What is this mysterious Bokeh Effect I keep hearing about? Do I need to use it? How do I make it? How do you spell and pronounce it anyway?
These are all questions you probably asked yourself about Bokeh in photography at one point or another.
Well, look no further! we are here to offer you a ‘complete and concise’ walkthrough of bokeh.
What is Bokeh in photography?
The photographic term bokeh refers to the aesthetic quality of blur produced by the out of focus points of light in an image. In layman’s terms, it is the little circles of blurry light in an image.
The word bokeh (pronounced BOH-Kə or BOH-kay) comes from the Japanese boke (ボケ), which means ‘blur’ or ‘haze’. In the same semantics, boke-aji means ‘the blur quality’.
How do I pronounce Bokeh?
You should pronounce it as Boh-Kay
Bokeh is visually pleasing, gives you a sense of depth, and helps you emphasize & frame your subject beautifully
How Do You Get the Bokeh Effect?
There are several factors that come into play when creating bokeh. Each of these factors affects the bokeh’s intensity and quality.
1. Open up Your Aperture
When your aperture is wide, you have a narrower depth of field. In other words, the focus plane of your image is thin.
Having a narrow depth of field increase the chances of your background being blurry. Which yields a bokeh effect if there is a light source in the background.
Small f stop number = narrow depth of field = more bokeh
2. Increase the Distance Between Subject and Background
The more distance you can have between your subject and the background, the more bokeh effect you will get.
This is especially helpful if you have opened up your aperture all the way but still need more bokeh effect.
The reason is simple, with a smaller depth of field, the further the background is, more out of focus it will be. Improving the quality of your bokeh.
3. Get Closer to Your Subject
As you move the camera closer to your subject, the bokeh effect will intensify.
This is because as you move close to your subject, you capture less background in your frame. Which means out of focus background highlights will be enlarged, giving you more bokeh effect.
4. Use a Longer Focal Length
All else being equal, a longer focal length will give you more apparent bokeh effect. That is why portrait and wedding photographers use longer focal length lenses such as 85mm or the 70-200mm.
The apparent increase in the quality of the bokeh is due to the zoom effect. Larger focal lengths capture a smaller background area (enlarge it). Thus giving the appearance of more bokeh effect.
5. Use a Lens with Better Bokeh Quality
There is no beating around the bush on this one. The better quality the lens, the better the bokeh. What makes a good or a bad bokeh? Simply put, a good bokeh will be soft, creamy, and round. A bad one will have hard edges and look like polygons, creating visual distractions.
The shape of your bokeh depends on the number of diaphragm blades that makes up the aperture. The more diaphragm blades there is the more circular shape the aperture is. Resulting in more round-shaped bokeh.
6. Use a Good Background
A great background is essential to maximizing your bokeh. A plain background without interesting light sources will simply result in an out of focus blur.
In order to get pleasing background bokeh, make sure you have scattered light throughout your background. Preferably in different colors and intensity.
Street lights, golden hour, and urban night photography naturally lend to colorful background light sources.
7. Use Foreground Bokeh to Isolate Your Subject
We have shown you a lot of examples of background bokeh now. You can take this a step further by introducing foreground bokeh elements in your photos. Doing so will further isolate your subject to draw attention.
Make sure you use a shallow depth of field. Then focus on your subject so that both foreground and background fall out of focus. Obviously, you would also need light sources in your foreground. Look for lines of lights and place your subject in the middle.
8. Correctly Expose Your Subject
Creating bokeh involves shooting towards a light source. This can make it a bit challenging to correctly expose your subject. For example, if your subject is in a dark spot, the bokeh will be overexposed and wise versa.
To properly expose your subject, change the camera’s metering mode. Doing so allows you to set the area from which your camera determine the correct exposure.
Another tool to get the perfect exposure in your bokeh shots is to use the camera’s exposure compensation setting. For example, if you want to silhouette your subject, try a -1 or -2 exposure settings.
9. Know When to Use Bokeh
Is there such a thing as too much bokeh effect in an image? It’s subjective and belongs to your personal artistic choices.
What you need to know is that the purpose of using bokeh is to create a visually pleasing background that emphasizes & frame your subject. It is here to give a sense of depth to your image.
You will most likely find bokeh is best used in portrait photography, product, or still photography. But it does not mean you can’t use it for landscape photography. However, most photographers would prefer to keep the background tack sharp in their landscapes.
There are no rules! If you decide it would make a landscape image incredible, then give it a go.
10. Know When Not to Use Bokeh
With that said there really isn’t much point in using bokeh when you need everything tack sharp. It is also very difficult to use a shallow depth of field in street photography, where you would miss a lot of action, probably lose sharpness and would not achieve the necessary scene layering (interesting foreground, middle,
11. Create Bokeh Patterns
When it comes to patterns, there are options beyond the perfect round and the polygonal bokeh shape. You can find creative ways to shape bokeh further.
You can also create your own bokeh shapes with bokeh kits of shapes (hearts, stars, etc) or DIY shapes (have a look at #2 of these photography hacks)
The swirly bokeh
This is actually becoming a thing. Older lenses from Leica or Helios, for example, can create a very unique swirly bokeh effect around your subject, an ethereal frame.
It has the benefit of framing even more than regular bokeh. Although it actually is a technical flaw of the lens, these old school lenses are sought by connoisseurs for this particular effect
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