Updated: Jun 7
Have you ever stared at a photo with a blurry background and wondered, “How did the photographer make those round circles of light appear?” I know I have, and while it seems like those strange circles are edited into the photo, they’re not! In photography, that’s called “bokeh” (Pronounced boh-keh), a Japanese word that quite literally means “blur”. If it were to be described, Nasim Mansurov of Photography Life defines bokeh as “...the quality of out-of-focus or “blurry” parts of the image rendered by a camera lens” (Mansurov, 2020). So, in essence, bokeh is just a background blur of round circles you see outside the “depth of field”, something Mansurov says is the main focus of a photo.
There are some photographers, however, who think that bokeh is all about the circular light reflections in the background of the photo. If you ask Nasim Mansurov, he’d respectfully disagree because he believes that it’s so much more than that; it’s the whole picture! Take this photo, for example. This picture features a lantern with lights in the background where the lantern is the focus subject within the depth of field and the lights are the background blur, outside the depth of field. Bokeh photography is great to learn how to do if you’re a photographer who likes to emphasize the subject of your photos. With bokeh, your viewers can focus on the subject of your photo because the background is blurred and smooth.
From Adobe’s article titled, “What is Bokeh Effect in photography?” the photography experts admit that mastering the art of bokeh takes “practice to perfect”, and that the environment you’re in greatly contributes to creating successful bokeh (Adobe, 2022). In the article, one tip they give to achieve the best bokeh shot is to pay attention to the distance and position of your camera from your subject (Or object, whatever it is!). A greater distance between the subject and its background creates a shallow “depth of field” and improves your chances of capturing good bokeh. Adobe recommends staying close to the subject but also making sure it’s positioned a few feet in front of your background. For bokeh, blurry lighting is crucial, so natural light like sunlight, or fairy lights (For nighttime shoots) work best. In the end, it’s up to you and what you like best, so don’t be afraid to play around with the lighting and the distance of your object!
If you’re still in need of more tips for capturing great bokeh, Nasim Mansurov has more expertise to share! For producing bokeh that looks good, Mansurov advises that you first get to know your current camera lens. Try focusing on an object up-close while keeping it in focus and making sure your background is free of objects (Give it at least 5-6 feet of space!). Stay at the same level as your object and once you’ve got an appropriate background, set your camera to “aperture priority” at the lowest number it will go. Take your picture and glance at the rear LCD of your camera; what do you see? A good lens will have soft and fuzzy bokeh without any hard edges, just round and circular reflections! Make sure not to use a plain wall as your background because as I mentioned earlier, lighting is so important for a great bokeh shot.
Bokeh photography can be produced in many different ways, and it’s completely up to you how you want to capture your subjects. While this article has shown you images of different kinds of bokeh, there are so many other forms and shapes that can be created with your camera. It’s fascinating how the unfocused, blurry background of a photo can end up becoming so important to our photography!