The word “bokeh” comes from the Japanese word “boke” (pronounced bo-keh) which literally means fuzziness or dizziness.
What is bokeh? You have seen it. I know you have. You just may not have known the name. In photography, bokeh defines the quality of the blurred image presented in a photo. I am not referring to a badly taken photo that’s all out of focus, but rather the aesthetically pleasing background blur. Usually, this type of blur highlights the focused subject even more. To produce a bokeh you must utilize a shallow depth of field.
I shoot my macro images with my Sony 100mm 2.8 lens. A larger aperture works best, so use a low f-stop number like f1.4, f1.8 or f2.8.
Bokeh usually works best when taking an up close picture of your subject. Try finding a subject with nice clear lighting that you are able to get a good close up of. That is not to say that one can not get great bokeh using lenses with a smaller maximum aperture like the kit lens sold with most entry level DSLRs. The trick is to make sure you are using the largest aperture possible (smallest f number).
Set your camera to aperture priority and select the lowest number. Remember in aperture priority your camera will set the shutter speed. Sometimes this gets a bit tricky if you are shooting flowers on a windy day or a bug that is on the move. You might need to switch to shutter priority and shoot at least 1/250 to stop the movement. At 1/250 you will more than likely have a larger aperture – just be mindful of your aperture when shooting in shutter priority. Most photographers can handhold their camera with their shutter set at 1/60th of a second. For anything below, a tripod is recommended because of camera shake.
To explain further, the Aperture setting will have a major affect on the depth-of-field. As you will see in my images below when using a low f/number such as f5.6 the DOF is more shallow than when I used f22. Changing your aperture is the easiest way to change the DOF in your image.
What is depth-of–field? (also known as DOF) This is a term that describes the extent of area in an image that appears sharp. The area in front of and behind the point of focus. For general photography DOF extends 1/3 in front of the point of focus and 2/3 behind.
Another feature I use is my camera’s spot focus/selective focus so I can move the focal point to an exact area. You can also achieve this by manually focusing your camera.
Another tip to getting great bokeh shots is the focus distance used. I have found that the shorter the focus distance to the foreground subject, the better the background bokeh I will get. The idea is to get as much distance between the subject and the bokeh producing highlights. Also, the closer you are focused to the camera the shorter the depth-of-field (DOF) will be. This ensures that the object way off in the background will be nice and blurry.
The focal length of the lens is also a consideration. Depth of field is basically a function of focal length, distance to subject and aperture. A short DOF is what we need to effectively blur the background highlights to produce a beautiful bokeh. Getting close to the foreground subject and zooming to the longest setting on your lens will most likely put you where you need to be to capture that beautiful blur in the background.
Last, remember not only does aperture change your DOF but tilting your camera changes it also. The focal plane runs parallel to the sensor. If you want to keep your subject sharp, your subject must be square in the camera. Here are a couple examples for you.
The first image was taken with f4.0
And this one with f22.
White balance daylight
Beauty, in fact, may be in the eye of the beholder when it comes to interpreting bokeh. Decide which is right for you.