How do I use Bokeh?

Ron Niebrugge Alaska, Ask Ron, Chugach, Photos, Travel 8 Comments

Least Sandpiper, Seward, Alaska.

Least Sandpiper, Seward, Alaska.

Megan from Costa Rica had an ask Ron question about bokeh.  Here it is:

Hi Ron, I had a quick question for your Ask Ron series.  I was wondering about your opinion of bokeh.  I have a basic understanding of the concept from online research, but it seems that some professional photographers absolutely love it, while others barely use it at all.  Also seems that subject matter doesn’t necessarily determine who likes it or not; in other words, I see some landscape artists use it all the time, and others never.  I’m contemplating buying my first fixed focal lens for my Nikon D60, and am curious what your take is, when and how you decide to “go for bokeh” (ha), etc.


Megan in Costa Rica

For those that aren’t familiar with the term, here is the Wikipedia definition for bokeh: In photography, bokeh is the blur, or the aesthetic quality of the blur, in out-of-focus areas of an image, or “the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light.

For me, I often use it for wildlife portraits, and close-up work like flowers – it allows me to isolate the subject from the rest of the scene and effectively “remove” distracting elements.  I think the bird portrait above is a good example.  Here I am actually laying in the cold water with the front of the lens and camera just barely out of the water in order to throw the background out of focus.  If I was just a foot higher off the ground, I could be warm and dry, but the background of mud would come into focus and could be a distraction.

The background is often ignored, but can often make or break an image.  As I’m setting up on birds like this, I’m not just watching the birds movement and the direction of the light, but I am constantly evaluating the background.  A bright spot, even if it is out of focus will draw your eye right away from the subject and to the background bright spot.

Now I don’t always try to throw the background out of focus, there are times that it can enhance an image, and provide the viewer with a feeling for the habitat and surrounding environment.  This photo of a desert bighorn near Moab, Utah is one example that comes to mind.

Now you mention landscape photography, and myself, I chose to maximize depth of field and keep everything in focus.  I know some photographers utilize limited depth of field as a personal style, it seems to have gained in popularity in recent years.  I encourage you to experiment.  A prime lens with a large aperture can be a lot of fun creatively.

Thanks for the question – you live in a beautiful country!

Comments 8

  1. Pingback: How do I use Bokeh? | Prime Lenses

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  3. Ron, thanks so much! That helps a lot. I’ve been busy over the past few months experimenting with my new prime lens. I’m starting to get the hang of it, although of course it’s taking me a lot of practice. But that’s a good thing. Thanks, again, for addressing the question and providing a great example. Happy Holidays! -Megan

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  5. Thanks for the tutorial. Think I’ll see what I can do with it when photographing wild flowers in RMNP next summer.

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