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Use this camera hack to create blurry depth of field portrait photos

Watch video: Flower power

When it comes to a shallow depth of field, we often think about bokeh circles and blurred backgrounds. However, using a shallow depth of field to transform elements in the foreground of your portraits into a pleasing blur can be just as effective.

Shallow depth of field is achieved using a combination of wide aperture and a close focusing distance – the closer something is to the lens, the easier it will be to transform into a diffused blur. We’ll use this second point to our advantage here, holding some spring flowers close to the camera lens, forcing them out of focus and creating a fantastic wash of color.

It would be worth using a standard 50mm lens (opens in new tab) with a wide aperture, like f/1.8 or f/1.4, to exaggerate the shallow depth of field effect further. Nifty fifty lenses like the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM (opens in new tab) can be picked up for just over a hundred bucks, so it won’t break the bank.

With spring in the air, why not arrange to meet with a model, or friend, and find some new budding flowers to help you practice this technique and add some dreamy seasonal portraits to your photo portfolio. 

Having your model stand near to some flowers and or wearing some floral garments, like the flowery dress we used, really helped complement the technique, too.

01 Dial in the settings

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Set your camera’s aperture priority mode and dial in your widest available aperture, such as f/2.8 or f/1.8, and an ISO of 400 to begin with. If you see camera shake you may need to boost the ISO further.

02 Pre-focus

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AF systems may get confused and try to focus on the flowers, so make sure that you focus on your model first before bringing them in front of the lens. Focus on your model’s nearest eye to ensure that it’s sharp.

03 Find some colorful blossom

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Find some green leaves or cherry blossom and hold it in front of your lens, so that it’s defocused but your model’s face is sharp. The wider your maximum aperture goes, the more it will be blurred.

04 Take the shot

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Have your model pose and take a series of shots. It’s all experimental, and you won’t get two shots that look the same, so keep tweaking the pose, composition and position of the flowers to achieve different results.

05 Edit your shot

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You can boost the blurry foreground look at the editing stage by painting in some additional out-of-focus areas with a soft brush in Photoshop, and / or selectively sharpening your model’s eye and facial features. 

For our shot we used the out of focus blossom by adding a new blank layer and then, carefully, painting over the out of focus area with a soft white Brush tool, though you’ll need to tweak the color depending on that of your flowers. We used a low opacity brush to build up the effect and get it looking just right. 

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The Technique Editor on PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine, Dan also brings his technical wizardry and editing skills to Digital Camera World. He has been writing about all aspects of photography for over 8 years, having previously served as technical writer and technical editor on Practical Photography magazine, as well as Photoshop editor on Digital Photo


Indeed, Dan is an Adobe-certified Photoshop guru, making him officially a beast at post-processing – so he’s the perfect person to share tips and tricks both in-camera and in post. Able to shoot all genres, Dan provides news, techniques and tutorials on everything from portraits and landscapes to macro and wildlife, helping photographers get the most out of their cameras, lenses, filters, lighting, tripods and, of course, editing software.