Bokeh Lighting Techniques

Times Square in New York is any photographer’s bokeh heaven – the stoplights, billboards, street signs and headlights make for an interesting backdrop to any photo. Whether you’re shooting wide open or otherwise, Times Square will not disappoint. Jay P. Morgan explains in detail how to experiment with different lenses and distances from the subject and background to create various bokeh effects:

Some key principles to remember:

  1. Get close to the subject.
  2. Stay far away from the background.
  3. Keep aperture wide open.
  4. Pinpoint lights (e.g. light bulbs, stoplights) are better than light screens (e.g. fluorescents, billboards).
how to create better bokeh

Not blurry enough

how to create better bokeh

Better bokeh

how to create better bokeh

Nicer when farther from wall

how to create better bokeh

Stepping closer to the subect decreases depth of field

how to create better bokeh

Effect is similar to the photo shot with the 50mm f/2.8 lens at 2.5 feet from subject; 13 feet from the wall

how to create better bokeh

Head size increases but bokeh is really nice

As you can see, you can achieve similar bokeh effects with different lenses by studying where to position yourself relative to the subject and background. Having your subject shift a few feet forward or backward could make a huge difference in the shape, size and opacity  of the out-of-focus lights in your background.

how to create better bokeh

Billboards create unpredictable patterns and colors of light

how to create better bokehhow to create better bokehhow to create better bokeh

The term “bokeh” comes from Japanese and means “blur” or “haze”.

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