps to emphasize the bottle.
As you can see from the photo, you can get an idea of what bokeh quality your camera and lens can produce. Overall, the background blur looks smooth and contrasts nicely with the sharpness of the bottle. It’s not bad for a smartphone camera.
Bokeh is a subjective quality, and people will have their own opinions on what looks good or not. Honestly, it doesn’t impress me as much as the first photo did, and there are reasons for this.
Point and Shoot Camera Limitations
As shown above, you can create blurry backgrounds with most digital cameras. It’s possible if the lens opening or “aperture” is fully open, and the camera is focusing on a nearby subject.
On the downside, not all digital cameras can turn out beautiful-looking bokeh. The main thing hampering point and shoot cameras is their small image sensor.
It ties in with the depth of field, which is the range where the camera can maintain a sharp focus. Ideally, you want a lens with a narrow depth of field. It would only focus on the subject and blur out the larger surrounding areas.
But the smaller the sensor, the larger the area that’s in focus. It means there is more sharpness around the subject, so the background doesn’t get as fuzzy as we want.
And unlike DSLRs where you can slap on say an 85mm f/1.2 prime lens, point and shoot cameras are stuck with their small lenses with tiny apertures. Beautiful bokeh requires a larger minimum and maximum aperture range and longer focal lengths.
Their small wide-angle lenses and shorter focal lengths are for capturing as much of the scene as possible and in the same focus.
What’s worse is with optical zoom, the camera will gradually close the aperture the more you zoom in to your subject. It will increase the depth of field and make it harder to get a blurry background.
These small cameras are very convenient to take a snapshot without worrying about ISOs, aperture, and focal lengths. However, it gives you minimal control, and almost everything is done for you automatically.
That’s also why focusing is fully automated, and you don’t have to worry about it. With face and object recognition systems, they can even focus on areas that sometimes aren’t in the middle of the frame.
Nevertheless, the tip I showed you is a useful skill to have, and you can have fun with it. Keep on experimenting with different subjects, distances, and backgrounds until you find the best combination that works. A blurred backdrop with some decent bokeh quality can add more character and do wonders for your photos.