Bokeh refers to a soft out-of-focus background that you get when shooting a subject. It comes from the Japanese word ‘boke’, which means ‘blur’.
But how do you achieve that colourful creamy background with your kit? If you’re interested in creating a beautiful bokeh effect in-camera, keep reading.
An Excellent Compositional Tool
By throwing your background out of focus, you get a ton of negative space. It helps to guide the viewer’s eye to your focal point and subject.
Helps You Play Around with Colors
It can also be used as a mass of colour complementing or mimicking the colours on your subject. So, in the case of a portrait in a green-dominant nature environment, you can choose to colour your subject in magenta to make it pop.
Or, oppositely, you might also choose to make it harmonise with its surroundings, and dress it in a different shade of green.
Great for Framing Shots
You can frame up your subject with good bokeh, placing a large piece of blur to one or more sides. This can make otherwise dull and uninteresting scenes come alive.
You Can Hide Unwanted Elements with It
Bokeh can be used to hide distracting elements. If you blur your background into oblivion, crisp details will disappear from it. It will become a dollop of colour and tone, and not much else. Thus, good bokeh contributes to a cleaner, more refined look.
It Can Create a Unique Atmosphere
You can create a misty, moody atmosphere an image with bokeh. Especially in portraits, if you choose to be close to your subject and introduce a lot of bokeh, it can make the viewer resonate more with the photo. Of course, it doesn’t replace a strong narrative.
At night or in a dark environment, points of highlights can shine through the background, creating well-defined bokeh balls. They look particularly flattering in portraits.
It also helps to give your images an overall professional feel. If you use it well, your photo will stand out from afar and remain interesting when viewed close-up.
In short, bokeh is a fantastic visual element with many great attributes. But you need to be conscious with it to consistently get awesome results.
Bokeh and Focus
You know well that you can’t have everything in focus at the same time – your lens is not capable of that in practical circumstances. You have to prioritise a plane as your area of focus.
Let’s take a look at this graphic to see how that works. On the first figure, the rays coming from the subject converge on the sensor, projecting a sharp image of the subject’s plane.
On the latter two figures, the plane of focus for our subject is before or behind the sensor. This means that in the sensor’s plane, the projected image is not sharp, but out of focus.
Bokeh and Depth of Field
You might rightfully ask: what’s the difference between bokeh and depth of field?
Well, the two are closely related to each other, but they’re not the same. Depth of field refers to the range in space that’s in acceptable focus. It’s a number, a measurement.
Bokeh, in turn, is the result of a shallow depth of field. It’s a visual element, and aesthetic factor – you can’t really measure or calculate its qualities.
The size of bokeh balls is actually possible to precisely calculate – but nobody does that. Bokeh is more than that, it’s about visual quality above all.