There’s something professional-looking about portraits that have the subject matter in clear focus while the background of the photo is blurred or “soft”. This effect makes the subject matter stand-out, and attracts all of the viewers attention to the detail of the people or objects in your photograph.

Below is a photo taken of my kids last fall using this effect, and was the cover of our holiday card (and is now a canvas print at my mother’s house). See how the trees and mulch are blurry, but the kids and bench are crisp?  It’s easy to learn how to do this with an SLR and you can practice at home before heading out for a shoot with the restless ones (gummy bears help with smiles).


1. Set the “mode” dial on your camera to Aperture Priority. On most models, this is marked with an “AV” or “A”.

2. Lower the aperture setting using the main dial, usually located above the shutter button. Your setting will be displayed on the camera’s screen as you turn the main dial, and is represented by the letter “f” followed by a number. You should lower your aperture setting as much as possible – like f/1.4 up to f/8. [This makes range of effective focus as shallow as possible, blurring out anything that is not in focus]

3. The camera should be no more than 10 feet away from your subject, and you’ll want the background to be as far away from the subject as possible to get the maximum effect.

4. Using auto-focus, hold the shutter button down slightly and make sure the focus is on the subject. I prefer to use manual focus and adjust the lens focus ring for more control…and I focus on the eyes.

5. Click the shutter button all the way to take the picture. Always remember to hold the camera as still as possible.

Review the shots on your camera’s LCD screen. If the depth of field is too shallow, and parts of your subject are out of focus (or you just want more of the shot in focus) increase the aperture setting to f/3.5, f/4 or f/5.6 until you find the right balance.

[TIP: This is an amazing effect for shooting photos of kids blowing out candles at a birthday party, or little-league portraits!]