Bokeh, Baby!

Bokeh: the visual quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photographic image, especially as rendered by a particular lens — as defined by Google.

I want to dive into the ‘bokeh effect’ and how to achieve this in your image. It’s relatively simple once you get the hang of it and understand how your lens works. Of course, there are a couple of things you’ll need to understand before we get to the bokeh, so lets start from the beginning.

Understanding Aperture:

Aperture, more commonly referred to in the photography world as ‘f-stop’, is the biggest key to your image quality (in my opinion). The ‘f-stop’ is typically identified on your camera lens in the format of “1:1.4” or “1:3.5-5.5” etc. These numbers identify the size of the opening your camera lens is capable of performing to let light into the sensor. Think of a camera lens like the pupil in your eyeball. The smaller your pupil, the less light is being allowed in and on the contrary the larger your pupil the more light is being allowed in. Your pupils get larger in dark settings and smaller in bright settings; the same applies to your camera lens. The darker your surroundings, the wider your f-stop should be. i.e. A lower f/stop number.

There’s a really neat trick to remembering how to set your f-stop when shooting. This is how people learned to set their camera before light meters (can you imagine?). It’s called the Sunny 16 Rule and it goes a little something like this:

Sunny: f/16

Partly Cloudy: f/11

Overcast: f/8

Evening: f/4

Night: lowest f/stop possible

While this is a great guide to getting the correct f/stop, if you’re shooting in manual mode you still need to set your ISO and Shutter Speed. If you’re following the Sunny 16 rule, you can reciprocate your ISO and Shutter Speed to your f/stop. For example:

f/4, ISO: 400, Shutter Speed: 400

When I’m shooting manual mode in a constant setting I try to stick to a fixed f/stop and ISO while adjusting my Shutter Speed to compensate for exposure.

Understanding Depth of Field:

Aperture: check. Next up — depth of field. Google defines depth of field as: the distance between the nearest and the furthest objects that give an image judged to be in focus in a camera. To put this into laymen’s terms lets picture the following scenario:

You’re shooting portraits of a client in front of an alley wall. Your client is your focal point and the alley wall is your background or ‘bokeh’. The closer your client is to the camera the sharper they will appear in the image. To achieve the blurring of the alley wall in the background of your image, have your client stand ~5ft to 8ft from the wall. By doing this, your subject has moved closer to your camera and moved further away from the background, thus achieving a bokeh of your background.

Use the above referenced scenario at your discretion. Whether you’re shooting portraits or landscapes, you can get a bokeh out of practically anything. I’ve used the background of images to tell a story. For example:

Bokeh Effect: 

Now that you understand f/stop and depth of field, lets get into creating a bokeh effect. As I’m sure you’ve read somewhere else online, your equipment kind of does matter. To achieve the best bokeh effect I recommend shooting in the 85mm-105mm range for most optimal effects. The reason for this being that this focal range tends to ‘tighten’ your image and really produce sharp, crisp images.

You can really get creative with what you put behind the subject of your image.

Conclusion:

TL;DR: Stop your camera down as low as possible, fix your ISO and fluctuate your Shutter Speed to compensate for the correct exposure. Place your subject closer to your camera and further away from the background of your image to create a blurred bokeh effect. Go out there and try this for yourself. I’d love to see what you guys create, please comment links, share images etc!

2 thoughts on “Bokeh, Baby!

  1. Regarding depth of field, your comments are good but incomplete. An important consideration with depth of field is the focal length of the lens. A telephoto lens has a much shallower “DOF” than a wide angle lens at the same aperture. By adjusting your distance to the subject, so the frame is filled equally, you will see a dramatic difference in the “DOF” when you compare a 35mm lens to a 200mm lens.

    Also, regarding manual exposure control, the “daylight rule” has been used for many decades. This Kodak guideline suggests you can achieve satisfactory results in bright daytime sunlight by putting a 1 over the ASA and using that fraction as your shutter speed at f/16.

    You might want to let your readers know there is a direct correlation between shutter speed and aperture. If you open up the lens 1 stop, you double the shutter speed. If you close the lens 1 stop (stop down), you half the shutter speed. This all has to do with increasing or reducing the depth of field.

    Liked by 1 person

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