Bokeh in Photography

Have you never even heard the word Bokeh before?

Fear not. We are here to help. Le us walk you through the steps to producing some beautiful images full of Bokeh.

What is Bokeh?

Bokeh is derived from the Japanese word boke, which literally means “blur” or “haze”.

In relation to photography, Bokeh refers to the soft, out-of-focus and blurry background. This outcome can be achieved by shooting a subject using a fast lens that is set at a wide aperture (low f/stop) and/or shooting with a shallow depth of field.

Bokeh is an extremely popular effect used in many genres of photography from portraits all the way to nature photography. The technique is often used by photographers to improve the visual appeal of their images. Like the method of leading lines the aim is to force the viewer to focus attention to a particular area of the photo.

You can see here that the subtle bokeh appears in the background. Here the blur will be coming from an out of focus light source. Notice the contrast in colour from the purple.

Open Up Your Lens

The main way you will produce a lovely Bokeh will be to use a wide aperture. The wider the better!

To do this, choose an open aperture or low f-stop number. Something between f/1.8 and f/5.6. The lower the f-stop number, the less depth of field there will be. Naturally the less depth of field you have the more background blur you will get.

Fixed focal length lenses and some of the more expensive zoom lenses will give you access to even wider apertures. These lenses are worth investing in for many reasons including pretty bokeh.


Use a larger Focal Length

Zoom in!

Another way to get a better bokeh effect in your photos is to choose a longer focal length. You want to be trying to use a 50mm lens or higher. Longer lenses will compress the background and make it appear closer to your subject than it really is. This effect will add more bokeh to your image.

Longer focal lengths also allow you to achieve a shallower depth of field. Again, the less depth of field you have, the more background blur or bokeh will be present in your photos. Lenses with a focal length between 50mm and 200mm work great for this effect.

Make sure to use a lens sensible for your subject. You do not want to crop to much out. If you have space to step back and shoot from further away it is a great time to do this.

Try this out on flowers.

Look For The Light

A really fun and vibrant type of bokeh is the classic circular shape. You can capture these bokeh lights by making sure there are bright points of light in the background of what you are shooting. Great go to things to look for are:

  • Sunlight (especially through trees)
  • Car lights
  • Street lights
  • LCD lights/fairy lights
  • Fireworks
  • Fire
  • Reflective colours

Go Abstract in Macro

When you get good at shooting Bokeh it can provide a full image in itself. It can become the subject particularly if you have a macro lens.

A macro lens gives a really unique and warped depth of field. This means that you can create Bokeh literally out of thin air.

This image was shot using a macro lens at an aperture of f/8 believe it or not. The transition in colour adds a lot to the image but notice how there isn’t really a subject.

Go Black and White

Bokeh can work extremely well with a black and white photo. It is not too distracting and simply brings our eyes to the subject. It also can create some sharp tonal contrasts.

Create Your Own Bokeh Shapes

If you want to get really creative you can create your own DIY shapes to fit over your lens to create shaped Bokeh.

The main aim is to basically create a tube that will block all light coming into your lens except for a custom shape you make at the end of the tube. Imagine a spyglass with a custom end.

Here’s what to do:

Step 1. Take a blank piece of black paper and create a “lens cover”.  Make sure to cut out a circle big enough to cover the front of the lens entirely and leave enough paper to fold over the edges of your lens so it can be secured before shooting.

Step 2. Cut out a shape about a in the centre of the circle. You can use scissors or a craft knife to cut out stars, hearts, circles, etc. The more defined the shape is, the better results you will get. Using a craft knife works best. Try to avoid any raggedy edges because they will show in your bokeh. You can trace shapes or draw them free-hand, whichever is easiest for you.

Step 3. Once you have your shape cut out, secure your construction paper “lens cover” to the end of your lens using tape or a large rubber band. Just make sure it covers all of the glass part of the lens so that no extra light can get in. You are now ready to start experimenting!

Step 4. When shooting, you may have to use a higher ISO because you will be allowing very little light in your lens. Find and play with different sources of lighting and have fun with it! You can also create multiple lens covers using all kinds of different shapes – hearts, stars, christmas trees, and much more.


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