How to Make the Foreground Blurry With a DSLR Camera

By Elizabeth Mott

Where you place your focus changes the emotional impact of your photograph.
i Hemera Technologies/ Images

Single-lens reflex cameras enable you to monitor what you photograph accurately, showing you a through-the-lens view of the scene in front of you. The portion of the frame you place in sharp focus designates the focal point of each image. In most cases, the point of interest appears in the foreground. For some images, you may prefer to keep the foreground out of focus and draw the eye to subject matter farther away.

Focal Length, Aperture & Depth of Field

The length of your lens and the aperture at which you use it determine how far away from you the camera's field of vision ends. Zoom lenses cover a range of focal lengths, whereas fixed focal length lenses only capture subject matter at one distance. The greater the focal length, the closer the subject can appear and the more the background falls out of focus. Aperture settings determine how much light reaches the lens. A large aperture yields a shallow depth of field, with the background blurred out of focus. A small aperture keeps foreground and background in focus. Counterintuitively, a small aperture setting, or f stop, yields a larger aperture. To check the impact of aperture setting on your photos, you must take a picture and evaluate the shot, or use a depth-of-field preview function if your camera includes one.

Focal Distance

In an image with a focal point placed on foreground subject matter, the closer you get to your subject, the more the background drops out of focus. If you compose a shot in which you want the foreground to blur while the focal point remains in the background, the impact of your shot changes if it contains dominant objects in the foreground. For example, if your scene includes two human figures, one standing close to your camera and the other at some yards' distance, focusing on the distant person makes a different statement than the same shot with the foreground subject out of the picture. When distant subjects take priority over people or objects close to the camera, the resulting image can introduce a sense of isolation.

Automatic Focus

When you take advantage of your camera's autofocus system, it automatically maximizes the clarity of subject matter that appears in its focal zone. Some cameras allow you to designate which portion of the field of view becomes the focal point on an image-by-image basis. Others define a fixed area as the field of interest. As you monitor the scene through the camera's viewfinder and press lightly on the shutter release to trigger the autofocus system before you shoot, you see the focal point resolve clearly and the rest of the scene drop at least slightly out of focus. Autofocus cameras with focus lock enable you to prefocus the scene, continue to hold the shutter release button partially depressed and move the camera to adjust how you frame the image, all without changing the focus.

Manual Focus

Deactivating your camera's autofocus system places the control of each image's focal point entirely in your hands. While you monitor the scene through the viewfinder, adjust the focus ring on the front of your lens until the background subject matter you want as your point of interest resolves clearly. If you mount your camera on a tripod, you can eliminate the prospect that camera movement blurs your scene, especially if your subject requires a long exposure because of limited light or for creative effect.