Bokeh for Beginners

What does Bokeh mean?

Bokeh is a Japanese word for “blur” or ‘haze, or boke-aji, which refers to the “blur quality”. Bokeh can be pronounced BOHK@ or BOHK-kay.

You can find many people discussing the beautiful Bokeh produced by their fast lenses on any photography forum or website. Many adjectives describe Bokeh: silky, silky and excellent, smooth, amazing, superb, wonderful, good, beautiful and sweet.

What is Bokeh?

Bokeh can be described as the “effect of soft out-of-focus background that you get when you shoot a subject using a fast lens at the widest aperture such as f/2.8” or greater. Simply put, it is the pleasing or aesthetic quality to have out-of-focus blurred in a photograph.




(c) Paul Van Allen

D3100, 55mm lens, 1/10 second, f/5.6.

(c) Kristina Krause

(c) Paul Van Allen

D3100, 300mm lens, 1/2500 second, f/6.3. While wider apertures are more effective, you can still achieve Bokeh even with smaller f/stops.

Lindsay Silverman, c/

This image was created with the 90mm lens at f/3.5 and 1/40 second. This image showed Bokeh in the background and was created with HDR techniques.

(c) Paul Van Allen

Nikon 1 V1, 50mm at 1/60 seconds, f/1.4 This image was taken with the Nikon 1 V1 and FT-1 F mount adapter.

Lindsay Silverman, c/

D300, AF/S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70 – 300mm f/4.5-5.5.6G IF/ED lens, Auto ISO 200, 1/50 second, f/5.6 While wider apertures are more effective, and you can still achieve Bokeh even with smaller f/stops.

(c) Paul Van Allen

D3100, 55mm lens, 1/10 second, f/5.6.

(c) Kristina Krause

Bokeh: Best Aperture

A fast lens is essential to achieve Bokeh in your image. The faster, the better. A fast lens should have at least an f/2.8 aperture. Faster apertures such as f/1.8, f/1.4, and f/2 are ideal. Many photographers prefer fast prime lenses when shooting photos that require visible Bokeh.

Best Lens for Bokeh

While Bokeh can be seen as a characteristic of a photograph’s image, it is determined by its lens. The shape of the aperture (or diaphragm blades) can affect the Bokeh, which is usually seen more in the highlights. Lenses with circular blades will produce softer out-of-focus highlights. A lens with a more hexagonal aperture will show this shape in the highlights.

You don’t need a fast lens to make this work. You can see Bokeh when you increase the distance between your subject and the background. This is possible even if the aperture is smaller than f/8.

How to Get Bokeh

Increase the distance between the subject and background to increase your chances of creating visible Bokeh. This can be done by decreasing the distance between your subject and the camera. The further away the background is from the subject, the deeper the depth-of-field will be. The Bokeh will be visible in the highlights, not in the background. This is why you may use a hair light, side light, or backlight to enhance the effect.

Bokeh Camera Settings

It is best to keep the lens open. This means you will need to choose between Aperture Priority and Manual. Manual allows you to select your aperture and shutter speed. Aperture Priority lets you choose the f/stop, while the camera will choose the shutter speed to expose you. The flexible Program mode allows you to choose the best aperture/shutter speed combination.

Bokeh in Portraits

Portraits are the most photographed subject showing Bokeh. Portraits with close-ups are a great example of Bokeh. Photographing close-up macro images of flowers or other natural objects is popular to show Bokeh. A group of holiday lights or other reflective objects is a common subject to photograph. These normally bright or harsh objects can be softened by being photographed out of focus. This is an extreme example for Bokeh.

Bokeh can soften a brightly lit photo. This technique can be used to separate your subject and background. However, because it diffuses blurred, it helps to highlight the subject, not distract from it.

Bokeh Photography Tips

  1. Fast aperture (at least f/2.8) is the best.
  2. Use fast prime lenses
  3. Bokeh with a longer focal length is more extreme
  4. Take wide-open lenses
  5. Distance between background and subject should be increased
  6. Get closer to your subject
  7. Photograph close-ups of people and macro images in the natural world
  8. You can use a hair light, side light or backlight.


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