We’ve all seen it – the blurred background effect of a photograph, highlighted by specs of light and gleaming visual arrays. Most photographers are eager to achieve such an image but are unsure of how to do so. In this article, we’re talking the who, what, when, where and how of the coveted blur effect, better known as “bokeh.”
What is Bokeh?
It goes without saying that bokeh is a visual aesthetic that is appealing to most photographers. The term bokeh is of Japanese origin, with a literal translation of “blur.” According to the technical definition by Wikipedia, “In photography, bokeh is the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image produced by a lens. Bokeh has been defined as ‘the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light.’ “
To break it down, bokeh is not a catch-all term for background blur, but rather has to do with the quality of this technique. It has nothing to do with how much something is out of focus, but rather the feel and appearance of this area. When a subject is in focus and stands out from the depth of the background, a blur is visually present. This kind of photograph, when composed properly, allows a visual focal point for the viewer.
Bokeh, when done right gives off a feeling of soft and smooth textures. So, now that we know what bokeh is, how can we go above achieving it?
Bokeh: It’s All About the Lens
The bokeh effect is primarily achieved by the speed of a lens. Ideally, you will want a lens with an aperture of f/2.8 or wider. When using a fast lens, setting your camera to Aperture Priority or Manual mode will be the best for shooting – manual being ideal as that allows full control of shutter speed and ISO.
Although wider aperture is recommended, bokeh can still be achieved with lenses that have an aperture above 2.8. The key for this is to create a noticeable depth of field between your subject and its background. The simplest way to do this is to place your subject within the setting as to allow for a visible distinction between the two. Additionally, be aware of your lighting conditions when shooting. Although bokeh can be achieved in varying degrees of light, natural and soft conditions will allow for the most visually appealing image.
Bokeh is truly popular with portraiture, as the soft out of focus background frames the subject with a delicate composition. Whether the bokeh appears as bright, colored lights or soft textures of an outdoor setting (think trees and flowers) – it creates a truly unique and captivating portrait. When shot according to the steps above, you are able to create a noticeable difference between the foreground and the background, which allows the viewer to place a focal point on the person being photographed.
Bokeh can also be used in nature and wildlife, food and lifestyle imagery. The most important aspect to realize is that bokeh should be used with intention, not every image needs to have a blurred effect, so be sure to first consider the subject and your creative direction.
Beautiful Bokeh Examples
Here are some examples of beautiful bokeh as shot by photographers on the Hub.
Yet another beautiful bokeh image by Brandon Woelfel
Hunter Gillman using bokeh within the landscape to frame his subject
Bokeh of the grassy background framing a beautiful portrait by Meredithe Ettrich
Go Out and Practice Bokeh
Now that we’ve covered what bokeh is, how you can achieve it while shooting and some pretty awesome examples by our Hub creators – it’s your turn to try it out. Achieving bokeh is fairly simple with a bit of practice, intentional composition, and ideal lighting – whether that be natural light or external sources to create those beautiful dotted effects. Have any shots that are full of that bokeh goodness? Drop us your work in the comments below.