Day +401: Bokeh

Bokeh is basically the term for the blurriness of the background in a photo, and mainly applies to portraits. When photographing people, you don’t want the background to be sharp, because, it will distract from the person in the photograph. It will also make objects behind the subject very obvious, and create horrible things like poles or branches sticking out of the person’s head.

Unfortunately, beautiful, creamy-soft blurred backgrounds are very difficult to produce on cheap consumer lenses (especially “kit lenses” that come with the camera, point and shoot cameras, and smartphones. This is not just because the lenses are not capable of opening up so wide (large apertures = “smaller number”), but also because the sensors are smaller, and the focal length might not be sufficiently long.

Yes, it is possible to blur backgrounds to some extent with those sorts of cameras, but ideally, you would want:

  • A fixed lens with a wide aperture (eg. 1.2-2.8), the wider the better (but remember that wide apertures mean the depth of focus is very limited, and it will be much more critical to get the focus right)
  • A “portrait” focal length (85mm or longer)
  • A full-frame sensor (DSLR or mirrorless camera)

If you have the right tools, you have a much better chance of getting beautiful portraits. Look at the “bokeh balls” in the images, taken at a traditional Tongan 21st / Grad ceremony that we were invited to on the weekend:


So if you’re serious, start saving those pennies, and stop wasting your money on crappy lenses with maximum apertures of 5.6.

And for those of you planning to head out to Vivid, I’d love to see some of your pics.

Happy photographing.