What is Bokeh?
Simply stated, Bokeh is the technical term for the area of the photo that lies outside of the depth of field that is out of focus or blurry. Different lenses produce different types of Bokeh, some better than others. It’s what gives photos that dreamy look and really makes the subject of the photo stand out.
How do I get the most Bokeh in my image?
It isn’t as simple as picking up a nice lens and dialing down your aperture. There are the 4 simple ways to maximize your Bokah:
- Increase your focal length
- Get closer to your subject
- Lower your aperture
- Make sure the background is far away from your subject
For instance, the photo above was taken at a focal length of 50mm, aperture of f/1.8, and the background was not close to the subject. Unless I wanted to go to f/1.2, this was the most Bokeh I could get out of this photo based on the lens I was using.
These 4 factors will make your depth of field shallower, therefore creating Bokeh. You can’t just use 2 of these ways and expect results. For example, a high focal length with a lower aperture will not automatically maximize your Bokeh. All 4 must work together in order to maximize the blur in an image.
It sounds like a lot to think about while I’m taking photos…
Maybe at first, but the more you apply these factors, it will become easier. There are many photographers out there that are still not 100% sure how to maximize Bokeh. It’s common to think that it only has to do with aperture and focal length, when in actuality, there are 2 other factors that are unfortunately overlooked. Some photo examples will make it easier to see what I am talking about.
I was going to post some of my own photo examples, however I felt some side-by-side examples of the exact same subject and background would be the most beneficial. My sons were outside playing, so they made perfect subjects! Note: I didn’t notice at all that my son had 1/2 of his shirt tucked into his pants, until I was going through these images. I guess that’s the life of a busy mom! 🙂
This first set was taken with my 16-35mm lens. I kept the aperture the same to see the difference.
Notice in the first image, there is no Bokeh at all. The whole depth of field is in the photo. The reason being is there is no distance to create that depth of field. If the camera was closer, you can create that separation from the background, like in the 2nd image. I had them come about 20 feet away from the house, and then I went closer to them. You can see more Bokeh in the 2nd image vs. the 1st image. However, there isn’t as much blur as you have seen in other photos, right? That’s due to the short focal length of 16mm.
So, let’s try out my 70-200mm lens and see a few more examples:
You can really see the impact a longer focal length has on how much Bokeh you have in an image. Let’s take the 1st image. They are close to the background, and the camera is close to them. Again, as in the 1st image from the last example, there is no Bokeh in this scenario, even with a high focal length and a lower aperture. How about the 3rd image? Same focal length and aperture, and I moved them off of the house (background). This time, I moved farther away from them. There is some Bokeh, but not as much as one would desire when trying to achieve maximum Bokeh. Obviously, the 2nd image has the most blur among all 3 images. This is because all 4 factors are being taken into account. I increased my focal length, am closer to my subjects, have a low aperture, and made sure the background is far away from my subjects.
When you do have all of 4 of the factors in place, I will say that there is some wiggle room with your aperture. The farther your background is away from your subjects, the more you can shift your aperture number up and not loose as much blur as you would if the background was closer or if you were using a smaller focal length.
One final note is if you are close to your subject and using a shorter focal length, the depth of field narrows drastically. If you are using a very low aperture (under f/2.8), take multiple shots to ensure you have your focal point properly in focus. If you are shooting multiple subjects that are facing the camera for a traditional photo, bump up your aperture if you intend to stay close. Otherwise, keep your aperture low and step back away from your subjects to increase your depth of field.
Why is this knowledge important to have?
The Bokeh in an image no longer has to be by accident. Being empowered with the knowledge of how to create Bokeh wherever you are photographing means you can eliminate distracting background no matter where you are. You now have control over your depth of field and your Bokeh.