Bokeh photography techniques and tips
Bokeh is coined from the Japanese word boke that means haze or blur. Upon visiting a photography forum or website, you will come across plenty of individuals debating about the pleasing bokeh photography that their fast lenses allow. Adjectives such as smooth, superb, incredible, beautiful, good, excellent, silky, and sweet are common when describing bokeh but what exactly is this art?
Bokeh can be described as the effect of a soft out-of-focus background that one gets when photographing a subject using fast lenses at wide apertures like f/2.8 or wider. In layman’s terms, bokeh is the aesthetic or pleasing quality of the out-of-focus blur in a photo.
Bokeh photography is a comprehensive and popular form of photography that is mostly applied to create unusual and attractive visual effects in photographs. This article is going to discuss the various bokeh techniques and tips that will assist you in having that perfect blurred shot.
7 Bokeh photography techniques and tips
- Use larger apertures
- Reduce the object or subject distance
- Maximize the distance between the subject/object and the background
- Go for longer focal lengths
- Use a longer lens
- Use a fast aperture or lens
- Use a sparkly foreground or background
Use larger apertures
Bokeh isn’t created by the camera; instead, your lens and optics are responsible for rendering the out-of-focus areas. Therefore, the first step should be setting your lens to its lowest value also referred to as the maximum aperture. You can do this by shifting your camera mode to aperture priority and adjusting the f-number to the lowest value your camera will allow.
By lowering the aperture, you basically decrease the depth of the field to a very shallow or small area. The depth of field is the region that appears very sharp relative to the background.
Reduce the object or subject distance
The closer the photographer is to the subject the more blurred the background will become. This happens since when the object is very near, the lens will be forced closer and the depth of field will be at its smallest.
This approach works in an exact manner as with the human eye. By extending your index near an object 2 feet away then focusing your eyes on your index finger and begin moving it towards your eyes- you will come to notice that as you gradually get closer to your eyes, the object behind your index finger becomes blurrier each time.
Camera lenses also work exactly the same way and that is why the object distance plays a crucial role in the rendering of the bokeh.
Maximize the distance between the subject/object and the background
If the subject or object you are capturing is close to a busy background, the bokeh is bound to suffer. Always keep in mind that depth of field isn’t just a borderline beyond which everything is expected to be totally out of focus. Instead, it slowly changes from sharp to out of focus.
Therefore, so as to get a good-looking bokeh, you should aim at placing your subject or object far from close background objects. E.g. if you are taking a photograph of a man standing close to a tree with leaves, the leaves might not appear completely out of focus. However, if the man is moved closer to you hence increasing the distance between him and the tree, the leaves will look more out of focus.
Go for longer focal lengths
Given that the distance between the subject and the camera is constant, increasing the focal length will definitely decrease the depth of field. Therefore, you should zoom in your lens to the maximum focal length allowed so as to separate the object from the background more extensively. This means that when you zoom out and utilize the lens at its shortest focal length, there will be an increase in the depth of field that is preferred for architectural and landscape photography.
Longer focal length lenses such as 200mm give the appearance of a greater object to background separation when compared to shorter focal length lenses like 24mm. This can assist in emphasizing the appearance of bokeh in a portrait.
Use a longer lens
Since by increasing the focal length of your lens you decrease the depth of field, the longer the lens the better the bokeh you will produce. However, this isn’t always true since the rendering of out-of-focus areas greatly relies on the optics of the lens.
Use a fast aperture or lens
It is advisable to use the fastest aperture in your possession since lenses impact the depth of field. Shooting faster apertures such as f/1.4, f/1.8, and f/2.8 can assist in creating a more shallow depth of field. The wider your lens i.e. smaller f/numbers, the shallower your depth of field. By creating shallower depths of field, you allow more of your portrait to be out of focus thus enhancing the potential for bokeh.
However, this can be a little bit deceptive since simply shooting at f/1.4 does not guarantee that you will have bokeh in your images. For example, if you are capturing an object that is far away like a mountain range: if you are capturing with a fast aperture, you will not get any bokeh.
Why is this so? When your object is very far away, your lens will be focused at infinity and everything in the photo will be in focus. If everything in the shot is in focus, then there will not be a bokeh.
Use a sparkly foreground or background
Bokeh tends to look more dramatic when you have a mixture of shadows and highlights e.g. sunlight passing through branches and leaves. Out-of-focus shadows make bokeh appear more sparkly. Blending the shadows assists the sparkly highlights to stand out.
Bokeh is among the most popular used photographing technique but still, the least focused on. Applying the above seven tips will help you in achieving a better bokeh that will greatly enhance your photography.
This technique adds softness to otherwise brightly lit photographs. By using bokeh to separate your object from the background allows you to use a non-photogenic background in your photo.
As much as you can capture photos with bokeh from any lens, using fast-aperture lenses will definitely work to your advantage. The most recommended lens for getting a good bokeh is a 50mm f/1.8 lens.