18 : Bokeh

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It's a blur...

In photography, we use the word bokeh (prounounced bow-kay) to describe the quality of the blur a lens renders in the out-of-focus areas. This week you will practice making bokeh!

When most people refer to bokeh, they are talking about those pretty, circular "blobs"  of overlapping blur. Believe it or not, different lenses produce different kinds of background blur, often depending on variations in the aperture and lens aberrations. Here are some examples of bokeh:

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WHAT CAUSES BOKEH?

Bokeh tends to be most visible around small points of highlights in the background. If you're taking a picture of a child against a background of backlit foliage, for example, you'll find large circles of light form around the tiny spots of brightness created by gaps between leaves. Christmas lights strung on a Christmas tree can offer a similar effect.

The shape of the lens' diaphram affects the bokeh as well. For example, a five-bladed lens has a pentagonal shape, producing pentagonal orbs of light around background highlights. A nine-bladed lens, on the other hand, is more circular in nature, producing orbs of light that appear rounder.

Typically, people prefer a rounder edge to their bokeh, as it tends to have a "creamier" effect. However, a bokeh's quality is subjective, and different people may prefer different effects.

HOW DO YOU MAKE BOKEH?

There are a number of ways to increase the size of the light circles that make up your lens' bokeh:

  1. Open up your aperture to create the largest possible circle in your bokeh.
  2. Shoot towards the sun, allowing it to filter through leaves & foliage.
  3. Keep plenty of distance between your subject and the background.
  4. Use longer focal lengths (telephoto zoom lenses are usually great!) to magnify the effect.

IT'S NOT JUST FOR THE BACKGROUND!

Remember, both backgrounds and foregrounds can be rendered out-of-focus, so be sure to explore the idea of bokeh in foreground blur, too!

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In the image above, a simple string of mini lights is used to exemplify the concept of bokeh. As the lights on the string draw nearer to the camera (and less in-focus), the bokeh becomes more pronounced.


Creative Prompts

This week, take time to observe the different types of bokeh your lens(es) produce. See if there's a certain feel of bokeh you prefer!

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  • Look for places where there are small points of bright light in the background. Light filtering through leaves, a sparkling surface of water, or strings of light such as these are all great places to start!
  • Be sure your subject is far away from the background. The further he or she is, the better the chance you'll see the bokeh your lens produces.
  • Keep your aperture as low as possible. This will make your bokeh orbs more visible.

Share your images!

As always, we look forward to seeing your images in the Facebook group! If you have never posted a picture, it's fine to start any time. The Facebook group is a positive, no-judgement zone. We also hope that reach out for advice or help if you need it!