Bokeh is a term to describe the out of focus areas of a photograph and is a popular technique with portrait and macro photographers.
Let’s take a look at how it is achieved.
Bokeh, (pronounced BOH-kay), is from the Japanese word boke, which means blur or haze. The effect is caused by using a narrow depth of field, which is the distance between the nearest object in focus and the farthest in a photo.
For SLR/DSLR’s it is visible as blurred circular shapes as in the image above, in fact, the blur ‘shape’ is determined by the lens and the shape of the edges of the aperture flanges. Curved flange edges create more circular shapes and are commonly found in the latest macro lenses.
However, the surest way to achieve bokeh is to shoot with a narrow depth of field. Shooting in Aperture priority or Manual mode with a large, open aperture, anything < 5.0 will reduce the camera’s ability to focus further away than about 2 meters. Anything outside that focal range will be blurred.
This technique is great for honing manual camera operation skills as it illustrates the connection between aperture, focus and depth of field . (Click the link for a further explanation in my recent blog post). The point is, using bokeh opens up a whole new world of creative possibilities for your photography.
What if you only have a smartphone? Is bokeh achievable with a phone lens? If you have a recent model phone that has a dual lens (2 lens on the back), you are good to go. Your camera shooting mode should offer more choices such as ‘Portrait’ mode. Dual lenses mean the camera is able to distinguish between the foreground and background and therefore blur or bokeh for you, as in the shot below of Bella taken on my iPhone X.
If you have an earlier model phone with a single lens, your option is to use apps to add bokeh effects after you shoot.
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Intentionally creating Bokeh can be a little challenging, but once you get some practice in, you will want to use it all the time. These tips will help you on your way;
Look at the images I have included in the blog and take note of the different types of lenses I have used- especially the f/stop values.
If you can, choose a lens that has very wide aperture options, such as f/2.4.
Using a macro lens for portraits or still life compositions will guarantee good bokeh because of the lens length.
Ensure the farthest point in your frame is more than about 4-6 m, and your closest is around 1.5 - 2 m to allow ample blur.
Use Aperture priority of Manual modes to choose a very wide f/stop, anything < f/5.0
Apps to try for your smartphone are Afterfocus, Bokeh Lens or DOF simulator.