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Get the Bokeh Right

Posted on: May 31, 2017 at 6:19 am

If you haven’t already heard of the term ‘bokeh’ (pronounced bo-kay by some, bo-kah by some), it refers to the out of focus area of a picture, that is – the area outside of the depth of field. When people usually speak of the bokeh they take it to the extreme – a totally out of focus background, usually with out of focus lights that have turned into nothing but large circle. Nothing wrong with that, but its great to be able to control the varying degrees of depth of field.

Take a look at this image of starlet Ria Sen photographed by KAPA mentor Karthik Srinivasan. Notice the clear separation that has been maintained between the model and the background both in terms of lighting as well as use of depth of field. This was shot on a SONY Alpha 99, with a 70-200 lens used at 85mm, which is a good focal length for portraiture. Notice the background is out of focus, though still comprehensible – you can tell what the surrounding area is, and this gives a nice ambiance to the image. Now look at this 2nd image –

The major difference between the 2 images is the change in focal length from 85mm to 135mm, which has had a huge impact of the depth of field, and the bokeh of course. Going further to 200mm of the lens would have blurred the bokeh even more of course. As usual, there is no right or wrong to it – but you need to ask yourself what you want out of the background. Is the background useful to the composition in some way, or would you like to blur it totally? A bad habit that we can fall into sometimes is to always use the fastest aperture and the longest focal length the lens is capable of! A good exercise could be to shoot the same frame with varying apertures to observe the difference in bokeh…