Happy Wednesday, friends!

Let’s talk about creamy, dreamy backgrounds! We LOOOVE a good dreamy background, and today we’re going to dissect one way to achieve this in-camera without ever changing a setting!

One of the most common questions we get asked by photographers is what our settings were for a particular shot, specifically what aperture (or f-stop) we used. It’s a question that makes perfect sense, because aperture absolutely affects how blurry the background of an image will be, but it’s not the only thing! We’re always happy to talk about our specific settings for a particular shot, but today we wanted to dive into something else that affects how creamy and dreamy a background looks, even when our aperture stays exactly the same!

That something else is distance. The distance from us to our subjects and the distance between our subjects and our background will also determine how creamy the background will look. Here are a few good rules to keep in mind.

1) When you are shooting with a prime lens, the closer you are to your subject, the blurrier the background will be. The farther away you are from your subject, the sharper the background will be.

Here’s a perfect example of this. When you look at the image on the left, you’ll notice the structure and shape of the gate is relatively sharp and defined. You can see a lot of detail in the greenery above our bride as well and could even count the branches. In the image on the right, that same gate is now blurry. It’s harder to make out straight lines, the edges are softer, and the trees have now melted into a beautiful bokeh (those creamy blurry circles of green). Counting branches would be impossible! Everything behind our bride is blurry, and she really pops out of the background. Basically the whole image just looks a little dreamier! Here’s the thing, these two images were taken just seconds apart by the exact same photographer with the exact same camera and the exact same settings. Amy shot both of these images with a 50mm 1.2L, ISO 200, 1/500, and a aperture of 2.0.

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The ONLY difference between these two shots is THE DISTANCE! In the first image, Amy stepped back far enough to show off the entire dress, and in the second image, Amy changed her distance to our bride and got much closer to her. Look at the difference in the look of those two backgrounds! One of our favorite things about shooting with a prime lens is you can achieve a completely different look just by moving your feet!

Now here’s an example where we did NOT move our feet or change our aperture, and yet the backgrounds also have a completely different look. When you’re looking at the two images below you’ll notice rule number two:

2) The farther away your subjects are from their background, the blurrier the background will be. The closer the subjects are to their background, the sharper the background will be.

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These two images were both shot with a 50mm 1.2L at 2.8. The aperture didn’t change at all, and we were in the same spot, but the bride and groom were a lot closer to the altar in the first shot, and in the second shot they are much farther from the altar. Notice the detail in the flowers on the altar in the top shot, and compare it to the same flowers in the bottom shot. The bride and groom just POP more in the second image. That’s because the farther your subjects get from their background, the creamier it will become!

We will always have a love affair with creamy, dreamy, backgrounds and we hope these two little tricks will encourage you to play with distance the next time you pick up your camera!

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filed in: Education


    Wonderful blog post! I love these images :)


    I've got a question for you! I understand that shooting at 2.0 in the first shot of the bride & groom keeps focus decently sharp because of your distance from them. However, if zoomed in at 100% on the second bride & groom shot, the focus would be pretty soft, correct? Because of your proximity to them?