The word "bokeh" comes from Japanese, meaning "blurred". It became popular in the late 1990s to use the word to represent the blurred portions of a photograph that are beyond the depth of field.
Bokeh is pronounced "bawh-keh". Or, if you prefer, like the "bo" in bone when pronounced with standard American accent, and "ke" as in Ken.
|Purchase Print of Columbine Flower with bokeh background|
Bokeh varies depending on the lens itself, the aperture setting, and the light on objects beyond the depth of field of the in-focus subject.
I took this photo with a Canon EF24-105mm f/4L lens. The focal length was 105mm, and the aperture setting was f/4.5, which means the aperture was wide open. This is the kind of aperture setting you use for a shallow depth of field with the subject in focus and most everything else out of focus.
If you're near-sighted like me, here's a good way to get a better understanding of shallow depth of field. Think of it as looking at an object close-in with your eyes wide open. This is your eyes' "wide aperture setting". You can see the close-in object fine, but everything else in the distance is blurred. If you want to see what's in the distance more clearly, what do we do if we don't have our glasses handy? Yep, that's right; we squint, closing up the "aperture" of our eyes! The same thing happens with a lens when you increase the f-stop number on your camera and close up the eye, or aperture, of the camera; more of the scene comes into focus, what is known as "deep depth of field".
As I mentioned above, apart from shooting at low depth of field (low f-stop setting on your camera resulting in a wide aperture opening on the lens), the lens itself contributes to the bokeh effect too. This particular lens creates appealing bokeh. Other, less-expensive lenses I have do not render bokeh as attractive as this lens.
Typically you also need the out-of-focus background to have some highlight points which are lit.
So why not give it a shot yourself. Set you camera to a low f-stop setting (wide aperture on the lens), frame your subject with a background that is beyond the depth of field and with some light on it, and see what you can come up with.
This and another photo of a columbine with attractive bokeh can be seen in this collection of photos that I took recently at the Huntington Library botanical gardens.
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