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Quick Tip: 5 Tips for Getting Great "Bokeh" Shots

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I’m sure you’ve seen those eye catching blurry light shots online and many of you have wondered how best to achieve the soft bokeh effect, well if that’s you, then you’re in the right place, as in this quick tip we’ll look to explain what bokeh is and how you can go about achieving it yourself.


1. Learn what it is

Increasingly in recent years, the use of the term "bokeh" has evolved somewhat from its original meaning. Bokeh is now commonly used to refer to blurred lights or shapes within an image, where as, the term more accurately describes the aesthetic quality of the out-of-focus area of a photograph. Therefore, it is possible to have ‘good’ or ‘bad’ bokeh, (although that is purely subjective), but in essence, it’s all about the area of an image that falls outside the depth-of-field.

The attraction of bokeh comes when the aperture settings from the shot result in an attractive portrayal of the light within that area of the image, creating soft circular patterns of light, which is what we’ll actively be trying to achieve within this quick tip!


Photo by Gary Paulson

2. Where to start

To begin with, you’ll need to get to grips with a few camera settings. For creating "bokeh," you’ll need a large aperture and a short focal distance. It’s best to set your camera to Aperture Priority mode, this will allow you to dictate the exposure of the image based upon the selected aperture, which will need to be large in order to let lots of light in.

Depending on the capabilities of your camera and the lens you are using, select a low f-number, anything from f/1.8 up to f/4 or even /f5.6 will do, but the lower the better. This large aperture will also ensure that you have a nice shallow depth of field.


Photo by Mynameissharsha

3. Depth-of-field

The next step is to judge the depth-of-field in order to achieve the blurred effect. Be sure to leave plenty of distance between yourself and the light source and ensure that you have manual focus selected on your camera. To give yourself the best chance of achieving good bokeh, you want to have the subject as close to the lens as possible. If you focusing on an object that is extremely close to the camera, this will ensure that the lights in the background are nicely blurred.


Photo by ElvertBarnes

4. Foreground and silhouettes

Once you’ve mastered all the technicalities, you can start using bokeh in your everyday photographic work. Try using bokeh in the background of an image that has an alternative focal point in the foreground, such as a person or a still life subject.

Again, try and get as much distance as possible between your foreground subject and the lights in the background. Something else that works quite nicely is to use an object to form a silhouette in front of your lights, as you would with a foreground object. The strong black shape will contrast well with the soft highlights in the background.


5. Now it’s your turn

So now it’s your turn, all that’s required is your DSLR and a collection of small light sources. Christmas tree lights (I know you’ve only just packed them away) work great. Street lights off in the distance will also produce what you're looking for.

Give yourself time and space to practice getting the camera settings correct and then once you feel ready, you can head out and start putting it into practice in your work. As long as it isn’t overdone, it can be used effectively to create a really nice softness and depth within an image without attracting too much attention. It can really give your images a boost!


Photo by BobAuBuchon
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