What is bokeh?
Bokeh is the quality of out-of-focus parts of an image. Photographers create this aesthetic effect by using a very shallow depth of field, allowing the backgrounds to render blurry.
Different diaphragms or aperture shapes create different bokeh effects. The diaphragm of a camera is made up of aperture blades, which usually creates polygon-shaped light reflections. By having many aperture blades or ones with curved edges cause the light specs to render as orbs.
Bokeh can be aesthetically pleasing and add a sense of softness to otherwise harshly lit images. It creates a dreamlike haze, adding a surreal quality.
It also focuses the attention of the viewer. By making sure the subject is the only sharp part of an image, eyes are automatically drawn to it.
How to create bokeh
Creating this effect starts with choosing the right lens.
As bokeh is closely tied to a shallow depth of field, your choice of lens will have a great impact on the outcome. Telephoto lenses and macro lenses both work very well for this specific purpose.
Shooting with wide apertures is very much ideal to manipulate depth of field – so you likely want to pick the largest aperture you can, such as f/1.8, f/2, or f/2.8.
If you don’t have lenses that are able to shoot with such large apertures, you can help the process manually. Getting close to your subject also increases the distance between them and the background. Shoot from eye-level, so that you can capture the background of your subject.
The most popular settings for using bokeh are the ones with strong or interesting light sources, causing highlights to really stand out. Images backlit by colorful streetlights, or even by the sun, create beautiful, shiny orbs that soften the image.
If you feel like experimenting with some fun shapes, you can even try to create a simple cardboard shape that you can place over the lens as a filter, making the lights take any shape you want.
Looking for inspiration? Take a look at these 40 beautiful examples of bokeh photography by the Photo Argus.