Bokeh!

It’s Bokeh week over at The Pioneer Woman’s Photography blog so I thought I would join in on the fun.

First, what the heck is this bokeh you hear so much about on photography blogs, forums and websites?  Bokeh is used to describe a certain camera lens characteristic. Bokeh comes from the Japanese word “boke” which means fuzzy. Sounds like a strange characteristic for a lens to have, doesn’t it? Bokeh describes how the background looks when shooting with the lens at it’s largest aperture. A lens with “good bokeh” has a nice smooth looking but out of focus (or fuzzy) background. Lenses with “bad bokeh” have spherical or other geometrical shapes with hard edges which look bad behind a sharply focused subject in the foreground.

To get bokeh, you want to set your camera to Aperture Priority mode and change the lens you are using to its largest aperture setting.  It will be the lowest aperture number.  I know that’s a bit confusing but, trust me, it works.  Another thing, the lower the aperture number the better the bokeh will be.  Telephoto and long zoom lenses get bokeh starting around f/5.6.  Shorter lenses like a Nifty-Fifty, a 50mm prime lens with apertures as low as f/1.2, really show nice bokeh.

Focus on your subject becomes extremely important as everything else in front of and behind your subject will now be out of focus or fuzzy.  I tend to check focus a lot when shooting wide open as it’s called by photographers.

Portraits is where I really make use of bokeh.  Especially when it's an outdoor portrait where you don't have as much control of the background.

Portraits is where I really make use of bokeh. Especially when it's an outdoor portrait where you don't have as much control of the background.

Animals are people, too, right?  Bokeh is used for animal and wildlife photography because the backgrounds are often very busy and distracting.

Animals are people, too, right? Bokeh is used for animal and wildlife photography because the backgrounds are often very busy and distracting.

Bokeh is very useful in travel/vacation photography as backgrounds in popular vacation spots have many distractions.  You guessed it, these are Mickey Mouse's overalls he wears to work in his garden at Walt Disney World.

Bokeh is very useful in travel/vacation photography as backgrounds in popular vacation spots have many distractions. You guessed it, these are Mickey Mouse's overalls he wears to work in his garden at Walt Disney World.

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22 Responses to Bokeh!

  1. Pingback: Weekly Photography Links: 02/12/2010 | Your Photo Tips

  2. montucky says:

    I appreciate the info! Now I’ll think about that more often when I shoot.

    Like

  3. flandrumhill says:

    That little hawk is darling. The fuzzy background really helps one to focus on the subject. I never thought of it in this way before. Thanks.

    Like

  4. imac says:

    Most enjoyable shots.

    Like

  5. milkayphoto says:

    I LOVE bokeh! Good stuff here, Scott. Photography BB Magazine did an interesting article on Bokeh in their Dec 2009 issue. Folks can download a copy here: http://www.photographybb.com/magazine/

    (I had to laugh at the third photograph above…my husband always think that the overalls look more like Minnie’s brassiere! 🙂 )

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  6. Thanks for the info Scott. I’ve accidentally taken such shots, now I know how to actually make it happen when I want it to.

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  7. Great shots Scott, I use Aperture Priority excursively in my wildflower shots and the Bokeh is sweet when you get it right !!

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  8. Nye says:

    Thanks Scott, I made this shot before but didn’t know the proper term for it, I thought I just got lucky. 🙂

    Like

  9. karma says:

    Your bokeh definition is interesting to me Scott. I always thought bokeh was making those out-of-focus geometrical shapes on purpose, but you’ve called that “bad bokeh.” Would you agree that, at times, “bad bokeh” can actually look good – for example with Christmas lights or other outside lights at night?

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    • No, purposely using bokeh for geometric shapes like lights is “good bokeh”. Bad bokeh is when the lens creates those shapes on it’s own. The infamous 500mm reflector lens is an example. It would create donuts out of nowhere in backgrounds of photos when used.

      In the last couple of years, people have figured out how to create bokeh with all kinds of shapes like hearts and stars.

      This photo of mine has some nice bokeh with lights in the background.

      Does this answer your question, Karma?

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  10. yesbuts says:

    A P&S camera is so convenient, but also so limiting, unless set on macro, DoF & Bokeh aren’t creative options.
    Your photos are great example of what a creative photographer can achieve.

    Like

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