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How can I get dramatic shallow DOF with a kit lens?

I'm planning on taking Christmas cards with my dog and self in focus with the Christmas tree and lights blurred out in the background like in the picture below.

I have a Nikon D3200. The lowest f stop is 3.6 I believe 15-55mm.

I'm able to have the fstop low and have the background slightly blurred and our faces clear, but am unable to get the background as blurred as the picture below to the extent lights turn into circles. If I do blur it that much then the faces are not clear.

Does this have to do with the distance the camera is to us, or we are from the tree behind us, etc. I can move anything closer or father to better achieve the desired affect.

I can take a picture of three all blurred out and then a picture of us clear and overlay them in photoshop but I'd rather accomplish it all via the camera if possible.

Any suggestions such as recommend fstop, aperture, distance between camera/us/tree, type of focus to use, iso, etc or general guidelines. Thanks!

Image Here: http://photodune.net/item/christmas/978148?sso


1 Answer 1


Well, generally speaking, it's best to start at the widest aperture possible. If you have the lens I suspect you do, that would be f/3.5. Your longest focal length would be 55mm. Start there, too. You want to set your shutter speed around those. Don't be tempted to let your ISO go too high, or your pictures will get grainy, especially with darker backgrounds. With your D3200, I'd stop at ISO 400.

You should be sitting as close to the camera as possible without letting yourself get distorted, and without blocking your background. I would guess just a few feet, really. Your Christmas tree with lights should be as much farther back.

Ideally, your Christmas tree lights are the main or only light source and the rest of the room is dark or considerably dimmer. You might use, if you have, a very gentle flash or better, a small-ish lamp pointed at yourself and your dog to keep from being silhouetted.

  • \$\begingroup\$ See the exciting controversy over the aperture and zoom at the question I linked to above (this). \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Dec 4, 2012 at 22:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm, brilliant! I think that is just what I was looking for but couldn't find. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ryan Haber
    Dec 4, 2012 at 22:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ f/3.5 is not the widest aperture, as it is only available in the wider end - 18mm/3.5=5.14mm. The tele end, although f/5.6, offers aperture almost twice as wide - 55mm/5.6=9.8mm. \$\endgroup\$
    – Imre
    Dec 4, 2012 at 22:41
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Imre, oops. Of course you are right. Is it still Monday? Mistake corrected. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ryan Haber
    Dec 4, 2012 at 22:45

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