As you dive into deeper topics in photography, you’ve probably come across some terms like “bokeh,” “aspect ratio,” “histogram,” “flash sync,” and “depth of field.” But unless you’re taking a class, you don’t know the meaning of these words out of context.

That’s okay – we’re here to help.

Today’s lesson asks, “What is bokeh?” and how you can use the techniques to create more beautiful pictures.

What is the Bokeh Effect in Photography?

The term Bokeh comes from the Japanese word boke, which means “blur” or “haze.” Boke-aji means “the blur quality,” and that’s the focus of the bokeh effect.The Bokeh Effect is one that will take your photos from drab to fab. The melange of blurs work together to create an image that is simply stunning. 

Nearly every photo has some type of blur in the image. Something in the background that’s out of focus is part of that blur.

But as you’ve looked at photos, you’ve seen that there are good blurs and bad blurs. You might not be able to immediately identify why a blur is good or bad, though.

The bokeh effect is the soft out-of-focus background in an image, which is created by a fast lens, with a wide aperture set. The f stop of f/2.8 or wider will create the bokeh effect.

An easier way to define bokeh is the aesthetic quality of the out-of-focus background blur in a photo.

When creating the Bokeh effect, there are two ways that you can do it. The first is naturally as you creat the image while the second way is artificial as it is created during the editing process. Today, we are going to focus on creating a natural Bokeh effect as this is what allows you to play with the light and become an exceptional photographer. 

What’s the Difference Between Bokeh and Blurred Background?

It’s easy to get a blurred background in a photo. Getting a pleasing bokeh effect, however, is a bit more challenging, at least if you don’t know what you’re doing, or have a low-quality camera.

A blurred background is often blurred in a poorly framed way, with unpleasant shapes, harsh lines, and double lines.

Photos with bokeh backgrounds have soft, pleasing blurs that don’t distract from the foreground subject. More importantly, with the Bokeh effect, your subject stays in focus so that you lave a beautiful image.

Bokeh Emulation

Although true bokeh is created through the special use of specific camera lenses and apertures, there are ways to get visual effects in images that closely resemble bokeh. The way that these effects are created in images without using special lenses is handled with graphical image manipulation programs such as Photoshop and such.

To create a relatively close approximation of bokeh in images using digital tools like Photoshop, you will likely need to use specific filters and masking techniques. What happens to simulate bokeh is essentially a blur of variable intensity that is selectively applied to portions of a picture. This synthetic blur is often also accentuated with lighting enhancements and pixel gradient enlargements for a more convincing effect.

Needless to say, recreating true bokeh with entirely digital methods can be quite time-consuming and is surprisingly tricky to get the hang of. For this reason, it can be a much better idea to invest in the equipment and practice time needed to master true bokeh from the start.

What Makes Good Bokeh?

The key to creating good bokeh effects in your photos is the shape of the bokeh shapes in the background. If you look at an image with the bokeh effect, you can notice that there are shapes within the blur. These shapes are created by the reflected light in the out of focus areas of the photographs.

Bokeh Shapes

There are an infinite number of possible bokeh shapes. However, the commonplace ones created naturally by camera lenses are usually round or heptagonal. These are the shapes that are the true indication of the bokeh effect.

These shapes effect the softness of the bokeh in your backgrounds. However, both of these shapes are perfectly good for creating great bokeh.

There are tons of tutorials online, however, that can be used to create custom bokeh effects.

Ultimately, creating good bokeh comes from knowledge and skillful application while photographing images.

How to Create Good Bokeh with a Basic DSLR

There are two distinct equipment features that are necessary for creating pleasant bokeh effects: wide aperture and fast lenses.

Fast lenses are generally spoken of in terms of focal length and its maximum aperture. The aperture is actually what determines the speed of a lens. The wider the aperture, the more light gets into the lens. The more light can get into a lens, the faster the shutter speed the lens is capable of. A wider aperture created a shallower depth of field in your photos, creating a creamy and blurry background.

You can also create the blur that you are looking for by photographing glitter and light strings in the foreground so that the blur creates a refection of sparkling circles. 

A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Pleasing Bokeh

Talking about bokeh is great, but doesn’t help much without instructions. Here’s our quick tutorial on creating a pleasant bokeh background on your next photography adventure.

1. Get the Right Lens

As we just discussed, you’ll need the right lens to be able to create the most pleasing bokeh effect. It is best to get a prime lens that can open up anywhere from an f/stop of 1.8 or lower, but zoom lenses that start at f/2.8 can work well also. Longer lenses will also produce more bokeh. A great lens to begin with are a 35mm/1.4, 50mm/1.4, or an 85mm/1.4.

The number of diaphragm blades on a lens also effect the quality of bokeh shape. The less blades there are the less round the bokeh shapes will be. Try to purchase a lens that has 7 or 9 diaphragm blades.

2. Go Wide in the Aperture

Make sure your aperture is set to the widest setting possible. A minimum of 2.8 is usually necessary to get a good bokeh effect.

3. Choose Your Image Subject

For the purpose of this tutorial, pick something close by. Maybe that vase of flowers on the kitchen counter, the cat snoozing on a windowsill, or the kids’ ball at the top of the stairs.

4. Focus on Your Subject

Now that you’ve chosen your subject, use your camera to focus in on the subject of the experimental photo.

5. Line Up Your Shot

You don’t want a close background for the image.The farther away your subject is from the background the better the bokeh will be. If the flowers are close to the wall, bring them out towards the edge of the deep counter, and angle the camera up or down to avoid harsh lines or ugly objects that may alter the appearance of your smooth bokeh background.

6. Take Several Practice Shots

Try taking the photo several times, adjusting aperture as needed to get a better background. Keep going until you achieve the look you’re going for.

Try stepping closer to, or pulling away from the photo subject to see how this effects your bokeh background. You will find the background is blurrier the closer you are to the subject and the further away the subject is from the background.

Have fun experimenting until you get the right look.

Creating Bokeh: An Easy Skill

Creating a great bokeh background isn’t that hard. You just need a lens with the right focal length and wide aperture. And with all things, the more you play with it, the more you will be able to create a great bokeh image.

Technically, all lenses are capable of bokeh, but fast lenses will create the best images. Try experimenting with various focal lengths and apertures as you practice with an easy, stationary subject.

With that being said, we hope that our guide of bokeh and creating the effect will allow you to create long lasting beautiful images. If you have tried this effect with your camera before, let us know below how it worked for you!

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