Mastering Bokeh


Mastering Bokeh

One of the major reasons people choose to buy a DSLR or mirrorless camera is the ability to get good bokeh (blurred background.) However, there are many aspects that control how much your background is blurred and some of them apply to cell phones as well.

  • Depth of Field

  • Choose the Right Aperture

  • Use the Best Lens

  • Sensor Size Matters

  • Background

  • Distance to Subject and Background

  • Focus at the Back

Depth of Field

Bokeh is controlled by the depth of field. Depth of field is the area in focus when you take a picture. When trying to get the most bokeh possible you want a shallow depth of field.


Tip: A shallow depth of field can lead to out of focus images if you aren’t careful.


Choose the Right Aperture

The faster your aperture, the smaller your depth of field and the more out of focus your background will be. I use manual mode to set my aperture at its fastest setting when I want a shallow depth of field and lots of bokeh. You can also achieve this with aperture priority mode.


Use the Best Lens

Since a fast aperture plays a large role in getting lots of bokeh, choosing the right lens is crucial. Prime lenses are your friend here as they typically have a faster aperture than zoom lenses. A lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.2, f/1.4, or f/1.8 will get you great bokeh if you know how to use it.


One other consideration with regard to lenses is focal length. If you have a 35mm and an 85mm both set at f/1.4 the 85mm will produce better background blur than the 35mm. This is thanks to the compression the 85mm provides.


Sensor Size Matters

One of the advantages of going to a full-frame sensor is the bokeh. Larger sensors produce better bokeh when using the same f-stop when compared to smaller sensors.This is one of the main reasons I chose to go with a full-frame camera myself. For example, let’s look at a 50mm f/1.8 lens on a full-frame camera and a full-frame equivalent 35mm f/1.8 lens on a crop sensor camera. With both you get a similar field of view, but that full-frame camera and lens combo will get you an f-stop of f/1.8, on the crop sensor camera combo you will get an f-stop of f/2.7 thanks to the 1.5 times crop.


Background

The type of background affects your bokeh too. A uniform background such as a forest will be more pleasing to the eye than having a car for example.


Distance to Subject and Background

The distance between you and your subject and between your subject and the background also affects how much bokeh will be in the final photo. The closer you are to your subject, the shallower the depth of field will be. The further your subject is from the background, the more out of focus and blurred the background will turn out in your image. Both of these tips work for cellphones too!


Focus at the Back

One tip that is harder to pull off is to focus at the back of your depth of field. By having the subject in the back of your depth of field you artificially increase the distance to the background when compared to focusing in the middle. This tip works best with lenses that have a slower maximum aperture such as an f/4 lens. To do this you will need to manually focus your lens.


Final Thoughts

One pitfall beginners make is keeping their aperture wide open all the time. There will be photos that will be better with a larger depth of field. I actually fell into this trap myself when I first started so I have experienced this issue first hand.

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