How to Take Bokeh Photos with a Digital Camera

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Updated July 26, 2022

If you have recently purchased a top-rated digital camera and begun to explore its various features, you may be wondering how to perform some of the more obtuse operations. One such operation? The bokeh effect. What is the bokeh effect and how to take bokeh photos with a digital camera? Keep reading to find out.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Bokeh photos are an aesthetically pleasing technique in which a subject rests in a soft out-of-focus background
  • A wide, or fast aperture is a must when it comes to bokeh photos, as well as choosing the best-shaped lens for the job.
  • You should also be prepared to experiment with the subject and its distance from the camera.

What is Bokeh?

Bokeh comes from the Japanese word boke (ボケ), which means “blur” or “haze”. With that in mind, you can probably guess that the bokeh effect has something to do with the purposeful blurring of a digital image. As a matter of fact, camera giant Nikon explains that the exact definition of the term is “the effect of a soft out-of-focus background that you get when shooting a subject, using a fast lens, at the widest aperture, such as f/2.8 or wider”.

Insider Tip

Bokeh comes from the Japanese word boke (ボケ), which means “blur” or “haze”.

Why Use the Bokeh Effect?

Digital photographers rely on the bokeh effect for aesthetic purposes. That soft out-of-focus background is extremely alluring in certain situations and photographic scenarios.

How to Take Bokeh Photos with a Digital Camera

Now to the good part. The process here isn’t that difficult, even for beginners, like learning how to take black & white photos with a digital camera. Although the specifics may change slightly depending on the make and model of your camera. Here are some general guidelines to think about.

Insider Tip

Setting the aperture correctly is probably the most important part of increasing the quality of bokeh.

Become Familiar with Your Camera’s Settings

To start taking glorious bokeh photos, you should perform a deep dive into your camera’s various settings and functionalities. This includes how to balance the white on a digital camera. Read up on the instructions and various tutorials (such as this one). You are going to want to have a fundamental understanding of some photographic techniques and terms, such as aperture, depth of field, shallow depth, focal lengths, and blurred background so you can get a good-looking bokeh. Additionally, you may want to tether the digital camera to your computer to view your images while you shoot.

Set the Aperture

Setting the aperture correctly is probably the most important part of increasing the quality of bokeh. Aperture priority is a must when it comes to a pleasing bokeh, so go for a wide aperture. A wider aperture, or a fast aperture, is what you are looking for here. Go for at least an f/2.8 aperture, with faster apertures of f/2, f/1.8, or f/1.4 being ideal. Slower apertures will not result in a pleasing blur quality, thanks to narrow depth.

Lens Choice

The lens you are going with can make a huge difference when it comes to bokeh quality. The lens you choose will determine the shape and size of the visible bokeh effect, as bokeh is affected by the shape of the diaphragm blades (aperture) of the lens itself. The type of lens doesn’t matter so much, be it zoom lenses or telephoto lenses, but the shape of the aperture blades does matter.

Go with circular-shaped blades with softer orbs to produce out-of-focus highlights. Of course, like most artistic decisions, it all comes down to personal preference. Hexagonal-shaped blades could also work, they would just produce a slightly different effect, as the shape will be represented in the bokeh.

Find the Best Distance from Your Subject

To create a pleasing bokeh, you will need to find the correct focal length, or distance, between the camera and its primary subject. In general, you should look to decrease the distance between the camera and the subject, as a shallow depth-of-field will result in a better bokeh image. You should also be aware of light sources, as you may want to use a backlight, side light, or even a hair light to place more emphasis on the bokeh effect.

Experiment Until Success

The most important part of mastering the bokeh effect is simply to practice. Take photos over and over at different distances, with different lenses, and with different aperture settings until you get the perfect bokeh digital image. Before long, it will become second nature and you will find yourself spending much less time setting up a shot.  

If you perfect this you can move on to learn how to take close-up photos with a digital camera. It will be worth it.

Warning

You should also be aware of light sources, as you may want to use a backlight, side light, or even a hair light to place more emphasis on the bokeh effect.

F.A.Q.

What lenses create great bokeh?

There is no type of camera lens that creates the best bokeh images, but there are high-quality lenses being manufactured in all types that get the job done. Bokeh is a technique that can work with nearly any type of lens, though the shape of the lens will impact the aesthetics. In other words, you are going to have to experiment.


Can you get a bokeh effect with smartphone cameras?

Yes, though it does take a bit of digital trickery and some smartphone know-how. You may not be able to set the aperture on a smartphone camera, and you certainly cannot change out the lens. However, some camera apps may have a dedicated bokeh setting that will do all of the heavy lifting for you.


What does bokeh mean?

Bokeh is a Japanese term that means to blur or to haze. As such, the bokeh effect involves the purposeful blurring of the background for creative effect.



STAT: The first successful black and white images were taken in 1825 by Joseph Nicephore Niepce, a French developer. (source)

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