Lighting Photography

How to MASTER the Bokeh Effect

The Bokeh Effect is an incredibly popular technique in photography. Used by professionals and amateurs alike which blurs to attract the attention of the viewer to a specific point in the picture.

In today’s article, we are going to look at all things Bokeh, what it is? How to create and much, much more. Take a seat, give yourselves five minutes, and you’ll be an expert in the Bokeh Effect in no time.

Let’s jump into it!

What is Bokeh? 

What is the bokeh effect

Bokeh is the effect of an out of focus, blurred background when shooting your subject. It’s a rather soft effect that’s incredibly flattering, and pleasing to the eye. To create this the photographer will use their widest possible aperture to achieve the effect. 

You’ll see similarities with “portrait mode” on the iPhone.

What does Bokeh mean?

Bokeh comes from the Japanese word to “Blur” or to “haze”. The capture of an image using the Bokeh Effect is pleasing to the eye, it looks smooth and brings out the subject’s features. 

It’s perfect for capturing emotions and bring the viewers eyes to a specific part of the image. It’s used highly in imagery focused around humans or animals to emphasise the subject. 

You may also be interested in: What is the blue hour? ALL of your questions ANSWERED.

How is the word Bokeh pronounced? 

The word Bokeh is pronounced BOH-kay or BOH-Kə. 

What is the best lens for Bokeh?

When emulating the bokeh effect, the lens you use does determine the size and shape of the effect. It’s affected by the size of the blade in the lens, essentially the aperture. 

For example, a lens with more circular blades will creator, rounder, softer out of focus orbs for your background. Whereas one with a more hexagonal blade will create a hexagonal bokeh effect. The shape of the lens will have a dramatic effect on the shape of your bokeh effect.

*Quick tip: If you aren’t able to get hold of a super quick lens, don’t worry. If you increase the distance between your subject and the background, you can achieve the effect, even with an aperture of f/8. It won’t be as detailed but will still give you a great bokeh.

Read more on: Lighting in film: The top film lighting setups you must know

What aperture is best for the Bokeh Effect?

Firstly, to achieve the bokeh effect, you’ll need to be using a fast lens, quicker the better. A lens capable of at least an f/2.8 aperture minimum will allow you to capture the bokeh effect properly. 

If you can stretch to it, look at apertures as quick as f/2 – f/1.8. This will help capture the effect to its optimum.

And, if you do have the capability, set your aperture to f/1.4 to see the real effects of the Bokeh – it’s honestly amazing the quality, perfect for wildlife photography

Best camera settings for the Bokeh Effect

Firstly you will want to be shooting manually; switch all of the automated settings off for this shot. This allows you to set both your shutter speed and aperture speed to the optimum settings. 

If you want to add a little automation, chooses the “Aperture Priority” on your camera. This will allow you to choose the exact f/stop then the camera will choose the desired shutter speed for the exposure.

These settings will give you the best setup to achieve the bokeh effect and create something pretty sensational.

How to achieve the Bokeh effect

Here we look at how you can achieve the bokeh effect. Firstly to ensure you give yourself the best chance of creating a visible bokeh in your photographs, you need to ensure you increase the distance between the background and your subject.

To do this, simply decrease the distance between your camera and your subject. The shallower the depth of field, the further your background will be from the subject. 

This will create an out of focus effect on the background (the bokeh effect). If you have a backlight or a sidelight, this can help create a much better bokeh and highlight it within your shot.

Read more: Three-Point Lighting Setup: Lighting in Film

How to create the Bokeh effect on iPhone

How to create the bokeh effect on iPhone

This is pretty simple now; on the newer versions of the iPhone, you have a mode called “Portrait mode”. This is essentially the bokeh effect. Here’s how to create the bokeh effect on the iPhone:

You simply select portrait mode, and as you get closer to the subject, it will begin to blur the background and create a bokeh. 

The way portrait mode creates this is using advanced tech that focuses on the subject in your frame. It zooms in automatically to the subject and frames it so that it captures the portrait of the subject, blurring the background. 

The older versions of portrait mode struggle to work with anything bar a human, whereas the latest editions allow you to use it on humans, animals and objects. 

When you focus on your subject, you’ll see one appear: “Depth Effect” or “Natural Light” – dependent on your iPhone model. There’s also a few more that you can select too on the later versions, including black and white and stage lighting.

Once you’ve taken the photo, it allows you to edit the bokeh effect in post. Select the “Depth” option in your edit settings, and a slider will appear. This will allow you to edit the bokeh and select the depths, making it a subtle edit or pretty apparent. 

This is an incredibly intuitive feature of the iPhone, and many people capture awe-inspiring photographs daily, perfect for the amateur photographer.

You may also be interested in reading Natural Light: How to shoot using Natural Light

Bokeh Effect vs Portrait mode

Portrait mode is essentially the bokeh effect, but the iPhone does everything for you. The bokeh effect, in general, is best shot on a DSLR with only manual settings. This allows you to get the best out of your shot, pull through the subject’s detail, and blur the background. 

You can change up the lens width, the aperture, the speed of the lens and much more. At the same time, portrait mode is limited to only a few changes. However, you can edit the bokeh afterwards on the iPhone with the slider. 

Bokeh Effect vs Portrait mode
u wot m8?

I guess the biggest difference is the flexibility; you have far more room to manually change it up with a DSLR compared to the iPhone. 

However, the iPhone does produce a quality bokeh effect if you don’t have a DSLR capable of it. Using your phone still produces an incredibly detailed bokeh, one that captures the subject in a detailed manner and blurs the background to perfection.

Overall we prefer using a DSLR to capture it as it allows you to be flexible, but the iPhone “Portrait Mode” does an incredible job. If you’re teaching yourself photography, always go manual; if not – Portrait Mode is pretty slick!

Why not read: How to create a cinematic film with your smartphone

Top tips for using the Bokeh effect

Finally, here are a couple of tips to allow you to nail the bokeh effect.  

  • Using a fast lens is ideal.
  • Increase the distance between your background and subject. 
  • Fast apertures are key. 
  • Use lights, backlight and sidelights specifically!
  • Move close to your subject and create that depth.
  • Shoot with your lens, wide open.

We hope today’s article on “How to MASTER the Bokeh Effect” was helpful! Let us know your thoughts down below in the comments; we love to hear from you!

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