What is a bokeh photo? Bokeh is those beautiful little circles of colour and light in the background of photos, and it’s so pretty that not only does it make a gorgeous backdrop for portraits, but it can also be the subject in it’s own right! Being able to take beautiful bokeh photos is one of the most fun aspects of learning photography.
Bokeh is created when light reflects off or through a textured surface. Sometimes artificial lights can create a bokeh effect too… think Christmas tree lights blurred in the background, or the lights of a city skyline.
As light reflects 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 light is hitting the ferns).
It’s also created when light is behind your background, and filtering through small gaps, such as through the spaces between leaves in a tree as the sun sets behind it.
So this is where and how you’ll find it, but your camera settings, focal length and your position in relation to the light affects how you bring it into your images. So a little knowledge is needed to help make the most of it. Keep reading, because it’s quite easy to do!
To control your aperture, you’ll need to be either in manual mode, or 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 affects bokeh is:
The more distance, the better the bokeh, so just set your lens to the widest aperture it will allow, 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, and this also means better bokeh.
Any location with a natural background, where light has the ability to break through the spaces is going to give you some lovely light bokeh if it’s backlit. In this example we have backlight coming through the trees and then light bouncing around and reflecting off the foliage and leaves, and giving a halo effect around her hair! Makes for extra pretty!
Bokeh can also be created when it bounces off a textured surface. In this image, the light was 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 bokeh created 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, and the second image taken after raindrops had settled on some delicate new growth.
A really fun way to deliberately create a bokeh effect is by using a backdrop that reflects light really well, such as a fabric with sequins or shiny finish… 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 is street or city lights. Choose a subject that has lights situated a good distance away behind it, and that distance that will ensure 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 scenarios where bokeh was created by focussing on a subject in front of the light bokeh, this shot was created more mindfully when our graduate manually focussed her lens to blur the scene. The colours and lights gave her a stunning abstract shot!
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