A blurred or out of focus background (technically known as bokeh) is the ultimate goal for many people who have reached a more advanced stage of photography – but even beginners attempt (and sometimes succeed) in getting this effect, without potentially knowing how or why it happens.
There are several factors that come into how the background of a bird photo will appear.
Sometimes you can control them all, while other times you’ll only be able to control the more technical aspects of it on your camera while having to make do with a “good enough” outcome.
But once you understand the how and why of obtaining beautiful out of focus, smooth backgrounds WITHOUT using any over the top blur effects in Photoshop, your whole outlook on photographing birds is likely to change as you start to seek out more and more situations and scenes that allow you to make these types of images with ease – well, if the birds willingly co-operate that is.
So what are the things that will determine how your backgrounds appear in bird photography?
All of the following variables play a critical role in how your background will appear.
If you can get one of them right: you’ll likely get an image with a very pleasing background. But if you can get ALL of them to fall into place; your bird photo is likely to be competition worthy!
- Lens aperture: The “faster” (smaller maximum aperture number) of the lens, the better. Yes, this is where lens purchases get costly! But you don’t need a 400mm f/2.8 if you don’t want one – great bokeh or smooth backgrounds are achievable with f/4 and beyond as long as you compose the image well and take close note of your position and what’s behind the bird.
- Lens focal length: longer focal length lenses reduces the part of the frame that is in focus through decreased depth of field; and thus this helps to separate your subject from the background better. That makes the subject pop out of the image, while the background fades into the, well, the background. But the quality of the lens plays a big role in this: lower quality long lenses won’t give you the same effect as a lens with top class optics.