What is Bokeh?
I don’t know if this is a new fad in photography, but, it seems to be a very popular item lately. Take a look at the photo above. See in the background and the foreground, those out of focus lights that look like “blurry lights” ? That is the Bokeh! And it can add a lot of interest to your photos.
Just to clarify, I have found a photo that has Bokeh in it, and circled those lights that give us the “bokeh” effect. They are circled in yellow:
I went to my usual photo collection sites, and typed in “Bokeh” and got a ton of photos like this:
That kind of photo is not something I like a lot. I just wouldn’t hang that on the wall. I like them in the background of the main subject, something like this:
If you want to put Bokeh in your photos, you will need to do the following:
USE THE RIGHT LENS:
Bokeh starts with lens choice. Go for a lens with a wide maximum aperture (ideally, f/2.8 or wider, but f/4 can work, too).
If possible, pick a lens with a high number of aperture blades (remember: the more circular the aperture shape, the better!).
And go with a standard or telephoto focal length, not wide angle.
SELECT A LARGE APERTURE
Bokeh is only affected by one camera setting: the aperture. So make it count!
For the strongest bokeh effect, dial in your lens’s lowest f-number. (Though if your lens goes to f/1.2 or f/1.4 and you’re shooting from up close, you may want to narrow the aperture just a bit to prevent your subject from going out of focus.)
If you’re not sure how to adjust the aperture, by the way, consult your camera manual. You’ll generally need to shift the mode dial to manual mode or Aperture priority mode, then rotate the corresponding aperture dial until it gives you the result you want (though some lenses offer an aperture ring on the barrel, which you can turn to manually set the aperture).
GET CLOSE TO YOUR SUBJECT
Determine the subject you want to photograph, then get close. Remember, you can either move close physically, or you can use a long lens for a tighter perspective.
If you have the time, try both; the effect will be slightly different in each case (longer lenses compress the background, which gives smooth bokeh, but you may lose a bit of intimacy), and you may find you prefer one look over the other.
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POSITION YOUR SUBJECT TO GET THE BEST BACKGROUND
If you can move your subject (or, in the case of portraits, if you can ask your subject to move), then put them in front of a uniform, non-distracting background.
And bring them far away from the background, so the bokeh effect is more pronounced.
If you can’t move your subject, then try to adjust your perspective. By getting down low, you can remove distracting background details from the frame; by moving to the side, you can increase subject-background distance; and so on.
DIAL IN YOUR REMAINING SETTINGS FOR A GOOD EXPOSURE:
At this point, you’ve done everything you can for the best-possible bokeh.
So determine the remaining settings you need for a good exposure (e.g., your shutter speed and your ISO). Focus on your subject. Check one last time to ensure the background doesn’t include any distractions.
And take your photo!
After you capture a shot or two, check your camera’s LCD. Pay careful attention to the quality of the background. Ask yourself: How does the bokeh look? Is there anything I can change to make it better?
This is a wonderful thing to try if you haven’t yet. If you are doing it for a customer, or even yourself, you will find you will love the effect. Good luck!