What is bokeh & how do you get the bokeh effect?

Photo credits header: Mabel van den Top
The concept of bokeh is a well-known phenomenon within photography. This is a fascinating effect that can give your images a unique look. This is because bokeh gives your photos a dreamy, blurred look, easily achieved with the right equipment and techniques. And that is exactly what we are going to talk to you about in this blog! Experimenting with the bokeh effect automatically adds a dose of magic to your images: exactly what you want. Let's start.  

Bokeh: what exactly is it?

The term bokeh comes from the Japanese word 'boke', meaning 'blur or haze'. It refers to the quality of blurred areas in a photograph, and is usually associated with backgrounds that are soft and blurred. All while the subject in the foreground remains sharp. Bokeh is created with the blurred areas of a photo resulting in a limited depth of field.

You can use bokeh for an infinite number of different types of shoots. For example for portrait photography: the blurred background gives a pleasing effect along the face, and makes images more attractive through a sense of depth. Bokeh can also be used perfectly in landscape photos, to create a dreamy, soft effect on trees, water or mountains. When capturing flowers, insects or jewellery, for example, bokeh can highlight the details of the subject and draw the viewer's attention to them.

How about bokeh in street photography? Indeed, it can be used to soften distracting elements in a busy, urban environment. Try this especially in the evening or at night: bokeh gives a magical atmosphere to light sources such as city lights, street lamps or soon the Christmas lights. The points of light in the background often take on beautiful bokeh shapes. Use the effect with your product photography.: for example, present jewellery or beauty products in an attractive way by placing them sharply in the foreground and blurring the background.

Studio:The Loft Photo credits: ByZilla

This is how you get the bokeh effect

Achieving this beautiful effect is not difficult, but does require some attention to detail. I recommend always choosing the right lens: not all are created equal when it comes to bokeh. A lens with a large maximum aperture (such as f/1.4 or f/1.8) is ideal because they let in more light and create a narrower depth of field.

Set your aperture to the lowest f-value your lens offers. This will reduce the depth of field and create more bokeh.

It is also advisable to choose the right background: a uniform, out-of-focus backdrop works best here. For example, a field of flowers, Christmas lights or a hazy sunset. Or the beautiful pastels in The Playground, of course. Position your subject closer to the camera than the background. This increases the difference in distance and enhances the effect. If you have light sources in the background, such as streetlights, these will create beautiful bokeh shapes.

I recommend experimenting nicely with different light sources for unexpected, unique effects. If your camera has manual focus settings, you can use these to focus the subject while keeping the background out of focus. Finally, use a prime lens: these often have a larger aperture and are great for bokeh effects. However, they do not have a zoom function, so you have to physically move closer or further away from your subject.

Studio:The Loft

Researching the bokeh effect

The appeal of bokeh in photography has been studied for some time. An article published in the journal "Perception" showed that blurred backgrounds with bokeh effect attract viewers' attention and are rated as more pleasing than sharp backgrounds.

Another study, conducted at the Harvard University, examined the neuroscientific aspects of bokeh and how our brain responds to blurred areas in photographs. This research highlighted the emotional and aesthetic importance of bokeh in photography.

Now that you know what bokeh is, how to achieve it yourself as well as the scientific background of the bokeh effect, I challenge you to get started. This can be done outdoors, of course, but also in our daylight studios! You can go all out yourself to achieve the desired effect. I would advise you to bring some light sources of your own: think of a light string or even candles or tea lights. Reflections in a mirror or sunlight can also work great.

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