Once you’re familiar with the basics of photography and videography, more advanced techniques are fun to mess around with. Aperture and depth of field are considerations necessary for understanding bokeh. Bokeh is the interplay between the two but demands a bit more creativity out of the filmmaker. So what is bokeh?
What is the bokeh effect?
You’ve definitely seen bokeh at play, but what exactly is it, and how can you capture it in your photos and videos?
What is bokeh?
Bokeh is the effect produced by out-of-focus lights in your image in front of or behind the subject in focus. Bokeh comes from the Japanese word meaning “blur,” and it’s pronounced BOH-ka. Aperture is the opening of the lens through which light passes when you take a picture. Aperture affects the amount of light coming in but also what is in focus in the shot and what is not — the depth of field. Bokeh exists outside of what’s in focus.
We can achieve bokeh by adjusting the aperture for a shallow depth of field, meaning only the subject in question is in focus while everything around the subject is blurry. A wide open aperture like f/ 2.8 does just this.
It’s the quality and feel of this blur, as well as the reflected points of light that’s referred to as bokeh.
Now that we know the definition of bokeh, let's take a look at some quick examples before we go into detail on how to capture these lovely little bubbles of color and light.
The image above captures an extreme example of bokeh but it can be dialed down to be able to capture more subtle bokeh in context of a nighttime city scene.
What about up close and personal subjects and bokeh? Bokeh can also be used to accent an image, where the subject of the photo is obvious and the bokeh effect is minimal, tasteful and quite beautiful.
what DO I NEED TO KNOW BEFORE MOVING ON?
Before we jump in to how to achieve the bokeh effect, make sure you’re comfortable with the following terms:
Knowing these basics will help you understand how to achieve the bokeh effect in your shots.
Getting the Bokeh Effect
Try bokeh at home
Just because you don’t have fancy schmancy equipment doesn’t mean you can’t produce bokeh. Yes, better quality lenses produce better quality bokeh, but people also shoot award-winning movies on iPhones, so don’t worry about it too much.
What are some practical steps you can take to capture this effect?
Remember that a shallow depth of field, keeps the subject in focus but blurs the background. It’s required for bokeh and a wider aperture enables this.
Remember that the focal length of the lens and the distance from the camera to the subject can also give you a shallow depth of field.
Using a longer length lens allows for more blur as does placing the camera closer to the subject.
Producing beautiful bokeh can also depend on the lens itself. This is due to the unique optical designs of different lenses.
Ideally, try and use a lens that has aperture settings as low as f/1.4, f/1.8, or at least f/2.8. Lenses that start at f/3.5, which are common in basic kit zoom lenses, may not create the incredible-looking bokeh you want. Also, higher quality lenses are usually best, but don’t spend too much money at the start.
Experimenting with Bokeh
- Put your camera on a tripod (if you have one), and set the camera to Aperture Priority or Manual Mode. If you’re looking for that classic round look, make sure to set the widest possible aperture (or lowest possible f/ number).
- Position yourself by a light source. Christmas lights are great for practice, or candles. But you can try any source that is reflecting some kind of light. Get creative!
- Pick a subject. Your dog, cat, roommate, or favorite book. Anything.
- Make sure your subject is in front of the light source, and you’re ready to go. Remember, mess around with the distance between the camera and subject, as well as subject and background.
With editing software like Photoshop, you can also add bokeh effects after the photo has already been taken, as explained in the following video.
Different types of lenses
We mastered bokeh and the next step is to expand your image making with different types of camera lenses. In this post, we'll cover definitions for zoom, parfocal, fisheye lenses, and more. Knowing how each of these lenses works will open up the possibilities for the types of images you can capture.