Bokeh effect in photography tutorial
Bokeh – Introduction
There are many places you can read the word bokeh, even in my lens reviews as well.
The bokeh is a word of Japan origin, and means the part of the image which is out of focus. It is a speciality of photography that lenses can create interesting looking background.
What can add the Bokeh to the photo
The above picture was made with a long telephoto lens. Please note that almost everything is blurred on the picture, except the main subject. The effect would be even more pronounced if the bird would be even closer to the camera. Today most photograpy is 2D like, there is no depth on the photos. Have you see a nice dramatic landscape, make a photo and at home you were not satisfied with the quality of the pic you made? The difference between the quality of what you like, and what you see in the picture is different, because among other factors the image is 2D instead of what you see with your eyes which is 3D. Bokeh here can help, because the blurred background can give some depth to the photo. Other thing what the bokeh add to the photo is the artistic look and feel especially important for example at portraits or landscape photography.
Which factors affect Bokeh ?
Below you can read about which factors affects bokeh.
The bokeh mainly depends on four factors:
I put in order that I put in front the factors which affects bokeh the most
1. Distance from the subject
– if the subject is closer to the camera, the bokeh is more pronounced. macro lenses has a special advantage here, because we can go closer with these lenses. The below picture was made with the Canon 60mm macro lens.
2. Lens focal length
Longer telephoto lenses blur the background more than shorter lenses, the bokeh of the shorter lenses are usually more busy, uglier looking.
This picture was made a 560mm lens, (C200mm f/2.8 +2 converters) which makes the background and foreground more blurred to give a pic a more artistic look.
3. Lens brightness or maximum aperture
– brighter lenses blur the background more
4. Background distance from the subject
If the background is more far helps to blur the background more, even with not so bright lenses.
Out of focus highlights
One of the aspect of bokeh that how out of focus highlights looks like. The example above shows a good example. The shape of the highlights are depend on aperture blades of the lens. If the lens has circular blades it helps to create nice round shaped highlights. However if the lens has straight blades, like the Canon 50mm f/1.8 II has, we see if the lens has straight aperture blades, for example the Canon 50mm f/1.8 II the lens produce pentagonal shape highlights. Lens with circular aperture blades produce more pleasing bokeh. Other possible shape is more onion like, or elliptical shape. The shape of these highlights changes at different apertures. Mirror lenses and some normal dslr lenses can produce double outlined out of focus highlights which is also not as nice.
How to regulate the background with the aperture ?
I show an example here. Many cases for lanscape-like shots I like to not blur the background totally just at some extent.
Landscapes with telephoto lenses
Telephoto lenses blur the background more, than wide angle lenses or these lenses have less depth of field. Because of this feature the landscape pictures looks differently with telephoto lenses (50-200mm focal length or more).
I like this look very much. On the other hand much more space is needed from the subject, meaning much harder to get your picture, need to think about more, where you stand, where to go take the photo, and in many cases simply the story doesn’t work at all (if there is not enough space). The telephoto compression is also can add to the photo.
Best lenses for bokeh
The best lenses for bokeh the bright and long lenses, started from 70mm focal length. The obvious candidates are the 85mm f/1.2, f/1.4 or f/1.8 portrait lenses from Canon and Nikon or other manufacturers as well. The bokeh of the very bright f/2.8 super-telephoto lenses (300,400mm) is even better, but these lenses are very expensive. The popular 50mm lenses are also can create some bokeh but it is not so “creamy” as with longer lenses. The Canon 85mm f/1.8 and the Canon 200mm f/2.8 lenses are very good in terms of bokeh. In Nikon line the 85mm f/1.4 and f/1.8 lenses are very good. Prime lenses has usually better bokeh, because these lenses have less optical elements than zoom lenses. Many optical elements can destroy bokeh.
Create bokeh with software
It is also possible to create bokeh artifically, using softwares like Photoshop or Gimp to create bokeh. The function we use Gaussian blur.
How can I start to make this special photographs
Without knowing this “trick” consciously perhaps few people make such kind of photographys by chance.
So if you want to start as you have learned, from this article get your longest lens, find a subject and go as close to the subject as your lens allows (minimal focusing distance). If you have a zoom lens, try the longest setting. For start you can choose a cup, a telephone or anything you like.
Set your lens at its widest aperture. (the smaller number, for kit lenses usually f/5.6 at the long end, at superzoom lenses sometimes f/6.3). If you have an f/4, f/2.8, or f/1.8 lens it is even better. If you want out of focus highlights on the picture the night gives good opportunities or you can try to make pictures towards the sun, from a darker place like below the tree. You can experiment by switching your lens to manual focus mode and try to focus towards the lamp or any light source, you will see this highlights, which you can use to compose your photo. Other thing is to use xmas lights as a background in the room.