Tuesday’s Tip: Creating Beautiful Bokeh

Creating Beautiful Bokeh & Good Depth of Field

by Doug & Courtney Weittenhiller

of Blue Dandelion Photography

What’s a bokeh you say? It’s that oh-so-wonderful fuzziness in the background of photographs with a shallow depth of field and accompanying starry highlights.

The term bokeh is an anglicized version of a Japanese word used to describe the portion of a photograph that is out of focus behind the area of principal focus in a picture. When you see a portrait that has a creamy soft background and a nice crisp focus on the person being photographed, you are seeing bokeh.

Although the lens you use will help you obtain the greatest level of bokeh, anyone with a basic SLR camera can control their depth of field (DOF) and create a more desirable portrait.

The following image was borrowed from Wikipedia to show the differences in depth of field.

Image one has no DOF, therefore no bokeh.  Everything in that image is in focus and your eye wanders to the undesirable background. Image two has a good amount of bokeh- you still see shapes in the background, however they are much more pleasing to the eye and direct your attention to the main focus of the picture.

The simplest way to attain a narrow DOF is to set your camera to “Aperture Priority” mode.  The camera takes care of the rest of the settings; enabling you to focus on a very narrow plane in the entire scene thus, withdrawing the focus off the background (making it surreal).

Some lenses enhance overall image quality by producing more subjectively pleasing out of focus areas.  Good bokeh is especially important for large-aperture lenses, macro lenses and long telephoto lenses because they are typically used with a shallow DOF.  If you’re shooting with a telephoto lens, be sure to have the lens to the full zoom.  The high zoom factor provides maximum focus on the subject thereby eliminating the background details.

Here are a couple of our recent images SOOC (no editing done yet) to show DOF and Bokeh.  To achieve this look on the below portraits, we shot an 85mm 1.4 Nikon lens wide open at 1.4- to create the most shallow DOF we could.

Try to minimize the difference between the camera and the subject to attain a shallower DOF. The closer the subject; more the chances of blurring the background; thus, more of out-of-focus effects.  Also keep your subject a few feet away from the background you’re shooting against (whether it be a wall, tree or flowers- this will also help with the out-of-focus effect.

Here’s an example of the brick wall:  The first image has the couple right next to the wall- so the DOF isn’t as apparent.  The second image the couple is a few feet away from the wall, the DOF in this case allows you to focus more on the couple than the wall.  Both images were shot with a 50mm 1.4 Nikon lens at 1.4.  See what a difference a few feet makes?

So, now you’ve read my short essay on DOF and bokeh and you’re wondering- “well, what lens would you recommend?”  I have to say that every photographer has a different favorite lens- ours is probably our 85mm 1.4 or 50mm 1.4 for portraits.  If you’re shooting with a lens that came with your camera- save just a little bit and go buy a 50mm 1.8 and experiment with your Aperture setting- it makes a world of difference!


Thank You for sharing this awesome “tip” with us!

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tony - November 2, 2012 - 1:17 pm

wow, thak you for the tips, ur essay

Linda - January 3, 2013 - 6:50 pm

I am in love with bokeh. I love to use it as much as possible. I try to explain how to get this with friends who want to try the same kind of thing but don’t know how. I will need to forward this to them. Thanks for the post.

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