what is bokeh?

So, what is bokeh and why the heck should you care about the definition of bokeh? It has become one of the buzz words with portraits and photography in general. 

The definition of bokeh comes from our Japanese friends and roughly means "blur" or "haze." Mike Johnston, the former editor of Photo Techniques is credited for giving it it's English spelling in the late 1990's.

Bokeh is the quality of the out-of-focus parts of your photo.


Example of Bokeh with Tamron 150-600 at f/8Example of Bokeh with Tamron 150-600 at f/8

Longer telephoto lenses and wide open apertures will give you more shallow depth of field and give you good bokeh. Here are some examples of depth of field and links to shallow and deep depth of field

Some lenses give you naturally GOOD BOKEH that is desirable while others produce blurring that is not very pleasant and can be distracting to your subject, called BAD BOKEH.


Use the lensbaby to get good bokeh
You can create a good bokeh effect (but not exactly the same) by using specialty lenses such as the extremely popular LensBaby.

Another way to get a somewhat artificial effect is to add a Gaussian blur when you do photo editing.

One advantage of Gaussian blur is you can change the amount and direction of the blur several different ways to see which you like the best on the same photograph.


Using the Lensbaby is very simple because you do it at the time of exposure, but it's effect is permanent for each photograph you take.

A good example of bad bokeh is produced when you use a mirror lens. Mirror lenses produce a circular highlight that is distracting as a background.\

The shape of the diaphragm and the number of diaphragm blades in the lens affects the shape of the bokeh highlights.

The do-it-yourself mask for getting star-shaped bokeh

You can also do some creative do-it-yourself bokeh effects with simple materials.

The bokeh lens device shown here, made with black paper would produce star-shaped highlights.

Understanding what is bokeh and the different ways to control it can improve your ability to turn a good photo into a great photo.

In addtion to how long a lens is (telephoto strength) and how wide it can open (maximum aperture), the third major factor in getting good bokeh and shallow depth of field is sensor size.

Very small sensors such as those in cell phones and compact point and shoot cameras give too large of a depth of field to get a very good Bokeh effect.

Digital cameras with  full-frame sensors will give you the shallowest depth of field and also the best Bokeh effect.



example of what is bokeh

Good example of the kind of  good bokeh you get with macro photography



Here is an example of the kind of good bokeh you get naturally with macro photography.  

The depth of field is so shallow that even things that are only a slight distance behind the subject are pleasantly out of focus.


This is a photo of a budding Geranium.

Close-ups of flowers are a good opportunity to get familiar with bokeh and get to study the effect of a blurry background on isolating your subject.





Back from What is Bokeh to Photography Definitions

More Bokeh Examples

Back to Digital Photo Tips Home Page