How to Do Bokeh

Creative photography often involves using a variety of techniques to add dramatic effects to a photograph. One such technique is referred to as bokeh. Bokeh is the technique of adding intentional “fuzzy” areas within a photograph.

bokeh photo

“Bokeh” captured by Alex Lewis

This technique should not be confused with photographs that are out of focus due to poorly balanced settings. Creating bokeh requires forethought and a steady shot. Once this technique is understood, it is fairly easy to recreate and will add drama to your photographs.

The techniques described within this article are designed to be used with a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera. However, photographers who master their equipment should have little difficulty in achieving similar results with a hand-held camera set to the creative mode.

Since the techniques described below call for using a wide aperture and a high level of zoom, you will need a steady hand to create the bokeh effect. It is recommended that a tripod, monopod, or other stabilization technique be used to ensure a clean shot.

Before we jump into adjusting the camera settings, let’s take a moment to consider when to apply the bokeh technique. Bokeh shots are best used for tight shots where a detailed background is not desired. However, to be effective, you will need background elements to be present, such as leaves, lights, or other abstract textures. This technique should not be used where the elements within the background are expected to be in focus, such as people, structures, or other distinguishable features.

By applying the bokeh technique where the background features are distinguishable, the viewer will focus more on the out of focus elements than the subject itself, which will create a photograph that appears to be poorly focused rather than creative, so choose your background carefully.

Take a look through your lens inventory and choose a medium telephoto lens that is capable of focusing on a subject within relatively close range. A telephoto lens is designed to converge light within the lens body fairly close to the sensor. If the subject is fairly close, then the depth of field is rather shallow and the background will fall out of focus.

bokeh tutorial

“Bokeh of Candles” captured by Colin Jennings

With your subject in focus, let’s adjust the aperture to create the bokeh effect. Adjusting the aperture will require you to take the camera out of automatic mode and switch to aperture priority. The aperture priority option is often indicated by an “A” or an “Av” on the selection mode option dial. A wide aperture allows more light to strike the digital sensor. With the camera set to aperture priority, set the aperture to the lowest setting.

Most telephoto lenses have a minimum aperture setting between f/2.8 and f/4.5. The wide aperture setting coupled with the high telephoto setting will create a conflict within the camera that will lead to the camera being unable to resolve focusing on the background.

This conflict is the sweet spot for achieving bokeh. The greater the variance between focal length and aperture width, the more dramatic the effect. Bear in mind, however, that as the ratios between the focal length and aperture increase, the depth of field greatly decreases, which may render your subject out of focus, so care should be exercised.

About the Author
Peter Timko writes on behalf of Proud Photography, which offers online photography courses on a variety of subjects.

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