What is the bokeh effect?
The word bokeh comes from Japanese and means “out of focus” or “blurred”. In photography, bokeh is the quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photograph. An out-of-focus background is used as a design tool whenever the viewer’s attention is to be drawn to the main subject in the foreground. Thus, the bokeh effect is particularly popular in fashion or portrait photography, but also in macro photography or photo art.
What camera technique do you need for an intense bokeh effect?
Good bokeh depends on the type of lens used. While mainstream zoom lenses in the lower price range provide poor bokeh, fixed focal lengths and most professional zoom lenses with fast apertures provide good-looking bokeh. With a zoom lens with a long focal length (e.g. 200 mm), you can make the background look far away (long focal length lens: 200 mm > aperture f/6.0 – f/x). Alternatively, you can use a lens with a deep fixed focal length (e.g. 50 mm). The smaller lens is particularly suitable if you can get close to a subject (lens with small focal length: 50 mm > aperture f/1.4 – f/1.8).
Also, a telephoto lens offers more bokeh potential than a wide-angle lens. If a subject is to be highlighted against an out-of-focus background, at least a normal focal length must be selected, and a light or strong telephoto setting is even better. Also, the more open the aperture, the blurrier the out-of-focus background will appear. F-stops of 1.4 or 2.8 provide a good bokeh effect. Aperture 8 or 16, on the other hand, show the background much sharper.
The size of the camera sensors also has an influence on the bokeh. A large full-frame SLR camera (for example, Canon R6, Nikon Z5 or Sony Alpha 7R IV) has more potential for a bokeh effect than a camera with a smaller APS-C sensor. Compact cameras or cell phones with even smaller sensors provide even less bokeh, really only for close-ups.
Accordingly, the most intense bokeh effect is created via full-frame camera with a strong telephoto lens used with open aperture, for example with f/2.8.
How do you create the most beautiful bokeh when photographing?
Bokeh is particularly appealing when the background appears beautifully soft and silky and the subject in the foreground is clearly delineated. This is achieved by creating as much distance as possible between the main subject and its surroundings.
Typical of a bokeh effect are also the out-of-focus rings created by a light source in the background. These should be as uniformly round in shape as possible and have soft edges. Lens manufacturers support this trend by using lens apertures with eleven or nine instead of six blades – this avoids angular blur rings. Blur rings can be created particularly well by lights at night (such as lanterns or traffic lights), by backlighting in foliage, and by light reflections on water, glass or metal. Depending on the lens, there may still be a bright outline around the blur ring, which many photo creators would like to avoid.
Ultimately, however, there are no fixed rules for what bokeh should look like. It always remains a subjective feeling whether a bokeh effect is particularly successful.