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What the Heck is Bokeh, and Where Can I Buy Some?

by Rodolfo Lentejas Jr. | April 30, 2012

Bokeh describes the rendition of out of focus points of light. It describes the appearance of out of focus areas, and is the character of whatever blur is there. (http://www.kenrockwell.com, March 22, 2012).

Complicated? Sounds Greek to you? Well, it’s Japanese, with a literal translation of dizziness.

Actually, bokeh is just digital photography mumbo-jumbo for a cool effect that you can do when taking a picture. The background of the photo is blurred so that one’s attention will be concentrated on the subject. In other words, it puts emphasis on a subject by highlighting it in the image.

By the way, the blur mentioned above means deliberate out of focus background blur, and not caused by motion or by camera shake, regardless of whether the camera is a DSLR or a compact point-and-shoot.

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To better understand bokeh, allow me some digital photography jargon of my own. Depth-of-field means the part of the picture that is in focus. A large depth-of-field means more areas are in focus; conversely, a small depth-of-field means more areas are blurred. In other words, more bokeh means shallow depth-of-field.

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Best Use of Shallow Depth-of-field

So when is the best time to utilize bokeh? Say you’re in your kid’s soccer game. If you take a normal picture of your kid while in the pitch, all the elements in the image will be detailed and focused. By using shallow depth-of-field, you can focus the picture on your kid alone while playing, fading out unwanted elements in the photograph.

Or maybe your pet is one of the finalists in a dog show. By using bokeh, you can snap a shot of your dog so that the focus will be solely on her, with the background blurred away.

When using bokeh, however, don’t blur the entire background. Instead, leave out some details so that one can still see some of the objects, making it appear as if it is fading away.

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Achieving Bokeh

If you are using DSLR, I presume you are already familiar with some basic settings in digital photography.

Bokeh is easily achieved when using DSLR through the following (and no, you don’t need an advanced DSLR with expensive lens):

  • Utilizing a large opening. That means a low aperture value, or that number beside f/ in your camera.
  • Using lens with longer focal length. That means lens with zoom capabilities; the longer the length, the more you can zoom in, the better for bokeh.
  • Situating yourself as near as possible to the subject. The nearer you are, the better chance of getting bokeh.
  • Placing other objects far from the subject. Objects you want blurred must not be beside the subject.

Compact point-and-shoots are designed with restricted apertures and wide angles, thus making for greater depth-of-field and harder-to-achieve bokeh. But while difficult, it still is possible. Most compact point-and-shoots have settings, albeit limited, to control aperture and zooming. Maximize its use by using small f-values and zooming it to the maximum possible. Try to stand as close as possible to the subject as well.

Photo Links:


Lisa Lein: http://lisalein.deviantart.com

Embr: http://flickr.com

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Tips-n-Tricks #480

If you need a little extra light for a close up on a subjects face or a macro shot you could use your iPhone's flashlight app to shine a little more light on the subject. Works in a pinch.

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