Bokeh: Photography Friday, Week 12

I've received a few requests asking me to explain how to create the "bokeh effect" with photographs.

First of all, what is bokeh?

Bokeh is the blurry, or out of focus, area in a photograph.  Some types of bokeh are considered good because the blurred effect adds visually to the photograph.  Other types of bokeh are considered bad because the blur detracts from the overall appeal of a photo.

However, I know, the true question readers wanted answered was not how to create blur/out of focus areas but, "How do I get light/highlights to turn into those pretty round balls in my photos?"

Creating bokeh is easy; creating beautiful bokeh takes a little practice.

Sometimes bokeh is very apparent, as it is in this photo of my outdoor Christmas lights:


Other times, bokeh is much more subtle – as seen in the background of this photo:


In an effort to keep this brief, I'm going to keep this post very simple and basic today.  

First of all, you need pinpoint lights/highlights to create bokeh.  Taking a photo of the ocean at noon, on a bright sunny day, is not going to give you the bokeh "round balls" you want.

Second, you should open up your lens by adjusting your aperture.  

On the holiday light photo, I set my aperture to f/2.8.  On the flower photo, I had my aperture set to f/4.5.  You undoubtedly noticed, with the larger aperture of f/2.8, I got bigger "balls" (giggle).  In the flower photo, I used a smaller aperture of f/4.5 and the "balls of light" in the background are much smaller.

[If you're new to photography:  The smaller your f-stop, the larger your aperture.  f/2.8 is larger than f/4.5 … a smaller number f-stop lets in more light.]

I often shoot bokeh shots on manual, but it's easier if you set your camera to Aperture Priority Mode and just dial in the largest aperture (smallest f-stop number) available for your particular lens.

Next, you want your focus distance to be short.  The shorter the better.


In the above photo, the figurines were at a short focus distance and the tree with lights was in the distance – about 9 feet away.  I shot this particular photo at f/2.8.  Manual focus isn't mandatory, but it's your friend when shooting bokeh.  It gives you better control over the final look of your photo.

The lens you use makes a difference too.  You want to create a shallow depth of field to create beautiful bokeh.

I was asked what lens I use for bokeh shots.  I use several, depending on what I'm doing.  Most commonly, I've shot with my Canon 100mm f/2.8, my 50mm f/1.2, or my 70-200mm f/2.8.    

Like any photographic technique, the key to success is practice, practice, and more practice.  

I'm sure in no time you'll be getting shots you're proud of!

© Twenty Four At Heart

6 Responses to “Bokeh: Photography Friday, Week 12”

  1. Lisa

    I love my 50mm f/1.8 for bokeh! The short focal length gives me nicely blurred backgrounds and bokeh just about every time. The thing I have a hard time with is manual focusing. I don’t see very well and can’t get the diopter set right. Every time I think I have a sharply focused shot it turns out blurry, so I end up using autofocus a lot.

  2. Jan

    Like Lisa, I use my 50mm f/1.8 prime lens when I want bokeh, usually in AP mode.
    Nice tutorial!

  3. missmolly

    Huh? I wish I understood what you are talking about, as I would love to be able to take such beautiful photographs. Guess I will have to take a class. Thank you for sharing your beautiful pix.

  4. Donna

    I’ve wondered about that for a long time…wanted to take a class but alas…never time! Thanks for the lesson…your pics are wonderful and I learned somthing today!!

  5. Rob

    Very technical. a different aspect of 24 that I kinda always wondered about.
    I can just lift my eyeglasses and the whole world goes all Bokeh on me, especially during holiday-lights-time.


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