Bokeh has become a popular word in photography in the past decade, and yet I was surprised to find that when I researched it at the library, only two out of twenty photography books even mentioned it. At the same time, a quick Google search revealed over 3,100,000 related links in just under two seconds, once again proving that the World Wide Web is an amazing resource.
So what is bokeh?
According to Dictionary.com, it is defined as: a Japanese term for the subjective aesthetic quality of out-of-focus areas of a photographic image.
Bokeh has also been described as blurry or out-of-focus points of light. Basically, it is how your camera lens renders the small sources of light that are seen in the unfocused part of the image.
Not to be confused with depth of field, bokeh appears as disks or blurry circles in either the foreground or background of your intended subject. The smoother or more circular the disks, or bokeh, the more pleasing the effect will be.
When it comes to capturing bokeh, depth of field plays a big part in the process as well. Both work together to de-emphasize parts of the image while bringing the focus on your subject. Understanding depth of field is important when learning how to achieve bokeh.
How to get bokeh?
Since the challenge here is to capture bokeh in your photographs, I will explain my understanding on how to get it.
- Use a lens with a large aperture such as f/2.8 (or smaller).
- Place the subject in the frame with a small light source such as Christmas lights, candles, or other light-reflective surface in either the foreground or background.
- Use the longest focal length/zoom on your camera to exaggerate the bokeh.
- Adjust the distance between the subject and the light source so that the light is totally out of focus. (The further the distance, the smoother the bokeh will be.)
- Focus precisely on your subject and shoot.
How will I know if it's good bokeh?
In the articles that I read, there was a consistent message and it was that bokeh is subjective to both the photographer and the viewer. In other words, it is totally up to you whether you like the effect or not. The ultimate goal is to create bokeh that enhances your subject, creates a neutral background for your subject and is not distracting to your subject.
For a clearer understanding of bokeh, I would recommend reading this DSLR Bokeh Tutorial.\