Bokeh photography tips and best lenses

DSLR photographers love the out of focus areas of their photographs, it’s one way to differentiate their pictures from entry-level cameras and smartphones where exaggerated out of focus areas are hard to achieve. Bokeh is the term used to describe the quality and characteristics of these out of focus areas and is most visible in blurred highlights.

The amount of bokeh increases when your image has a shallow depth of field or more out-of-focus area. So controlling the amount of bokeh in your images depends on increasing the blurred areas. Below are a few ways to add blur to your images by decreasing depth of field which adds bokeh to your images.

1. Use a ‘fast’ lens – this refers to those with a large maximum aperture, we recommend the EF 85mm f/1.8 USM or the EF 50mm f/1.8 STM

2. Shoot with a large aperture – using Aperture priority (Av) or Manual (M) Mode on your camera, select a wide aperture (small f/number) to decease the depth of field and increase out of focus drop-off from your in-focus subject.

3. Increasing the distance between your subject and the background will further blur the background.

4. Get in close – minimising the distance between you and the subject will increase the amount the background is out of focus.

5. Use longer focal lengths to increase the amount of out of focus area in your photos. If you have a zoom lens, zoom to maximum focal length. Lenses with a focal length of 200mm or more will produce even greater blurred areas.

6. Choose subjects with visible highlights in the out of focus area. Highlights refer to the light sources in the image; so fairy lights or sunlight through tree leaves produce beautiful orbs and shapes of blurred light or bokeh.

7. Don’t forget the foreground – an out of focus area is also achievable in the foreground of your images. Try placing your subject further back in your image and include some foreground detail close to the camera lens.

8. You can also cut out shapes in cardboard and place it in front of your lens to get interesting effects, watch the video here:

Improving the quality as opposed to quantity of bokeh relies on the lens you use. Particularly visible in the out of focus highlights the shape of the blurred dapples of light are generated by the aperture or hole created by your lens diaphragm blades. Generally, lenses with more diaphragm blades produce a more circular aperture and more pleasing bokeh.

Bokeh portrait lady

In this winter portrait by Mr Tom La you can clearly see the bokeh at work in the tree lights serving as background highlights. Selecting a wider aperture could have possibly increased this effect.

Bokeh poppy field

Mr Dan Mihai Balanescu has achieved beautiful bokeh in this image of a poppy field. Using a shallow depth of field, out of focus foreground, a longer focal length and ‘golden hour’ background highlights produces a wonderfully atmospheric image.

Bokeh sea urchin

Silvan Meienberger has produced this great shot of a shell on the beach. Getting low down so the background is far from the subject has produces a very nice out of focus area. Sunlight reflecting off the water has produced highlight areas that show off the bokeh to great effect. Note the slightly hexagonal nature of the bokeh highlights, due to the shape of the aperture on the lens used.

Bokeh girl field

This image by Mr Marco Müller makes great use of natural light and its effect on bokeh. Placing the subject behind the flowers and in front of distant trees produces an image with both foreground and background bokeh. Note how the sunlight is coming towards the camera which produces pleasing bokeh highlights when shining through the leaves.

Bokeh macro

This is another wonderful example of using bokeh to create a really stunning image. It looks like Mr Олег Кашаев has used a macro lens to get really close to the subject producing background blur in abundance. Shooting in the ‘golden hour’ with the sun low in the sky the background has a beautiful warm and soft glow.

Feeling inspired? Capture your bokeh winter shot and upload to our Gallery here>