Bokeh is a Japanese word that means ‘out-of-focus’/blur orfuzziness depending on your translation; not to be mistaken for a similar Japanese word called: ‘Boken’, which I keep mistyping, that means ‘wooden sword’ (for practice).
More precisely Bokeh is an aberration of the lens in a camera that creates circular or hexagonal (depending on the lens type) shape of light, that repeats itself in various patterns based on the position of points of light when using a narrow depth of field in a shot, that also includes darkness.
This effect is also called the ‘circle of confusion’ in optical lenses. This is a digital photography technique that can produce some beautiful, if not very easily controlled or predictable, effects. But it is possible to deliberately create bokeh in your shots and that’s what we are going to look at now.
What You Need
Any lens that has a focal range of 50mm+ will do for this photo technique, and hence has a large aperture (that’s important). You may also need a tripod as you may be using a slow shutter speed and hand-held this may cause camera-shake that will probably make the whole shot look a bit amateurish.
And two other things you will need related to conditions, are darkness, and points of light. These could be anything from street lights, car lights or even a regular flashlight in your home.
How to Do It – Step by Step Bokeh
1. First find a suitable subject. You can choose to just have bokeh in the shot, or compose an image where the foreground will be sharp and in focus and contain something of interest, and the background filled with the patterns the lens makes.
2.Make sure your lens is on manual and un-focus the background until you can see the circular distortion. Choose a wide aperture, it’s not always the case of ‘the wider the better’ with bokeh, but it definitely needs to be down below 5.8 to create any distinguishable bokeh of the type we are looking for (ex. Circular or hexagonal shapes scattered across the out of focus parts of the frame).
3. Have your shutter-speed at a slow enough one that you will of course get a decent exposure. If the shutter speed is below 1/60 then you will be better off using a tripod or placing your camera a stable surface and putting it on self-timer so that you don’t inadvertently create any camera-shake.
Also, and you probably know this already but I’ll say it just in case: Make sure you have your flash off. You’ll definitely not be wanting it for this shot.
Further Digital Photography Tips for Bokeh
• Try opening up your aperture a bit more or conversely closing it to see what different effect you get. Also adjust the focus ring to alter the size of the circular bokeh.
• If you have a telephoto lens try using that as you may well have more aperture blades than in your standard lens, and this may cause a different shape (dependent on lens type) as long as your aperture isn’t fully open.
• Position different lights at different points within your frame to get different effects. Experiment with multiple colors also.
• Advanced: Combine this technique with Zooming. This works particularly well with Christmas tree lights (not easy because of camera-shake).