What is bokeh?
Bokeh is the out-of-focus area in an image. This includes very blurred areas.
Take, for example, the background in this shot.
Can you see the blurred greenery that has become behind the subject? Do you think it looks great? This is the power and beauty of the bokeh effects.
You should know that “bokeh” can refer to any blurred background or foreground in an image. You can either get beautiful bokeh if the out-of-focus areas are stunning and smooth, or poor bokeh if the out-of-focus areas appear too sharp or detailed. This article will explain the reasons for good and bad bokeh later on, but for now, you should know that not all forms of bokeh are equally beautiful.
These are the 5 factors that determine the bokeh effect on your photos.
Beginning photographers often have trouble capturing beautiful bokeh effects. This is because bokeh can sometimes be complex. It’s not as easy as just changing one setting on your camera and calling that day.
Five factors influence the quality of your photos’ bokeh:
- The aperture size is the diameter of the opening in the lens that allows light in.
- Lens choice
- Distance between your subject and the camera
- Distance between background and subject
- Quality of background
Let’s take a look at each one individually, starting with:
Size of the aperture
The aperture refers to a hole in your lens. It corresponds with your number setting.
An aperture of f/1.8, f/2.8 or lower will allow a wider aperture. A narrow aperture will be achieved by a higher f-number like f/11 or 16 at f/16. A wider aperture will result in a better bokeh, as the lens will produce more background blur if it is larger.
Landscape photographers almost always shoot at f/8 or higher. They want everything in focus! A narrow aperture produces sharp images from the foreground to the background.
Beautiful bokeh images are generally created at f/4 or wider. Most images are produced at either f/2.8, 1.18, or 1.2.
Not all lenses can shoot at super-wide apertures. I will explain why below.
Some lenses produce beautiful, creamy bokeh. Some lenses produce a dull bokeh. Why?
It all depends on several factors.
The first is that the lens’s maximum aperture will determine the quality of the bokeh. As we have already discussed, the best bokeh quality is achieved when the aperture of your lens can be opened wide. A narrow aperture will result in a distracting, nervous bokeh that does not complement the subject.
Second, certain lenses have more circular apertures than others. On the other hand, other lenses can be found with hexagonal, heptagonal, or octagonal lenses. The shape of the aperture determines how smooth the bokeh effect is.
(Note: The aperture count determines the shape of the aperture. This information can be found on every lens specification sheet. A circular aperture is one with more blades. This results in a pleasing bokeh. Did you get it?
Third, the longer the lens is, the more compressed the background and the blurrier it becomes. Longer equals more.
For the best bokeh, choose a lens that has a long focal length (e.g., 200mm), a large maximum aperture (e.g., f/2.8), as well as plenty of aperture blades (9+).
Distance between your subject and the camera
The background bokeh effect magnifies as you get closer to your subject. As you move away from your subject, it will disappear.
The bokeh effect is best when you are closer to the camera.
You have two options to get closer to your subject:
You can physically move towards them and bring the lens closer.
You can also use a telephoto zoom lens with a focal length of 300mm, 400mm or 800mm. These lenses can zoom up to your subject without you having to move.
Telephoto lenses are often useful, especially when working with delicate subjects (e.g., birds and wildlife). Sometimes it can be nice to get closer, especially if you are trying to capture a more intimate view (as I recommend for portraits).
Distance between background and subject
Your background will be less blurred when it is near your subject – the bokeh effect won’t be as strong.
However, if you have a background not related to your subject, it will look more blurred and generally will look very nice.
Imagine that you are photographing a child standing in front of a tree. You can place them right in front of the tree so that the bark touches their back. This will get a sharp focus and a very little blurry background. The bark will blur if the child is removed from the tree.
Increasing the distance between the subject and background is one of the best ways to achieve better bokeh. The more distant your subject is from the background, the better the result. This is especially true if you don’t have a wide-aperture zoom lens.
Quality of background
Some backgrounds are simple to blur, while others are more challenging.
This works well, with uniform elements (e.g., a forest of green leaves) creating a very smooth bokeh while chaotic, jagged elements such as people, cars and houses create distracting bokeh.
There are also other background qualities that you should consider.
You can often create stunning bokeh effects by arranging your photo so that the sun shines through a part of the background. This is how you can achieve a shot similar to this one.
Can you see the light coming from the sky shining through the foliage in the background? This creates a well-defined and circular bokeh effect that photographers love.
Bokeh photography: Putting it all together
To achieve the best bokeh quality, all five factors I mentioned above must be combined.
Even if one factor is not adjustable (e.g., lens quality), you can still adjust other factors for a beautiful result.
Although it is possible to maximize all the factors mentioned above, the best bokeh effect is achieved. Sometimes you may need a narrow aperture to achieve bokeh effects. You’ll have to consider all bokeh elements and control the ones that you can.
The step-by-step guide to nice bokeh
Although I have already discussed the theory behind good bokeh, this section will focus on practical tips for getting the best bokeh in any situation.
Step 1: Choose the right lens
Bokeh begins with the choice of a lens. A wide maximum aperture lens is best (ideally f/2.8 or larger, but f/4 may work).
Pick a lens that has a lot of aperture blades if possible. Remember: The more circular the aperture shape is, the better! ).
You can also use a standard or long telephoto focal length.
Select a large aperture
Bokeh can only be affected by the aperture. Make it count!
Dial-in the lowest f-number on your lens to achieve the best bokeh effect. If your lens is f/1.2 or more and you are shooting close to your subject, you might want to reduce the aperture to keep them in focus.
You can consult your manual if you are unsure how to adjust the aperture. You will need to change the mode dial to Manual Mode or Aperture Priority and then rotate the aperture dial until you get the desired result. Some lenses have an aperture ring that you can manually adjust the aperture.
Get closer to your subject.
The first step is to identify the subject you wish to photograph and then move closer. You can move closer physically or use a longer lens to get a tighter view.
You can try both if you have the time. The effect may be slightly different depending on the lens you use. Longer lenses will compress the background, creating smooth bokeh but reducing intimacy.
For the best background, position your subject.
If possible, you can move your subject (or in portraits, ask them to move), then place them in front of a non-distracting background.
Bring them away from the background to make the bokeh effect more prominent.
If your subject is not moving, you can adjust your perspective. You can get rid of distracting background details by getting low; moving to the side can increase the subject’s background distance.
For a great exposure, adjust your settings.
You’ve done all you can to achieve the best bokeh.
Determine the settings that you require for a good exposure. Keep your eyes on the subject. Make sure you check the background one more time.
Take your photo!
After taking a few shots, make sure to check your camera’s LCD. Pay attention to the background quality. What does the background look like? What can I do to improve the bokeh?
Make the necessary adjustments, and then you can shoot again.