What is bokeh photography? Bokeh is the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image, and is made out of little circles of colour and light. Making photos more pleasing to the eye, bokeh effects can be so pretty sometimes that not only do they make gorgeous backdrops for portraits, but can also be subjects in their own right!
And if you are wondering why is it called bokeh, the term bokeh comes from the Japanese word boke, which means “blur” or “haze”, or boke-aji, the “blur quality. For those passionate about photography, knowing how to take beautiful bokeh photos is one of the most fun aspects of learning this art.
In photography, bokeh is created when light reflects off, or through a textured surface. Sometimes artificial light sources can create a pleasing bokeh effect too… think Christmas lights blurred in the background, or the lights of a city skyline.
As points of light reflect differently off flat surfaces, you’re not likely to see the effect we’re talking about off a solid wall for example. Your background will need to have a little texture, for example light reflecting off foliage in a garden (just like in the image below where light is hitting the ferns).
The effect of bokeh in photography is also created when the light source is situated behind your background, and filtering through small gaps, such as through the spaces between a tree’s leaves as the sun sets behind it.
Shutter speed (or ISO) has no direct influence on depth of field which is primarily affected by aperture, focal length and distance from the subject.
So if you were wondering how to take bokeh photos, this is where and how you’ll find it. But since a little knowledge is needed to help make the most of it, keep reading, because as you’ll discover, blur bokeh is quite easy to do!
To control your aperture, you’ll need to be either in manual mode, or set your camera to aperture priority mode.
Related: Getting Out of Auto
Some lenses, particularly kit lenses, don’t allow you to shoot at their widest aperture once you’re zoomed all the way in. If this is you, don’t despair! The other thing that makes bad bokeh is:
But what is a good bokeh? The more distance, the better the bokeh, so just set your lens to the widest aperture possible, and allow for a background that’s some distance away. I’m talking at least 4 or 5 metres, but even better, experiment with distances and watch as the bokeh changes.
Secondly, the longer your focal length, the more it compresses your background. This also means better bokeh.
Any location with a natural background, where light has the ability to break through the spaces, can give some lovely bokeh to your photography, if it’s backlit. In these examples of bokeh we have backlight coming through the trees, and light bouncing around and reflecting off the foliage. This creates a beautiful halo effect around the little girl’s hair, making for extra pretty!
Bokeh photography can also be created when it bounces off a textured surface. In this image below, the light was situated behind the couple, However it was not backlighting the foliage. The foliage was actually a wild wall flower in full bloom, growing against a solid fence. So the background blur in this instance was formed when the light bounced off other solid surfaces and reflected onto the foliage and yellow flowers.
A wet lawn or garden can create a perfect reflective surface for the light to be captured as bokeh. The first image was taken on a dewy morning, with light reflecting off the wet grass. The second image was taken after raindrops had settled on some delicate new growth.
For those looking for how to take bokeh photos, a really fun way to deliberately create this effect is by using a backdrop that reflects light really well, such as a fabric with sequins or shiny finish. Just let your creativity go wild!
Fairy lights are perfect for capturing twinkle light bokeh… and maybe you could make your Christmas card super early!
Related: Christmas Light Tutorial
The other way to use artificial lights to create bokeh in photography is by taking advantage of street, or city lights. Choose a subject that has lights situated a good distance away behind it. This distance will ensure that the lights are blurred enough to give a bokeh effect. For the most effective result, the more lights in the frame, the better it will look.
Just remember the settings we mentioned earlier can be used for any of these scenarios! The bokeh below was formed by the streetlights on the road behind, and I’ve focused on the blades of grass at f/2.
Unlike all the other photography scenarios where bokeh was created by focussing on a subject in front of the light, this shot was created more mindfully when our graduate manually focussed her lens to create a blurry background. The colours and lights gave her a stunning abstract shot!
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