Photography - Knowledge

Photography Basics: Learn How to Create the Mesmerizing Bokeh Effect

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Have you seen images with a beautifully blurred background that enhances the overall quality of the image so beautifully? They look mesmerising, don’t they? But, do you ever wonder how it’s done? Well, most photographers use a fascinating effect called the “bokeh effect”. So, what is bokeh?

Table of Content:

  • The Meaning of Bokeh
  • Creating Amazing Bokeh with any Camera and Lens
  • Bokeh in Post-Processing
  • Lenses That Create the Most Aesthetically Pleasing Bokeh
  • Achieving the Perfect Bokeh
  • Bokeh Effect with your Smartphone Camera
  • Smartphone Apps for Getting the Bokeh Effect
  • Summing Up

In photography, bokeh has need defined as “the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light”. It’s when the photographers experiment with the bokeh backgrounds and make them appear out of focus.

The Meaning of Bokeh

meaning of bokeh effect
Finding Your Focus

The word Bokeh comes from the Japanese word “boke” which means “haze” or “blur”, or boke-aji meaning the “blur quality”. It’s that part of the image that’s out of focus. The bokeh effect makes the photo look as if your eyes are fixed on the subject of the image and the background blurs leaving only what exists in the distance.

This adds a completely different aspect to your bokeh photography. The photographer plays with the depth of the field here because it makes a major difference to the bokeh. The deeper the depth of field, the more blurred would be the background. You can get quality photos if you control your bokeh making your images look less pointed and shooty.

Creating Amazing Bokeh with any Camera and Lens

Now that we know what Bokeh is, we can get superb photos with one click. No! Not yet, because we are still not knowledgeable about a lot of intricate things. There are 3 essential things you need to consider when creating bokeh: the distance between the camera and the subject; the opening or the aperture width; and the effect of focal length.

The Distance between Your Camera and Subject

bokeh effect distance between camera and subject
It’s All About the Distance (Source)

The wisest technique would be to get closer to the subject and get the best effect. The closer you are to the theme, the more enhanced blurred effect you get for the bokeh background. You can use the MFD or the minimum focusing distance of the bokeh lens while shooting for these photos. If you are using a Canon with specifics 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 it will have an MFD of 0.5m / 1.6 ft.

Aperture

The larger the aperture width the lower would be the aperture (f-stop) number. This will offer shallower depth of field leading to high-quality bokeh.

Focal Length

There’s another factor that affects the depth of field and that’s the focal length. In order to create a narrower depth of field, you can shoot at a higher telephoto focal length. You can see the difference when you shoot two images at the same MFD and the same f/5.6 aperture, but while one shot at 28mm and the other image at 135mm. the bokeh or the background effect gets much bigger and enhances the photo quality when shot at 135mm focal length.

Bokeh in Post-Processing

bokeh effect in post processing
Adding Drama (Source)

Creating a bokeh effect during post processing is one of the popular practices by photographers. This is done especially to impart a dramatic dimension to portraits and other types of photographs. Let’s see how this is carried out:

  1. The first step would be to select a portrait along with a bokeh photograph with no subject. Set your bokeh lens to manual focus, undo the image focus, and now click a photograph of Christmas lights, street lights, or the sunlight shining through the trees while making sure that you focus directly.
  2. Now add both the images in bokeh effect Photoshop and bring the bokeh shot over the portrait image. Fine-tune the image wherever required. It should be placed in such a way that the bokeh image should show up in your Layers Palette as if it’s a completely new layer over the portrait image.
  3. Next, adjust the opacity of the new layer to around 50% because this helps you to view the portrait which is underneath the bokeh. Keep on fine-tuning the bokeh layer size until you get the correct bokeh size as required. Then, use the eraser tool and set the opacity of the tool between 70% and 75%. Make sure that the eraser tool features a soft edge.
  4. You would now need to start erasing the unwanted sections of the bokeh layer. Erase the layers that you do not want to be visible in the final processed image, for instance, the sections covering the eyes, lips, or any of the areas that you rather want to be prominent.
  5. Continue experimenting with the opacity of the bokeh layer and the eraser tool to get the desired effect.

Lenses That Create the Most Aesthetically Pleasing Bokeh

different lenses that create different bokeh effects
Lens Matters (Source)

Yes, the type of lenses also affects the bokeh quality. This is a topic debated for a long time and the common consensus that you will hear is the use of prime lenses. The reason why prime lenses are considered to be the best for high-quality bokeh effect is due to the aperture blades that open wider compared to the ones that appear on the traditional zoom lenses. Although there are a few exceptions like the advanced zoom lenses, most of the photographers prefer the prime lenses for the right kind of effect.

In order to get the desired bokeh effect with prime lenses, you can invest in lenses that feature 50mm f/1.8. These are the cheapest alternatives and readily available. This one makes for the best elementary prime lens for the beginner photographers who are interested in taking photos with a wider aperture. While for better circular bokeh you can use Canon; better hexagonal bokeh, on the other hand, can be achieved by Nikon.

However, if you have the financial capacity to buy a high-end bokeh lens, especially for shooting portrait images, you can chip in for the 85mm f/1.8. It generates some brilliant portraits with an equally brilliant bokeh background that features a smooth and creamy bokeh. Alternatively, you can invest in fixed lenses that also offer wide aperture that range from f/1.4 to f/1.2. You can even rent lenses that can be used to practice with varied apertures and focal lengths. You can continue practicing till you find the one that’s just perfect for your style of bokeh photography.

Achieving the Perfect Bokeh

Apart from the aperture width, focal length, and the distance between the camera and the subject, you must also ensure a few more things to get the best bokeh effect such as:

Distance vs. Aperture

bokeh distance vs. aperture
Find the Perfect Balance (Source)

For instance, if you have clicked a photograph with maximum bokeh effect that has blurred the background image to a much higher extent than expected, then you can fix it by using a better quality lens. So, as we see the quality of the lenses play a major role in the quality of the bokeh effect as well.

What you can do in such cases is stop your lens down to a slimmer aperture to enhance the overall appeal of the bokeh effect. This is because by doing this you can fix the shape to a large extent without losing the effect much. You can adjust the f/8 to thin down the aperture to resolve the distance involved. The detail becomes much finer and therefore, the learning is that it’s all about finding the right equilibrium between the distance and the aperture for a bokeh that suits your photo.

Lighting

Having good lighting conditions is also one of the most important aspects of producing stunning bokeh. If you are in a situation where there is not enough bokeh light and so, you have to adjust and experiment with the light, opening the aperture up in such cases would work the best for you. This will generate the largest bokeh with highly polished outcomes.

You can use a smooth blur for capturing the light passing through the trees. What's interesting to note here is that the source of light should not be necessarily coming from the back of the subject, but can be simply the random light sneaking past a well-lit zone. It’s your job here to find the right kind of light and make use of it the right way. For instance, try shooting using a 50mm lens at an aperture width of f/1.8 and see the difference.

Bokeh Effect with your Smartphone Camera

bokeh effect using smartphone camera
Not as Good as a DSLR (Source)

If you are inclined to experiment the bokeh effect using your Smartphone’s camera, chances are that you will end up with both foreground and the background in focus with possibly very superficial or slight blurring of the background. While this may be what some people want in some situations, but for some, it can be troublesome. Moreover, it does not offer that professional look compared to the ones produced by the high-end cameras.

Dual camera Phones and Bokeh Effect

If you have an iPhone 7 Plus with dual camera, you can be still be assured that it will not produce a real bokeh at any given time. It will not produce the quality bokeh as produced by the DSLRs or the mirrorless cameras.

Wondering why?

Well, this is primarily due to the fact that smartphones need those tiny lenses and sensors, among other things, that need the effect to be replicated on their software sides.

So, as you have rightly understood, you can also get the similar bokeh effect on single-camera smartphone and there’s no reason why you cannot. In fact, there were quite a few single-camera phones that offered the post-processing feature of the bokeh much before the dual-cameras came into existence. Although the dual cameras have the better capacity to pull off at least this much of computational stunt using its ability to click two images of the same scene. However, the result of both will be a bit different and then, fabricate them both together into one photo.

Smartphone Getting the Bokeh Effect

For a smartphone, you would need various camera apps and the effect produced will be of two different varieties:

  • Actual blurring of the image’s background; and
  • Superimposing light bubbles over the images

While the first one is pretty difficult to pull-off considering you are using only free apps, using the latter would not result in a good effect and hence, needs to be used carefully.

What you should do at the start is to look for the phone’s built-in camera app for the bokeh functionality. If there is one present, then chances are that the end result will be of higher quality in comparison to a random app from the app store. However, if your phone does not come with a native bokeh effect app, you might like to try the below apps for a decent effect:

Portrait Blur (iOS)

bokeh effect Portrait Blur app iOS
Portrait Blur (Source)

This is a free iOS bokeh effect app that guarantees the same portrait blurring feature of the iPhone 7 Plus in any of the other iPhone models. Most of the reviews of this app are good, with a few bad reviews. You can achieve slight to major blurs with this bokeh effect iPhone app for your images. It also features options like apply bokeh and so on. If you are not one of those who like to play with settings then this app is just right for you as this intends to ‘just work’.

Bokeh Simulator (Android)

bokeh effect bokeh simulator android app
Bokeh Simulator: A Good Learning Tool (Source)

This one’s especially for the Android users and it comes with a pretty discouraging interface. This app works slightly different from the other apps in the league. According to the creator of the app, it comes with ten variants of bokeh along with some ultra-high-resolution backgrounds, etc.

While using the app you would know that it can find out the depth-of-field of the image and accordingly blur the background. However, Bokeh Simulator will not work with images that are already clicked and will rather serve as a tool for learning and estimation. This helps amateur photographers understand the depth-of-field concept and the results of using different settings.

AfterFocus (iOS | Android)

bokeh effect AfterFocus app Android and iOS
AfterFocus (Source)

AfterFocus is a bokeh effect app that’s designed for both iOS and Android OS. This not just allows the users to select the background and the foreground in their digital images, but also helps apply a narrower depth of field effect, in the application of bokeh effect, and even choose the bokeh shape. Although this is not a very user-friendly app, after using it for a few times you will be a pro in producing good photos.

Summing Up

Getting the smoothest bokeh effect and ultra-high-quality images is the dream of most photographers. However, you need an in-depth understanding of what works the best, how and why. Once you gain that expertise in the producing the perfect bokeh, there is no looking back. So, read on and master the art to create the most amazing bokeh effect with any camera and lens.

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