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Getting More Depth: The Art of Bokeh


Getting More Depth: The Art of Bokeh

What is Bokeh?

In the world of photography, we’re often striving to eliminate blurry, fuzzy photos. I can’t even begin to number the times I’ve had a shot perfectly framed and then either the subject moved or my hand shook and the photograph was ruined.

However, not all blur is bad blur. There is one photographic technique that actually is defined by blurriness. Bokeh, a word that comes from the Japanese word “boke” which means “blurry,” is a method that uses the natural light in a photograph to blur out the background in a way that can actually be quite beautiful. Here’s an example:

More often, though, bokeh is used as a way to highlight a subject in the foreground. By creating a blur in the background, the subject of the photo becomes more pronounced and defined, because the trick to bokeh is creating a shallow depth of field that draws the viewer’s attention to the in-focus object.

Getting Inspiration

Before we get into the specifics of producing beautiful bokeh images, it’s important to go into the process with some inspiration. When I’m learning new techniques, or looking for ideas for new photo projects, I often utilize what’s called a photography lightbox. That means, I cull photo websites for inspirational images and collect them in a digital folder that I can go back and reference.
I don’t mean that I’m stealing ideas; rather, I look for photos that will inspire my own creativity. Keeping an in-depth lightbox allows me to keep my thoughts in order and have a visual representation of where my ideas are going.

How To Basics

So how exactly does bokeh work? For a technical description, there’s a great explanation here.

Basically, in order to achieve a bokeh photograph, you’re aiming to decrease the depth of field in your photograph. This means that you want to have a large aperture setting combined with a short focal distance. Choose a lens with the largest aperture setting possible.

Next, set your f-stop to the lowest setting to ensure that your aperture is at its widest opening.

Finally, you want to get close to the subject of the photo as possible. Try to put as much distance between the subject of the photo and the background as possible. The farther away your subject is from the background, the more limited your focal plane will be, meaning more of your background will be blurred out while your subject stays in focus. It might take a bit to get used to how

Going Further

To make your bokeh photos even more outstanding, try playing around with light sources. The smaller that the sources of light in the background are, the more bokeh “balls”—the colorful circles of light in many bokeh photograph—you’ll be able to achieve. Take for example this photo of a police car:

As you can see, the lights of the squad car and streetlights are far enough behind the police tape that they become distorted circles. Other sources that are fun to experiment with are Christmas lights, tea candles, lit windows that are far in the distance, bright stars, and so on.

There are literally millions of ways to play around with the technique, so get out there and start shooting.

Author Bio:

Luke Clum is a designer, developer and photographer based in Seattle. He loves working with minimalist photography and enjoys discussing all things typography. Follow him on twitter @lukeclum

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