What is bokeh? That question alone seems to start a bit of a controversy. Even the way to pronounce it attracts different points of view. For this challenge, we’ll try to set aside all of those, as I see them, pointless issues. They are far enough removed from what we want to achieve. So, going back to the original question, what is bokeh? We all have seen this effect; we have photos with it. The term bokeh was first used to distinguish normal motion blur from the blur obtained when things are out of focus. It literally means blur in Japanese. The Nikon website, after a more complex and technical explanation reduces it to simply this: “bokeh is the pleasing or aesthetic quality of out-of-focus blur in a photograph”. Personally, I believe a good bokeh is as important as the subject itself, it can really transform a photo from ordinary into something a little bit more special.
I usually set my camera to aperture priority unless I’m in a low light situation. Lucky for me, that is the desirable setting to achieve a bokeh effect. If you’ve never managed to get a nice bokeh before, this is a good place to start. Another important thing to take into consideration is the distance between your subject and the background, the bigger that distance, the more likely you will be to get a lovely bokeh. You can also put the camera closer to the subject. For this, a macro lenses helps considerably, but a telephoto lens works too. The following were taken with a telephoto lens, it’s the distance between the subjects and the background that works so well, as does the light.
I’ve found quite a few photographers advocating the true bokeh is the speckled one, the traditional bokeh like the one on the next photo. Others maintain that a softer or even swirly bokeh is also a good one. In my view, it’s the quality that matters, the beauty of the effect.
Backgrounds, soft focused as they can be by bokeh, are more than just… backgrounds. They set mood and location, allowing the subject to shine. In this photo, the subjects could be anywhere in the world, but the background is there to let you know where the photo was taken. It’s not a pure bokeh, but it’s beautiful to my eyes.
Let’s now see the importance of distance between you, the subject and the background. These photos were taken in the same place with the same lens, my macro. The first one shows in the foreground a hawthorn tree with a nice soft bokeh. It gives a bit more of information about the area. In the second one I got really close to a berry. The distance between me and the subject was reduced but the distance between the berry and the background remained roughly the same. The bokeh effect is more traditionally speckled.
Now, I’m all for breaking rules when it’s really about what is pleasing to the eye. I focus more on how it makes me feel, what kind of emotion an image brings. To finish, I’ve included one of my favourite macros from last year. If I was to follow the stricter notion of what constitutes a good bokeh, would it make the cut? For me, it’s an example of how the sum of all components makes a good shot, one that personally, is very pleasing to the eye.
I’m inviting you this week to primarily think of out-of-focus areas on your photos. Are they an important component of your shot? What is bokeh for you and how do you achieve it? I’ll be looking forward to seeing how your beautifully blurred areas also have a story to tell.
Thank you for the wonderful celebrations you shared with us last week. If you join us for this challenge, please link to this post and tag Lens-Artists so we can easily find you. You can find more information on the Lens-Artists Challenges by clicking here.
Next week will be Anne Sandler’s turn to host the Lens-Artists Challenge. I wonder what she has prepared for us.