I shall be writing about depth of field (DOF) soon, but have my thoughts on ‘bokeh’ ready. So, what the hell! Many of you reading this post may be new entrants to photography, like me, or people who just ‘click’ for the pure joy of it. So, I’ll try and keep this note as simple as possible.
Bokeh, sounds greek, latin, swahili? The name sounds,er,um, different,no? Well, the word has Japanese roots, the word has its roots in the Japanese word “boke” and “boke-aji”, which roughly translate to “fuzzy” and “flavor of blur”, respectively.
In a picture, I can focus on one particular subject and blur the rest out (i.e. – make the rest of the picture “out-of-focus”). The blur that you are so used to seeing in photography that separates a subject from the background is the result of shallow DOF and is generally simply called “background blur”.
Like this -
So, here the focus is on the baby’s foot and the rest of the baby/photo is out-of-focus.
But let’s assume that the out-of-focus area in that picture vastly comprises of light or a source of light. Now, bokeh is the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light. It is NOT the blur, or the amount of blur that you see in the picture (attributed to the DOF) but the quality of the blur/out-of-focus areas in the image, rendered by your camera’s lens (and not the camera).
So, why am I talking about Bokeh when it is such a simple concept. Well, bokeh holds a lot of importance to photographers/artists, because of the aesthetic appeal it gives to the photo. Bokeh is of two types, one where the bright area becomes completely circular in the blurred out background and the other, where the background is completely washed out, creating a sort of a gradient effect, this is achieved by moving closer to the subject. So, the closer you are to the subject, the more blurry your background gets. I’ll write about the “gradient” effect in a different post, later. For now, our focus is on the first type.
A good bokeh will please the viewer’s eyes since the out-of-focus areas appear smooth and soft, with smooth round circles of light and no hard edges. The further you are, the better DOF, but it will not give you good quality bokeh. So, try and get closer to the subject. By using the right lenses with high aperture (like f/1.4, 1.8, 2.4, etc), you can create blurry backgrounds more easily. There is a strong linkage between bokeh, the size of aperture you choose, and the kind of lens you use to shoot. This is where prime lenses step in.
What is a prime lens?
A prime lens is one that has a fixed focal lenth, because of which it produces brilliant pictures. Because their optics are simpler, prime lenses usually have a larger maximum aperture (smaller f-number) than zoom lenses. Thus, they help in obtaining better quality bokeh and are best suited for portraiture.
Remember to set your camera to “Aperture Priority” mode and set your aperture to the lowest number.