What is Bokeh Photography?
Michael • Updated July 20, 2022 • 10 min read
Michael • Updated July 20, 2022 • 10 min read
The bokeh effect is most often seen in portrait and fashion photos, but it can also be seen in photos of food, flowers, and close-ups in general: The Japanese word “bokeh” has been used for a few years to describe the soft blur behind the main subject.
Background with a soft blur gives a sense of place. The picture will then look more elegant, and the main subject will stand out in a powerful way. Our article tells you what you need to keep in mind when taking pictures and editing them to get the bokeh effect.
The background should be blurry and reduced. The image will look more elegant, and the main subject will stand out more.
Here are our guidelines for getting the popular “bokeh” effect when taking photos.
Bokeh is a Japanese word that means “points of light that are not in focus.” The name comes from the Japanese word for “mist” or “veil,” which is “boke.” (The “h” was added to make it easier to say in English [BO-KEH]).
It’s a very subjective word that’s often used to describe how an image’s blurry background looks, people say “the picture has good bokeh.” Or, in other words, the beauty of things you can see in a photo that is out of focus.
So, bokeh refers to how blurry something looks in the background or foreground of an image, not how blurry it really is. It is less important whether or not the background is clear or blurry.
What’s more important is how the areas that are out of focus blend into each other in the picture. Because of this, there is no numerical value for bokeh. Instead, it is described based on how good or bad it looks.
Photography fans also argue about what kind of blur it is. Depending on the lens, the blur rings can be round, oval, or pointy. People think that being circular is a good thing.
Lens makers are helping this trend by making diaphragms with eleven or nine blades instead of six, which prevents blurring at sharp angles. Depending on the lens, there can be also bright edges around the blur, which many photographers would rather not have.
If you already have a camera and lens, the only way to control blur is through the aperture: For example, set the camera to aperture priority, which is also called “aperture priority” and is usually marked “A” or “AV” on the rotary switch on the camera. Now that you’ve set the aperture manually, the camera will figure out the right exposure time for you.
Even if your camera doesn’t have an aperture priority mode, you can still get decent bokeh with a wide-open aperture when shooting sports or portraits.
On the opposite, if you set the camera to landscape or architecture, the camera creates a relatively detailed background with no or little bokeh.
Most of the time, bokeh effects go wrong because the wrong lens is used. To get beautiful bokeh effects, you need a lens with a focal length of at least f/2.8.
Unfortunately, the kit lenses that come with most cameras only have focal lengths of f/4.5 to f/3.5, which seems not far from f/2.8 but is still not enough to get the blur effect that bokeh needs.
A 50mm lens is the best bet for beginners. These lenses are cheap, easy to find, and can be opened up to a focal length of f/1.8 or even f/1.4. 50mm lenses and telephoto lenses can both be used to make beautiful bokeh backgrounds.
Depth of field, or DOF, is better with longer focal length lenses, even when the distance between the background and the subject stays the same. When used with an aperture of f/2.8 or less, or when zooming in, a telephoto lens can make the blur effect much stronger.
Just keep in mind, that when the aperture is wide open, other problems like edge shading (vignetting) or ugly color fringes could happen (chromatic aberration). When the aperture is wide open, the whole picture may look a little soft and low in contrast.
There are lenses with large apertures, like 1.2 or even 0.95, that promise a great bokeh effect but aren’t sharp enough at their widest point, so you may have to close them down.
When choosing the best bokeh lens, you should also think about the aperture blades. Depending on how they shape the opening of your aperture, they can change how your designs look in the background.
For example, a lens with nine blades makes a circle-shaped opening, which makes the light sources in the background look round and natural.
On the other hand, a lens with fewer aperture blades, such as five or seven, will produce orb shapes that are pentagonal or heptagonal.
A beautifully blurred background isn’t just about the lens and camera; it’s also about how the image is set up.
Bokeh is less important when taking pictures of things with no depth of field (reproductions, enlargements), at hyperfocal distance settings, when the depth of field goes to infinity (wide-angle lenses), when the background is bright and it’s hard to see highlights on it, and when using smaller apertures or lenses with less light output, which also makes the blurred circles smaller.
Portraits are the most common things that are photographed that have nice bokeh. Bokeh is very clear in close-up portraits. Close-up and macro pictures of flowers and other natural things are also popular ways to show off bokeh in a picture.
When you take a picture of a group of holiday lights or other highly reflective objects, you get an extreme example of bokeh. When sharp or bright elements are taken out of focus on purpose, they turn into soft, pastel, diffused orbs of glowing light.
Using this technique to separate your subject from the background can also let you use a background that isn’t very eye-catching, but the blurred effect helps “highlight” the subject instead of taking away from it.
Background edges look like they are doubled and stand out in a way that messes up the way you see things forever. In areas of the background with a lot of contrast, color fringes show up.
They usually turn purple. As you move toward the image’s corners, the changes in color become more noticeable. Highlights have a polygonal shape with clear edges, and sometimes it looks like rays are coming out of their corners.
At first, bokeh was hard to get on camera phones because the sensor area was so small. But background blur is possible, especially with the best phones right now. The most expensive phones have relatively wide apertures, like 1.6, and sensors that are about the size of those in compact cameras, like 1/1.7 inch sensors.
At least, the background blurs a lot when the subject is close. Try it and make a photo of a flower or a coffee cup.
Important: Tap your main subject on the screen before you take a picture to make sure your phone focuses on the right place.
Depending on the manufacturer, some of the newest high-end phones also have a feature called “live focus or aperture”: First, you take the picture, and then you use the slider in the photo app to change how blurry the background shouöd be.
You can change the bokeh effect while you’re taking the picture, but it’s much easier to do it afterward. This is also good for moody portraits with a blurry background. However, be careful when applying a blurry background effect, as it doesn’t always look real.
Make bokeh effects with software
With photo editing apps like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom, you can use the “Field Blur filter” to create beautiful bokeh effects after the photo has been taken.
Here is just a quick idea of how to do this::
With the Field Blur filter, you can set a focal point in the image and then blur and sharpen other parts of the photo in different ways. Try it out and see what kinds of bokeh you can make with the blurred background.
You can also use it to directly change the bokeh. You can change the color and strength of the bokeh in your image by moving the bokeh color slider in the Field Blur filter.
To get a beautiful bokeh effect, it’s important to choose the right background. Even though it’s easy to blur parts of an image with the right lens settings, this doesn’t always mean that the bokeh effects are nice.
Plain, black-and-white backgrounds don’t work well for bokeh effects because there isn’t much to see. Even though the background is hazy, light sources and patterns stand out clearly in very good bokeh images.
The best places to photograph bokeh are in cities. The lights from buildings and street lamps make your photo background look different and interesting. If you want to make really striking photos, you can also shoot in front of water surfaces. The reflections in water surfaces create beautiful bokeh effects.
Beginner photographers usually think of colorful, blurry backgrounds when they think of bokeh shots. But you can also use bokeh in the foreground, for example, by stringing up lights in front of your subject.
For a bokeh foreground effect, you’ll need beautiful light sources and patterns in front of your subject, just like you did for the background.
When you use a wide aperture, the shallow depth of field affects both the background and the foreground. So, if you focus on the thing in the middle, the background and foreground will become less clear.
Between the bokeh foreground and bokeh background, you must set the scene for your main subject. This should go without saying, but if you spend too much time getting your bokeh effects just right, you might forget to make sure your real focus point is well lit.
People in bokeh photos sometimes look like silhouettes because they weren’t exposed properly in the frame.
In bokeh photos, the glowing orbs of different colors in the background are caused by a lot of light behind the subject. But make sure they aren’t too bright to avoid the silhouette effect we talked about before, unless you only want to show silhouettes.
Focus on your subject instead of the background to make sure you have enough exposure. Then, your camera will decide what the right exposure is for you. When the aperture is wide open, the image can sometimes look “soft” because the depth isn’t deep enough.
To avoid this, choose an aperture that blurs your background or foreground but keeps your subject in sharp focus. You don’t have to use your lens’s maximum aperture to get beautiful bokeh effects. If your lens has a focal length of up to f/1.4, f/1.8, or f/2.8 are often enough.
Read more about bokeh here:
So, a full-frame SLR camera, like the Canon R6, Nikon Z5, or Sony Alpha 7R IV, has more potential for bokeh than a camera with a smaller APS-C sensor. Compact cameras or phones with even smaller sensors have even less bokeh, and really only work for close-ups.
There are a lot of lenses that make nice bokeh. To get nice bokeh, you need a “fast” lens with a large maximum aperture, f2.8 or higher is best (smaller f-number).
Bokeh is the natural blurring of the background that happens when you shoot a subject with a fast lens and a wide aperture. Or, to put it more simply, bokeh is the pleasing or beautiful blur in a photo.
The only clue to the original depth of space in a photo is the blur or bokeh effect. The blurred background is caused by a small depth of field.
Smartphone cameras are made with very wide-angle lenses and short focal lengths, which give them a high level of sharpness and depth of field. The lenses are not good for a blurred background with clear light circles or even a blurred foreground.
Smartphones’ fake portrait bokeh is usually not very clean because it is made by software inside the phone.
Most people think that light circles with onion rings or corners are less attractive. But this is a matter of personal taste. In my eyes, round, soft, light circles are nicer than onion rings. Some lenses have aspherical lenses built in, which cause what are called “cat-eye rings” in the blur.
Cat-eyes are circles of light that aren’t quite round but are more like ovals. The vignetting of the lenses causes cat-eyes, which are often visible at the edge of the shot. I also think that light circles that look like cat’s eyes are beautiful.
Donut bokeh are light circles that are hollow in the middle. Most of the time, mirror telephoto lenses are to blame.
The Japanese word “bokeh” has been used for a few years to describe the soft blur behind the main subject. The bokeh effect is most often seen in portrait and fashion photos, but it can also be seen in photos of food, flowers, and close-ups. Many photographers use the widest open aperture available, such as 1.4, 1.8 or 2.8, or 3.3, depending on the lens.
When photographing, put a lot of distance between your subject and the background. When taking macro photos, make sure your main subject is far from the background. You can test various bokeh effects with online simulators and create bokeh effects with Adobe Photoshop.
Your thoughts and questions