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You're strolling through a serene garden, mesmerized by the soft sunlight filtering through the lush foliage. Suddenly, your eyes catch a glimpse of something magical—a burst of dreamy, out-of-focus lights dancing in the background.

You're captivated by the enchanting effect known as bokeh...

What is bokeh?

Bokeh is the quality of out-of-focus or "blurry" elements of an image created by a camera lens, not the blur itself or the quantity of blur in the subject's foreground or background. Simply described, bokeh is the attractive or aesthetic quality of a photograph's out-of-focus blur.

The blur that separates a subject from the backdrop that you are so used to seeing in photography is the result of a shallow "depth of field" and is sometimes referred to as "background blur."

Take note!

The word is derived from the Japanese language and means "to blur."

Photographers refer to the quality and feel of the background/foreground blur and reflected points of light as Bokeh.

For example, in this macro photo I took, you can see the bokeh "circles" on the right side:

Yellow flower up close with bokeh in the background.

How to create bokeh

The effect of a fuzzy, out-of-focus background you obtain when shooting a subject with a fast lens at the widest aperture possible, such as f/2.8 or wider, is known as bokeh.

You will need a fast lens to achieve bokeh in an image—the quicker, the better.


A lens with at least an f/2.8 aperture is recommended, with faster apertures of f/2, f/1.8, or f/1.4 being optimal.

If you do not have a fast lens, do not worry. Bokeh can be seen in photographs shot at narrower apertures like f/8 by increasing the distance between the background and your subject.

Portraits are the most commonly photographed topics, with great examples of bokeh. Close-up portraits do a great job of displaying bokeh. Close-ups and macro photographs of flowers and other natural items are also popular themes for displaying bokeh in the image.

Photographing a gathering of holiday lights or other highly reflecting items is a common subject that is an extreme example of bokeh. When purposefully photographed out-of-focus, these ordinarily harsh or bright objects become soft, pastel, diffused orbs of luminous light.

Man sitting on stairs with bokeh light orbs behind him.
Light becoming orb of light

Bokeh can soften a shot that is otherwise well-lit. Using this approach to divide your subject from the background allows you to include a less-than-photogenic background in your shot, but the diffused blur helps to “highlight,” rather than distract from, the topic.

The more blurred the backdrop (or foreground), the more likely you will get circular bokeh. Getting up close to a subject and maintaining the focal point far away from anything else in the background helps to create bokeh, as does shooting with a fast lens with a wide-open aperture.

What does good bokeh look like?

Remember that the lens, not the camera, creates bokeh. Because of their diverse optical designs, different lenses render bokeh differently.

In general, portrait and telephoto lenses with large apertures produce more pleasing bokeh than consumer zoom lenses with smaller apertures. For example, at the same focal length and aperture, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4D lens produces excellent bokeh. Yet, the Nikon 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6G DX lens creates terrible bokeh — all owing to variations in optical design.

I am not just talking about background blur; while all lenses can produce out-of-focus blur, none can offer gorgeous bokeh. So, what constitutes a nice or attractive bokeh?

Take note!

The background blur should appear soft and "creamy," with smooth spherical circles of light and no hard edges, as a nice bokeh pleases our eyes and our perception of the image.

Take a photograph of your subject and look at the back LCD of your camera once the aperture is set to the lowest value. The subject should be sharp, but the background should be hazy.

If you have a good lens, the bokeh should be soft and fuzzy, as demonstrated in the sample above. The circular reflections should be spherical and gentle, with no hard edges.

Woman standing in street with bokeh behind her.
Bokeh in the background

There are various lenses that produce beautiful bokeh. The bokeh produced by the fastest prime lenses with round-blade apertures, such as the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G or the Canon 85mm f/1.2 II USM, is very pleasing.

The Nikon 85mm f/1.8G and Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM, which are less expensive versions of the same lens, provide lovely bokeh as well.

I recommend performing further study on different lenses based on your photographic needs because there are just too many to list. For nearly two decades, there has been discoursing about bokeh and lens sharpness. Sharpness and bokeh are not normally the focus of a shot, but they are certainly the source of much debate.

Why is it called bokeh?

Bokeh is derived from the Japanese word ‘boke,' which means ‘haze' or ‘blur.' The term has become synonymous with the artistic quality of an out-of-focus blur in a work of art.

Photographers should experiment with depth of field while shooting bokeh photography, as the end result is not just about getting a blurred background, but also about achieving a decent depth of focus.

Since the first photographs were shot through lenses, out-of-focus highlights have appeared in images.

The term "bokeh" was first used in the photography field in 1997 by Photo Techniques magazine, and the out-of-focus portions of images have been analyzed ever since.

There was probably debate before the phrase concerning the beauty of a photograph's out-of-focus specular highlights, but before 1997, there was no acceptable English phrase to express the phenomena.

The hazy backdrop trend is credited to Mike Johnston, article writers Carl Weese, John Kennerdell, and Oren Grad, the Internet, and a word that no one can agree on how to pronounce. Today, “Bokeh” is the name of a video and photography company, a movie, software, Photoshop plug-ins, film festivals, throw pillows, a Facebook page, imaginative cutout plates to cover your lens, Waterhouse plates, iPhone apps, and more.

A smartphone recently advertised its built-in camera's ability to produce "bokeh" as a selling advantage. While the lenses in other smartphone cameras fail to produce bokeh, algorithms in their electronic brains can create artificial bokeh on photographs.

An article on employing bokeh in food photos can even be found on a nutrition website.

At the time of publication, the bokeh hashtag had been used in over 1.1 million photographs on Instagram.

If you are in need of some bokeh right now, Getty Images has over 51,000 stock bokeh photographs to select from. If you type "What is bokeh?" into Google, you will receive almost 3.5 million results—and more than 10,000 if you include quotation marks.

The fact that the human eye, with its good depth of field, does a terrible job of creating the kind of bokeh that many viewers like to see in images or motion movies also feeds the bokeh fixation.

As a result, large bokeh in images is a one-of-a-kind visual experience that can only be obtained when looking at an image recorded with an optical lens.

When you examine the amount of attention bokeh receives (guilty by virtue of writing this post), one of the oddities of bokeh is that it is rarely the subject of the shot. As a result, we should perhaps question ourselves why it gets so much attention.

How to pronounce bokeh?

What is the correct way to say bokeh? Most people pronounce it with equal emphasis on each syllable, such as "bow" (like a bow tie) and "keh" (like the "ke" in Kelvin).

Photo Technique added the “h” to the word “boke” to assist readers in pronouncing it correctly as they understood it. However, according to various publications on the Internet written by Japanese speakers, the last syllable should be sounded like "kay."

I used to pronounce bokeh as "boh-kay," as in "a bouquet of lovely flowers." Then I heard someone far more experienced than me call it "boh-kuh," and I adopted that pronunciation.

The truest answer is: “Boh-Keh”.

In conclusion, it is great to experiment with bokeh, whether it is producing it or photographing it. Feel free to experiment with bokeh with your lenses.

Just remember not to lose the subject for the background if your preferred lens produces swirly, creamy, bubbly, bokethereal, bokehlishious, bokehrama, bokeawesome, bokehgross, bokehyuck, or bokehugly bokeh.

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