Even if you're only mildly interested in photography, the chances are you've come across the term bokeh. But what is bokeh exactly? And, how do you get that nice bokeh effect in your photos? We've explained it all for you here.
Bokeh derives from the Japanese word boke, which literally means "out of focus." In photography the word bokeh denotes the quality of blur in a photo. If you look closely at some professional photos, you'll notice that the subject in the foreground is in focus, while the background is blurred. This draws the subject out of the background and into the focus of the viewer, for extra effect.
Bokeh denotes the quality of blur in the background of a photo. This usually involves photos with a blurred background, as often seen in portrait photography and macrophotography. However, there are differences to be found. In fact, one blurred background is better than another blurred background. Take a look at the photos below.
On the left image, you can clearly see that the photographer wanted to focus on the flower in the middle. The background is out of focus, but not enough to create tranquillity in the photo. The result: the background distracts from the subject. That could be exactly what you had in mind, but the best results are mostly achieved with a serene background, with good bokeh. The photo of the raccoon clearly shows the results of good bokeh. The raccoon is in focus while the background is significantly blurred, resulting in a tranquil photo where your attention is immediately drawn to the raccoon.
So while bokeh denotes the quality of blur in the background of a photo, many people know it as an effect that creates lovely round orbs of light in your photo: the bokeh effect. This results in a slightly messier background, but can actually work really nicely in some photos. Just take a look at the examples below!
But how to create that amazing bokeh effect? Firstly, make sure you have as large an aperture as possible, at least f/2.8 but preferably larger. An aperture of f/2, f/1.8 or f/1.4 is ideal. This is because with the largest possible aperture, the light rays reflecting off your background scatter more across the lens, creating a blurred image. So the larger the aperture, the blurrier your background. The light rays reflecting off your focal point do fall directly onto your lens. That's why you can capture your photo's subject in focus with a large aperture.
So, the size of your aperture is important when creating bokeh. Although, the aperture blades themselves are also hugely important and can make the difference between beautiful and not-so-beautiful bokeh. Some aperture blades are rounded and others are hexagonal. You guessed it: with rounded aperture, your bokeh will be round, and with hexagonal aperture your bokeh will be hexagonal. Rounded bokeh is (often) the preferred option. The number of aperture blades also influences the photos. For unparalleled bokeh, we recommend using a lens with 9 aperture blades, but 7 will also do. Plus, rounded aperture blades also provide smoother bokeh than straight ones. So, be sure to keep this in mind when buying a lens that you want to create beautiful bokeh with!
Distance is also an important factor in creating bokeh. In fact, for the best bokeh, you'll need as much distance as possible between your subject and the background. It's a good idea to experiment with the space between your subject and the background, to see what produces the best results. Sometimes it can also help to move closer to your subject, to attain smaller depth of field.
Six aperture blades create a hexagonal shape
Eleven aperture blades create a more rounded shape
So the shape of your aperture blades will affect your ultimate bokeh design. This also means you can experiment with your bokeh by creating different shapes. There are online tutorials aplenty that explain how you can create your own bokeh filter to photograph hearts, flowers, christmas trees, and much more, as bokeh.
It's also fun to experiment with different light sources, to create different types of bokeh. Multicoloured Christmas lights, city lights or environments filled with reflective objects are good examples. Be inspired by the photos below!
The possibilities of bokeh are endless; so grab your camera and start your bokeh adventure right now!