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Going for Bokeh - Creating professional looking shallow depth of field photographs

Updated on December 17, 2015

Extreme Bokeh or Depth of Field Effects

Wide open apertures in this case f1.7 create shallow depth of field effects. Photo: Edward M. Fielding
Wide open apertures in this case f1.7 create shallow depth of field effects. Photo: Edward M. Fielding

What is Bokeh?

Bokeh Tutorial

Computer Created Boheh

How to Achieve Shallow Focus Effects

You know those professional photographs you see in magazine or advertisements where the subject is in focus but the background is fuzzed out? Well this is sometimes described as shallow focus or small depth of field.

This technique causes only one plane of the image to remain in focus while the rest (foreground and background although sometimes you don't see the foreground in the image) is thrown out of focus. This technique is a great way to emphasize the subject of the image especially in portrait photography where you don't want the background to distract from the main subject.

Among photo enthusiasts this effect has become known as "BOKEH" from the Japanese word boke meaning to blur or haze or even as mental haze and bokashi meaning intentional blurring or gradation. The English version of the term has began appearing in photography magazines and books in the late 1990s. As a highly sought after techique for some photographers, lens are often praised for their ability to produce pleasing bokeh like the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7 lens for the Micro Four Thirds cameras.

How To Acheive Boheh

The Bokeh effect is the opposite of deep depth of field. Maximum sharp focus from front to back can be achieved by very small apertures. A pinhole camera for example gives one sharp focus in the entire image as does small apertures available with large format cameras.

For maximum Bokeh one wants wide aperatures available in "fast lens". For example the image shown here as an example was taken with the Panasonic Lumix 20mm "pancake" prime lensand is capable of opening to a very wide F1.7. Remember the larger the aperture the smaller the f number. F45 for example would be a very small aperture on a large format camera.

Large aperatures work on closeups but you can also achieve the boken effect using a longer focal length lens from a greater distance. Again selecting a larger aperture increases the effect by decreasing the depth of field.

Special lens such as tilt lens can be used. In professional studio product photography large format cameras can be twisted to produce shafts of focus that one might see in advertising product photographs or fashion photography. For smaller cameras and DSLRs Lens Baby a brand of special lens designed to bring this tilt lens effect to handheld cameras.

Other techniques such as special filters or filters with the edges rubbed with Vaseline to blur the image have also been used as a none lens produced boken effect but that's not really a true boken.

Point and shoot camera users have a much harder time achieving this effect because of the small lens. Simply put most point and shoot cameras are designed to put everything into focus. If you have an advanced point and shoot camera you should be able to choose an aperture priority mode, if you can, choose the largest aperture you can and turn off the flash.

Most point and shoot cameras won't go wider than f2.8 so if you want really good bokeh you really want a pancake lens like the Panasonic Lumix 20mm that goes as far as f1.7.

Copyright Edward M. Fielding

Bokeh or Shallow focus images

Here the focus is on the Lego NXT robot and not the young inventor. Photo: Edward M. Fielding
Here the focus is on the Lego NXT robot and not the young inventor. Photo: Edward M. Fielding
In this photography the toad is the main focus.  Shallow depth of field blurs the forest background into a green backdrop. Photo: Edward M. Fielding
In this photography the toad is the main focus. Shallow depth of field blurs the forest background into a green backdrop. Photo: Edward M. Fielding

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    • peanutroaster profile image
      Author

      peanutroaster 5 years ago from New England

      Thanks cclitgirl!

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Wonderful hub on bokeh. I'll have to link to this in an upcoming hub. I love your explanations and photos that you used - you described bokeh perfectly. :)

    • peanutroaster profile image
      Author

      peanutroaster 5 years ago from New England

      With my fisheye (extreme wide angle) I can stop down (large Fstop numbers) but then everything from a few inches to miles away is in focus.

      Open wide (smaller f stop numbers like 1.8, 2.4) and you get more bokeh.

      More info: http://www.edwardfielding.com/apps/blog

    • profile image

      SaritaJBonita 5 years ago

      Another great way to capture Bokeh, and to add some character to your subject, is to shoot with a wide angle (i.e. 18mm) and get very close to your subject. This will distort the image a bit, but it's a great technique under certain circumstances. I love photographing pets, and I do this sometimes to capture their character. This of course only works if they're sitting still!

      When you combine a wide angle close-up with a small aperture, the results are interesting.

    • peanutroaster profile image
      Author

      peanutroaster 5 years ago from New England

      The effect is very difficult with point and shoot cameras or even Micro Four Third cameras due to the closeness of the lens to sensor.

      On the other hand these small cameras more readily produce images with large depth of field which is great for landscapes.

    • Darrylmdavis profile image

      Darrylmdavis 5 years ago from Brussels, Belgium

      Neat hub...I was just trying this the other day. Highlighted the fact that I would need a lens which opens up more widely than anything I currently have, though. Still fun! :-)

    • profile image

      paulgc 6 years ago

      An interesting article.

    • DayLeeWriter profile image

      Debra Cornelius 6 years ago from Georgia

      Love the effect -didn't know what it was called. Great aerticle, I tweeted it! Voted up as well....Have a great day!

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