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One of the most effective ways to catch a viewer’s eye with your photo is to put the main subject in sharp focus and blur the background.

In technical terms, this makes use of “depth-of-field.” Let me show you what I mean.

Take a look at this picture submitted for December’s photo contest:

What makes this simple image so appealing?

The asymmetrical layout of the objects give interest to this photograph, certainly, but what really draws your eyes to the stars and pinecones is the fact that they stand out so distinctly. That’s because the blurred background creates a color palette that enhances, instead of distracts, from the main subject.

Digital Photography Tip: Making Depth of Field Work For A Background

You can create this same effect with your own photos. It’s not difficult to do.

In fact, it’s a function of one simple adjustment on your camera. Depth-of-field is related to the aperture of your camera’s lens. 

The smaller the number, the less range of focusing your camera lens has. Here are some pointers for setting up your equipment so you can capture something in sharp focus in the foreground with a blurred background that acts as a “color palate.”

(I should note, too, that changing the shutter speed also affects the aperture. But to keep things simple, let’s think about it this way…)

1. The smaller the aperture number, the more blurred the background will be. 

For example, f22 may render everything sharp in your frame, while f2.8 may only give focus to your main subject.

2. The distance in between your main subject and your background will determine just how blurred your background will be.

For example, if there are only 1 or 2 feet between the subject and image background, the background will not be as out of focus as it will when there are, say, 10 or more feet in between.

3. Keep in mind, too, that light can also play a role in a blurred-background effect.

When you have too much light on a subject that can create the need for a smaller aperture, which will, in turn, blur the background.

Always remember to focus precisely on your subject and lock that focus by pressing your shutter half way.  

That way you can reposition your subject within the picture without losing your focus point.

Digital Photography Tip: POINT AND SHOOTISTS

Your camera can do this too (although with less dramatic effect).  Most point-and-shoot cameras have a “portrait” setting that’s usually marked with the picture of a head. 

Turn that setting on. In portrait photography, the photographer’s goal is to focus on the eyes and head of a person and throw the rest of the image softly out of focus. 

And that’s just the effect you’re looking for here.

The only problem with this setting is that point-and-shoot cameras have a very short distance between the film plane (or sensor) and the front of the lens — and you need that distance to get more dramatic results.

Your only option, is to put your camera in portrait mode and be sure there’s a lot of distance between the object you want in focus and the objects you’re blurring in the background.