Learning how to re-create a stunning technique like bokeh can feel intimidating, but, after reading this guide, you will find yourself confidently designing eye-catching photos using this effect.
This tutorial will shed light on the following:
- How bokeh was born (We break down the pronunciation and meaning of the term)
- How bokeh comes to life
- Ideal conditions and setups for capturing the ultimate bokeh portrait
- How diversifying your lens collection can vary your results
- How to set up for this effect (both at-home and outdoors)
- Shaping your blur (using your basic circle, octagon, or have fun with stars or hearts)
- Creating bokeh with a point-and-shoot
- After the fact: Tools you can use to replicate the technique in Photoshop (or, using cell phone technology)
- …along with useful or intriguing tips and information.
In the Beginning…
It’s completely understandable if the term bokeh strikes you as foreign. After all, an English speaker did import, and then revise the word from the Japanese. The Japanese word ‘boke’ roughly translates to “blur”, “haze” or “fuzziness” in English.
Photo Techniques editor Mike Johnston deserves the credit for transporting this word into the English world when he used it in a collection of photography articles in the 1997 March/April edition of the magazine.
When Johnston brought the word to English speakers, he also wanted to protect it from mispronunciation, so he tacked ‘h’ onto the the end of the word, to make ‘bokeh’. To pronounce it as it was intended, say the bo as you would ‘both’ and the ‘keh’ as you would in ‘kept’
The Inner Workings of the Blur
Three factors in an interchangeable lens camera (DSLR or mirrorless) or advanced point and shoot work in tandem to project a bokeh effect onto your image (scroll down for information on how to create this effect in Photoshop or using your cell phone) :
- Lens design
- Relative depth of field
To explain these terms in short: the depth of field is essentially the total amount of your image that will be in focus, and the aperture is the opening near the back of the lens that allows light to hit the camera sensor.
To create bokeh, adjust the aperture dial on your camera to make your aperture wider and allow more light into the lens, which, in turn, causes your depth of field to be more shallow. The more shallow your depth of field, the more your image will blur.
If you’d like to know more about these topics, then complement your knowledge from this tutorial by following these links for a more exhaustive vocabulary review of aperture and depth of field.
The Ultimate Conditions for Your Creations
From the previous section, you are now aware that this effect involves manipulation of depth of field, allowing you to control the blur in your photographs. You are also aware of bokeh basics, and can add this technique to your artistry toolkit as a photographer.
To truly master this method, however, you need to know a few tricks:
As the age-old saying goes: a worker is only as good as his/her tools, and this definitely applies to this technique. To capture first-rate bokeh, you will need a fast lens with, at the very least, an aperture of f/2.8. To create even shorter depths of field (and, make better blurred backgrounds), consider purchasing lenses of f/2, f/1.8 or f/1.4. Practice with your aperture at its widest setting; then begin to decrease the size to change the look of your bokeh.
Review the following chart to help you understand how these aperture sizes correspond with the amount of blur present in your photographs.