Bokeh is a word often used to describe images with blurred backgrounds. Photographers are drawn to the goal of creating beautiful bokeh. First we need to understand what bokeh is and how it adds creativity to our images.
When I was asked to rate photos and the theme was bokeh, I thought I knew what it was. As I prepared for the criticism, I discovered that my initial perception of bokeh was incorrect.
What exactly is bokeh?
Our sponsor, B&H Photo, has a beautiful article understand about Bokeh. The article takes a technical in-depth look at describing bokeh and the best lenses to create it. I’m going to keep it simple for you.
Bokeh is a Japanese word. You’ll hear it pronounced “boke,” “bo-ka,” “bo-key,” and “bo-kay.” The correct pronunciation is “bo-kay.” The word bokeh means “blurred background with specular highlights”.
Consequently, the out-of-focus background portion is what many photographers consider to be bokeh. In fact, a blurred background is part of the definition of bokeh. But the other part of the definition is “specular highlights.” Specifically, what are specular highlights?
Specular highlights are an important ingredient for creating bokeh. The small circles of light captured in the out-of-focus background are specular highlights, or bokeh.
Bokeh doesn’t just happen. Stop and analyze the scene to determine if there is any potential for bokeh. However, I’ve learned that if my subject is in a wooded area and there are bright spots in the trees, I’ll get bokeh.
In addition, there are other factors to consider when shooting bokeh.
Lens selection to create bokeh
Sure, many lenses will create bokeh. Furthermore, the most important variable in creating bokeh is depth of field and where your subject is in relation to the background. For example, the closer you are to your subject and the further you are from the background, the more likely you are to get bokeh.
In fact, macro lenses usually have f/2.8 at their widest aperture. For example, if you shoot an object at f/2.8, you’ll definitely have a blurred background, and if the conditions are right, you’ll have bokeh.
Beautiful bokeh with telephoto lens
Even long telephoto lenses can create bokeh. When shooting wildlife, the distance between the animal and the background creates bokeh. In addition, telephoto lenses compress the backgrounds, which creates the blur and when a light source comes through the trees or light on the water, bokeh appears.
In addition, bokeh is achieved even at short distances by using a telephoto lens. The following images were photographed at the RAPTOR, Inc. rehabilitation center. in Milford, Ohio with the Olympus OM1 And M. Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro with the 1.4 teleconverter. Due to their extensive injuries, neither the peregrine falcon nor the great horned owl can return to the wild.
Creating beautiful bokeh with special lenses
In particular, the Lensbaby product line has a wide range of creative lenses that create beautiful blur and bokeh.
You can create your own bokeh. In the following images I have placed mini string lights in the background. The photos were taken in my studio with the Olympus OM-1. Wall-E, photographed with the M. Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 macro lens produced a nice, round bokeh. Finally, in the second image I used the Lensbaby Soft Focus II and changed the aperture dial to create a starburst shape for my bokeh.
Final thoughts on creating beautiful bokeh
To summarize, understanding how bokeh is created is the first step to adding creativity to your images. As demonstrated above, bokeh in different environments can be achieved with different lenses. In addition, good observation skills will help you create beautiful bokeh. Finally, grab your camera and favorite lens and go out and create beautiful bokeh!