The term Bokeh seems to have undergone a radical transformation from what it actually refers to. It has become very common amongst newer practitioners to relate to it as a random blur or haze that occurs due to either the subject or camera movement. On the contrary, only the roots of the term Bokeh is a Japanese word that refers to blur or haze, whereas in digital photography Bokeh technically signifies the aesthetic quality of the image’s out of focus areas! It is highly subjective and qualitative, as opposed to other digital photography aspects such as shutter speed or lens aperture, which typically have a quantitative system of measurement. It is the quality of the blur that is of significance, as there is no right or wrong when it comes to Bokeh; and there is no one particular perfect Bokeh lens. If you are looking to capture some images with beautiful soft Bokeh, it is essential to understand how the lens renders to creating that blur. The aesthetic quality of the blur can be controlled by following these simple techniques in order to get better Bokeh effects!
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In order to get a good quality Bokeh shot, it is essential to adjust some basic settings on the camera. Many professionals recommend opting for a large aperture and short focal distance. Choosing a large aperture enables to let in abundance of light into the image. It is advisable to turn on the Aperture Priority mode and choose the lowest f-number (f/1.8 up to even f/6) depending on the capabilities of your camera. This will help to narrow the focus on the subject as it dramatically reduces the depth of field and blurs everything surrounding the narrow focal point. Simply put, choosing a wide aperture means faster lens speed, which in turn translates to abundance of light flow and decreased depth of field. All this ultimately increases the chances of the image exhibiting a smooth out of focus areas!
Since Bokeh refers to the blurry portion in a picture, it has a direct relationship with the depth of field. Depth of field is an indication of how much portion of the image is out of focus and hence, the direct correlation. A narrow depth of field will result in a larger blur; and in order to achieve this, it is advisable to ensure that there is sufficient distance between yourself and the light source in order to let in abundance of light. It is also important to get the lens as close to the subject as possible, without losing focus on the subject in order to achieve larger Bokeh areas. The closer you get to the subject, the higher the blur will be. The chances of getting close to the subject and still being able to focus are maximized by the use of a macro lens!
Once the technicalities such as aperture and depth of field have been taken care of, you can start concentrating on the creative aspects of the image. Instead of just creating random blurs in the background, you can try to relate the focal subject in the foreground to some aspect of the blurry background to create an unanticipated and interesting shot! It could be just the contrasting colors of the blur or the hue of lights or even a person. The pictures look more intriguing and captivating when there is an interaction between the foreground and background subject!
Bokeh is a very interesting technique that can significantly improve the aesthetic appeal of the image. However, it should not be wrongly used to mask poor photography or any uninspired creation!