Q&A – Background blur & preparing a shoot

It’s time for another Questions and Answers post! Nikki and Jasmijn asked me a question on Instagram and today I’ll share the answers with you.

Nikki: “What lens will work best to achieve a beautiful blurred background?”

I think it is import to understand the aperture, so first make sure to read this post called: An Easy Guide To Aperture. A lens with a larger aperture (numerically smaller f/number like f/1.4) will produce a shallower depth-of-field and a more blurred background. I can really recommend to work with prime lenses to achieve the highest quality bokeh and blur. Prime lenses are significantly sharper than zoom lenses due to the fact that they don’t have extra glass inside that moves in order to zoom.

50MM

The most populair prime lens is the 50mm, it’s an all time favorite for every photographer. The focal length, when used with a full-frame sensor, has been widely considered to match the perspective seen by the human eye. There are three different types of the 50mm available, you can buy this lens with an aperture of f/1.2 or f/1.4 or f/1.8. The last one is a cheaper, but still a good option if you are new in photography. A few years ago I started to work with the 50mm f/1.8 and fell in love. Later I also worked with the f/1.2 and f/1.4 and didn’t saw a big difference between the results, so I decided to buy the 50mm f/1.4 and I’m using it every photo shoot again. Right now, I decided to sell my Canon 50mm f/1.4 and I’ll buy the Sigma ART 50mm f/1.4 soon because it’s much shaper.

85mm

I absolutely love the focal length of 85mm for portraits and fashion and portrait work! The Sigma ART 85mm f/1.4 is tested as the sharpest lens ever and this is my favorite new lens that I will use for all my shoots, but the cheaper f/1.8 version is great option if you want a good prime lens if you are on a budget. Click here to read my review of this lens. (In Dutch or in English).

100mm or 135mm

This lens is great on location, because of the focal length of 100mm you need some space between you and the model otherwise you are really close! Or if you are working in a big studio where you have the space to take a step backwards, it’s also a good option to work with this lens. I use the 100mm f/2.8 Macro when I like to have a very sharp focus and a perfect soft feeling in the background. Actually this is called a macro lens, so it’s great when you would like to make a beauty shot or a close-up of a product or the clothes.

Tip: Make sure to focus on your subject and keep distance between the subject and background! Keep in mind that the distance in the background is very important. A model in front of a wall will not give you that blurry background, but a model in an ‘endless’ landscape will create a perfect blackground blur!

Zoom lenses

If you prefer zoom lenses, please invest a little bit more in the lenses with an low aperture number like f/2.8. For example the 24-70mm f/2.8 or the 70-200mm f/2.8. Try to avoid the zoom lenses that go from f/3.5-6.3 or even higher number.

The lower the F number, the better! And the more distance between the subject/model and the background, the better!

Jasmijn: “How do you prepare your shoots to avoid stress and misunderstanding during the session?”


I actually wrote a blog post (in Dutch) about organizing a photoshoot on location a while ago. But the preparations of a shoot are very important, so let’s talk about it!

Before I’m able to capture a good model with amazing styling, pretty hair and makeup on an inspiring location, I have to do a lot of work. Let’s say I want to create a fashion story on location for my portfolio. I’ll start with a moodboard: I collect images on Pinterest, in Magazines and books and make a moodboard to show the team the style I want to go for. Then I will find a stylist and makeup artist that suits the concept. Together we will talk about the ideas and we create a concept that I will pitch to the model agency. The model agency will send me a package with a few models so we can choose the model that suits our story. Because we decided to go for a location shoot, we will do some location scouting or we trust Google to discover interesting locations. When looking for outdoor locations I always have to keep in mind that the model has to change her clothes a few times so we need a restroom, or another place where we can do the hair and makeup and store all our stuff safely.

The day before the shoot starts, make a list where you write down what equipment like camera(s), lenses, lights and accessoires you might need. Also make sure to buy enough food and drinks for the team or find a location close to a restaurant for a lunch break. Another tip: always make a print copy of your moodboard and/or storyboard to make the concept clear for everyone on set.

And maybe the most important tip of all: communicate with your team! Back in the days when I was a 15 year old photographer I remember I was a little shy, but then I learned that as a photographer you have to take control of the shoot.  I learned myself to direct the team more and the results became better. Be (or at least act) very self-confident behind the camera, because this will reflect positively on everyone on set. Try to find some creative people around you that have the same ideas and style that makes it so much easier to work together! And please don’t forget to have fun during your shoots :)