So let’s start with some basics. Bokeh is defined as “the aesthetic quality of the blur produced by out-of-focus parts of an image produced by a lens.” To put it more simply, the Bokeh effect is the pleasing or aesthetic quality that occurs through a photograph containing an out-of-focus blur. Technically, the word “Bokeh” is a Japanese word meaning “blur.”
You often see the Bokeh effect in certain types of images. For example, close-up portraits tend to use the Bokeh effect. There, you can see the subject of the portrait in focus while the background is purposely photographed out-of-focus. Besides portraits, some of the most popular uses of the Bokeh effect are close-up and macro images of things in nature (most notably flowers). Highly reflective objects (like holiday lights or traffic lights) are also a popular item to photograph using the Bokeh effect. This is because they can appear as orbs of glowing light, giving off a smooth, cool look for your viewers.
One of the best ways to achieve the Bokeh effect is through the lens you use with your camera. The lens determines both the size and shape of the visible Bokeh in your image. To obtain the effect, you need to use a fast lens at the widest aperture (like f/2.8 or wider). Ideally, you will use an aperture of f/2, f/1.8, or f/1.4, but you ultimately have to work with the equipment that you have. It isn’t the end of the world is you don’t have a fast lens. In fact, you can compensate for slower lens speeds by increasing the distance between your subject and the background.
Speaking of background, you can obtain a better Bokeh effect by deliberately selecting your background. You want to avoid plain or transparent backgrounds simply because there isn’t much going on. Instead, if possible, try to find lights from buildings or street lights. Light reflecting on bodies of water (like ponds or rivers) can also work. So while you do want to place lots of attention on the central subject in your image, don’t ignore the background. It may create more issues in the future.
These are some general first principles that you can leverage to organically create the Bokeh effect. As with any skill that you pick up in photography, you will want to take different types of photos to experiment with this technique. After some time, you will start to see some significant improvement.
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