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What is Bokeh, the Quality of Blur in Photography?

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Notes On Photography - Bokeh, a characteristic of a photograph, is affected by the shape of the diaphragm blades (the aperture) of the lens.

Bokeh, a very popular topic discussed by photo enthusiasts either openly or in a closed discussion, is one of the elements that makes photographs visually appealing. Bokeh is the way the viewer is brought to the subject and its separation from its background through the differentiation in the ‘depth of field (DOF)’.

The quality of this background/foreground separation, the rendition of the out-of-focus lights, and the overall quality of these effects are what bokeh is all about.

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As interpreted by Wikipedia, bokeh is the aesthetic quality of the blur seen in the out-of-focus parts of a photographic image produced by a lens. The word is derived from the Japanese boke which means ‘blur’ or ‘haze’, or boke-aji, which means ‘blur quality’.

The word has been in photographic circles use since 1966, popularized through magazines in 1997, and has appeared in photography books since 1998.

    Bokeh Photography Tutorial This photography bokeh tutorial will show you how to take a picture with a defocused background using a DSLR camera and shallow depth of field.
Bokeh is actually a characteristic of a photograph, and it is affected by the shape of the diaphragm blades (the aperture) of the lens. A lens with more circular shaped blades will have rounder, softer orbs of out-of-focus highlights, whereas a lens with an aperture that is more hexagonal in shape will reflect that shape in the highlights.

Creating the Environment

In theory, to achieve bokeh in an image, you will need to use a fast lens, the faster the better. Try to go for a lens with at least an F2.8 aperture, or faster if you have one. Apertures of F2, F1.8, or F1.4 are ideal. These are where primes (fixed focus lenses) are favored.

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When the lens is set at its maximum aperture, the depth of field (DOF) becomes very narrow and this will force foreground and background images to become blurred as they are out of the focal range of the lens. This will isolate and emphasize the main object of the image. With a fast lens, you can adjust the f-stop to control the depth-of-field, making it deep or shallow, thus controlling how the main focus of your image is rendered.

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What if you do not have a fast lens? Not to worry, as you can see from the image above, and the adjacent a bit blurry black and white image, the camera I used was a Panasonic DMC-FZ18, an 18x superzoom with an F2.8 - F4.2 lens. The shot above was taken at a focal length of 83mm, and exposure was 0.6 sec. at aperture f/4.2.

The only additional gear that you need for this setup is a tripod and subjects that have ample distance between them. By increasing the distance between the subject and the background, you can still achieve bokeh in your images even if they are shot at smaller apertures like f/4.

The Practical

Increase the distance between your subject and the background, you can do this as well by decreasing the distance between the camera and subject. The further the distance of the background, out of the DOF range of the aperture setting, the more out-of-focus it will be.

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Experiment too with highlights on the background element. This will help to show more visible bokeh, but then again, these will be affected by the shape of the quality of the glass and the design of the aperture (diaphragm) blades of the lens.

Choosing the Subject

Very popular subjects that can be created to show nice bokeh are portraits where close-ups can be creative. Images of flowers and other objects in nature, done with close-up or macro lenses are also interesting subjects, and while you are on the vacation of your life, try the sights (and sound) of the nightlife with ample display of lighted objects dispersed over a larger distance.

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When photographed with bokeh subjectivity in mind, strong or bright objects or light sources can become soft, pastel, or diffused orbs of inspiration. The bokeh technique can be used to add softness to an otherwise brightly lit scene, separate the background from the subject, allow it to become a diffused blur, and your subject will 'pop' out of its surroundings.

Getting Ahead

Time to go and get ahead now:

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  • Use the largest aperture available on your lens to isolate the subject from its background.
  • Use a fast lens, the more light you can let in, the more you can decrease the depth of field.
  • If you have one, use a zoom lens, this too will separate the subject from the rest of the scene.
  • Move in, and get as close to your subject as you can, the effect is just like using a macro lens.

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