Monday, 20 February 2012

Bokeh for Beginners

The word 'bokeh' comes from the Japanese word boke which means 'blur' or 'haze'. The term is generally used to describe the out of focus areas in an image. The technique has become more & more popular over the last ten years. Even professional photographers are constantly finding new ways of using it in their work. Portrait photographers are especially excited about this because it helps to liven up the negative space in an image, resulting in a more complete photography experience. In the post I am going to explain how to get started with bokeh, I'm not going to go into technical details in this blog.

Bokeh can come in all shapes & sizes but the form that most people strive for is a completely smooth circle. This is the most aesthetic type according to many photographers who practice this technique. There is also an hexagonal bokeh which is caused by a 'diaphragm' in the lens being slightly closed. Making different shaped bokeh can be achieved. More on that later! 

Autumn FenceIf you own a DSLR, a cheap way to get started is to invest in a wide-aperture lens. You can find a Canon/Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens for around £60 & this will help you to learn more about bokeh. Only you are capable of knowing how you want to use this effect, so experiment & have fun. You can also use your 18-55mm kit lens by keeping the lens at 18mm. It does, however, mean that you will need to get very close to your subject, but the effects are definitely worth it.

Bloomin' Bokeh
For compact camera users, use macro mode & focus close to the subject. In the image to the right, I simply used the macro mode on my camera & shot a daisy on the ground. As you can see, bokeh has been created in the background because the camera is focusing mainly on the daisy, rendering the background out of focus. Obviously this technique limits you to macro images but experiment & find the best way of creating bokeh with your camera. It is very much a learn from practice way of doing things but it will ultimately mean you can learn more about photography, more about your camera & more about yourself in regards to your images (& your patience!). You can also try using the macro mode on  your mobile phone if the option is available.

BokehPhotographing street lights, or Christmas tree lights can help you see bokeh in action. Keep your lens wide open (by this I mean at the widest aperture available, which for the 50mm f/1.8 would be f/1.8, or for the kit lens at 18mm, f/3.5). Focus on something close (ie, a car, the road, a tree) but make sure you fill the rest of the space, with the lights of your choice. Or you could make the entire image blurry (see right). which can also make visually pleasing images.
You can use filters to change the shape of bokeh in your images. These are made simply by cutting the desirable shape out of black card or plastic & attaching it to the front of your lens.  You can also buy ready made shapes here. Cut a heart shape into a piece of card, place it on your lens & shoot away. It's as simple as that.

So there we have it; a quick guide to making bokeh. Any questions regarding this post can be asked either in the comments below, on twitter (@_purpleface) or facebook.

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