What would you say if I told you there is one simple skill that, if mastered, will make any photo you take look amazing? "Yes Zafar, please tell me!" I imagine I would hear you exclaim. Well alright then, I'll let you in on it... bokeh. Yes that's right; just introduce some bokeh into your photography and you'll soon have adulating admirers everywhere.

By Zafar Jamati

So what is bokeh? Pronounced 'boh-ka' or 'boh-kay', it is defined as the aesthetic quality of the out of focus regions - the blurry bits - of a photograph. It is created as a result of a shallow depth of field (DOF).

You'll often see this in night time photography when street lights or decorative lights create a nice series of blurred spots. In the photo below you'll see that whilst the foreground subject is in sharp focus, the background, including the light coming through the leaves, forms a nice soft and rounded series of blur spots.

This optical phenomenon has been increasingly used 
for artistic effect over the last decade.

Depth of Field 
To understand DOF it is important to take a quick look at our eyes. Just like a camera, our eyes include lenses. The benefit we have is that we effectively have two lenses, spaced a short distance apart.

Whilst not quite three dimensional (true 3D would allow us to see behind objects!), our vision is a very clever 2D. The cleverness comes from that supercomputer, otherwise known as our brain.

The human brain possess the extraordinary ability to compensate for and interpret the rays of light that enter our eyes to give us our innate perception of depth
A baby for example, sees the world upside down for the first few days after birth, until the brain learns to interpret the world the right way up. You can easily check your brain by doing this awesome experiment to test your blind spot! Now that you are suitably gobsmacked, we can continue.

A camera, with only one lens and limited computing power, cannot recreate a real life DOF experience. What it can do however, is nearly as compelling. By splitting its field of view into a continuous geometric plane it can pinpoint focus at any given point.

This focal point can travel from the minimum focusing distance of the lens, all the way to infinity, the point at which rays of light become parallel and so appear blurred.

Shallow depth-of-field photographs give the impression of professionalism because it is usually not easy to control depth of field on low end smart phones or point and shoot digital cameras. More expensive cameras, with high quality optics and larger sensors start to make this process possible.

So how can you take photos to improve the quality and bokehliciousness of your photos? Just follow one or all of the steps below to get started:

  1. Aperture - in a camera with manual controls you can change the size of the iris which allows light to fall through the lens and onto the sensor. By changing the aperture, the rays of lights are either elongated for deep focus (sharpness), or made taller for shallow focus (blurry). This is also known as the f-number, the higher the number the more things in focus.
  2. Distance to the subject - probably the quickest and easiest method. You can alter the angle of reflected light entering the lens by simply moving closer to the subject. By doing this your background will be sufficiently blurred. The closest images comprise of macro photography (we'll have another session on this soon!)
  3. Larger sensor size - smartphone cameras are notorious for having small sensors. A larger sensor increases its sensitivity and allows for wider angle lenses to gather more light.
  4. Longer focal length - using a telephoto lens at a longer focal length, standing further away, is one way sports photographers capture striking images.

As you start to experiment and become better at taking control of your camera, you'll find that you can capture more artistic and aesthetically pleasing photos.

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Zafar Jamati

Stone Junction is a cool technical PR agency based in Stafford. We work for all sorts of businesses, with a particular focus on technology, technical and engineering companies. We like being sent cake and biscuits by clients, journalists and prospects.

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