For many photographers, bokeh is a beautiful phenomenon that can transform an image. However, many photographers aren’t exactly sure what causes bokeh – it shows up in some of their images but not in others, so what’s the difference? What can I do as a photographer to make sure that bokeh appears when I want it to?
In order to create bokeh, you need to use a wide aperture – that is, bring down your f/stop to a lower setting. Some lenses will only go down to f/4.5, which is not good for bokeh. You want a lens that can open up to at least f/2.8 (unless you’re dealing with a telephoto lens) in order to have some fantastic bokeh in your photos.
A fantastic lens capable of producing some stunning bokeh-filled images is the 50mm f/1.8 – also known as the Nifty Fifty. This extremely inexpensive lens is the perfect addition to any photographer’s collection – especially if you’re looking for some authentic bokeh.
Get Close to Your Subject
A shallow depth of field – a necessary ingredient of bokeh – is not only dependent on a wide aperture, but also the distance between your camera and your subject. The closer you are to your main focal point, the more shallow your background will appear – thus, more opportunity for some well-defined bokeh.
Create Space From Your Background
Just like the distances between your main focal point and your camera, the distance between your focal point and your background is important to bokeh as well. The farther your subject is from its background, the more bokeh you’ll get.
A wide aperture and balanced distances only sets up the stage for bokeh – it doesn’t create it. The source of bokeh is light or reflected light – whether it be light coming in through leaves in a tree or reflected off of surfaces. The stronger the light or reflection, the more defined your bokeh will be. This is why bokeh is more often seen when the sun is at an angle (early morning and late evenings), or when you can see your light sources – such as street lamps or light reflected off of surfaces.
In the image below, light from the sun was filtered through the leaves in the background, creating some well-defined bokeh.
When searching for bokeh, try to follow the light to wield the most dramatic results – streetlights, sun reflecting on the water, and any other bright source of light will work to help create some outstanding bokeh for your image.