How to Achieve Better Bokeh - 4 Simple Tips

How to Achieve Better Bokeh – 4 Simple Tips

When photographers use shallow depth-of-field, the purpose is usually to make the subject of the photo stand out from the background.  Unfortunately, this usually means that the photographer forgets about the aesthetic quality of the area not in focus and pays attention only to the subject.  Big mistake.  This article seeks to teach photographers how to achieve beautiful bokeh.

Bokeh is the quality of the portion of a photograph that is not in sharp focus.  The pronunciation of “bokeh” is debated, but the photo world seems to have settled on the pronunciation “bouquet.”  Many photographers do not realize that they can control the aesthetic quality of the bokeh.  There are four basic techniques to improve your bokeh: adjusting depth-of-field, choosing the proper lens, creating custom bokeh, and using bokeh to relate with the foreground.

1. Adjusting Depth-of-Field

Image by anton khoff

Because bokeh is the blurry portion of an image, it is directly related to depth of field, which controls how much of the image is out of focus.  A low aperture value produces short depth-of-field, and consequently a larger blurry portion of the image.  Also, the shorter the focal length, the greater the depth of field.  The last consideration in controlling depth of field is the lens-to-focal point distance.  A longer distance between the lens and the focal point creates a greater depth-of-field. 

Many beginning photographers always push for the lowest aperture available.  This is a mistake.  Often, the blurry portion of the photo is more aesthetically pleasing if enough detail is left in the background to make out some shapes or objects.  The first rule to better bokeh is to determine proper depth-of-field rather than always choosing the blurriest background available.  

2. Choosing the Proper Lens

Image by izik

The aperture is a group of several blades which form a circle or octagon through which the light passes to the sensor.  Apertures which utilize more blades or have curved blades will produce more circular-shaped light bursts in the bokeh, while apertures with more octagonal openings produce a similarly-shaped light burst.  Many photographers prefer the circular bokeh to the more octagonal shapes.  Generally, more expensive lenses use more blades and/or utilize curved aperture blades in an effort to produce a more circular bokeh.

3. Creating Custom Bokeh

Image by eirikso

A few years ago, it became very popular for photographers to create special cut-outs in various shapes to go on a lens.  The shape of the cut-out will control the shape of the light bursts in the bokeh.  This is a very creative and eye-catching effect as long as it is not overdone.  To create this effect, simply punch out a small (approximately the size of a dime) shape in a black piece of paper.  Then tape this paper over the front of the lens as if it were a lens cap, with the cut-out precisely in the middle of the lens.  When you take a picture, the bokeh will reflect the shape of the cut-out.

4. Relating the Foreground with the Background

Image by Shermeee

Often, the most captivating photographs are those which do something that the viewer did not anticipate.  Relating the sharp foreground subject of an image with something in the blurry portion of the image can create a truly creative image.  You’ve probably seen this effect in wedding photography when a bride is close to the camera and in sharp focus, with the groom blurry in the background.  This technique is even stronger when the foreground not only relates to the background, but when it interacts with it.  

Bokeh is one of the most-used photographic techniques, but one of the least focused-on.  Applying these four methods to achieving better bokeh will dramatically improve your photography.

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Some Older Comments

  • carl June 26, 2013 11:46 pm

    To find out what kind of blades and how many - well duh - Look at em and count em...

  • Lynn February 4, 2013 11:58 pm

    Thank you.

  • David February 3, 2013 01:06 am

    look at the website of the lense manufacture look up your lense model number or under specifications in the owners manual.

  • Lynn February 3, 2013 12:37 am

    As a beneral rule, is there a physical way to find out what kind and how many blades your aperture has? Thank you so much for this article. Love all these lessons.

  • David December 14, 2012 09:59 am

    most any light will work. including candle light! experiment! have fun!

  • Rhonda Joy Alexander December 13, 2012 07:43 pm

    The. Photos are beautiful, but I must have missed something. Would you please explain what type ofn light source is producing the glowing shapes. Some look like a Christmas tree that had the lights on. What other lights are you using?

  • David January 12, 2012 12:52 pm

    enk, read comment above yours. its all there.

  • Enk January 12, 2012 12:07 pm

    Well I'm really new to Photography.
    I've got Nikon D3100 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR

    I love Bokeh.
    I can get complete bokeh photographs but don't know how to focus on the object e.g: A cup and keep bokeh in background.
    Please explain how can this be done and if this can be achieved with this current lens kit I have?

    Would really appreciate your help.
    And please explain settings about how this depth-of-field with bokeh and focal length works. I mean that all distance settings.

  • David December 23, 2011 04:27 pm

    wow! reading all this gives me a head ache to the point I had to skip some parts. soooo incase no one has said it I will.
    I keep reading about bokeh and depth of field thats all wonderful I get 1.4 is a narrow depth of field BUT that is not the only ingredient to bokeh. infact some believe the better Bokeh comes at stopped down apertures. like 5.6 , 9 or even 22. the reason I say better is at these points the blades come into play. shaping the bokeh. it also has more to do with the distance between the source of the bokeh too subject relation. a distant light source or background, the distance between these three main items.
    example: camera ---- subject ------------------------ background "or bokeh source"
    notice the word camera is closer to the subject than the subject too the background the key is keeping the distance between the camera and the subject in the sweet spot and infront of "the circle of confusion" for your lense what ever that lense is. whether its a 24mm 50mm 200mm or what ever. that distance will change with each lense. the sweet spot for a 24mm will have a closer camera to subject distance than the 200mm for creating a nice bokeh what your doing is focusing the main subject on a closer focus plane. "look at the numbers in feet on the lense body".
    if your subject is 2 feet away from your camera when the camera's auto focus locks on, the dial on the lense body will reflect that distant, pretty much anything behind that measurement is out of focus depending on f stop selection. the stuff way back there becomes the bokeh! a wide lense obviously the camera to subject needs to be shorter, a long lense like 200mm the subject to camera distance can be further away obviously.
    I hope this will be an easier way to better understand what it takes to create BOKEH! DO NOT be forced to believe you cant get it with smaller aperture lenses you can. grant it the faster lenses are better at it because they gather more light by design. well I hope I have not made it so hard to understand for the folks like me that are learning impaired! merry Christmas!

  • Jessie December 18, 2011 03:12 pm

    What a joke some of these 'comments' are in here....the article is great for anyone wanting to learn photography and all it's techniques.
    I'll keep reading the great articles provided, but not wasting my time any more with the sometimes most pathetic comments and bordering arguments. Some of the 'experts' who leave comments need to get a life. If you know it all, then why are you even reading the article in the first place. Just let it help the people who appreciate it.
    Thanks DPS, you provide some invaluable information, keep up the great work for those of us who actually appreciate it.
    (For those who don't appreciate the article for what it is, yes you can comment on my post, but guaranteed I wont be reading it, so save your time and other people's misery....LOL)

  • terry whitford August 4, 2011 06:07 am

    A short focal length lens and a long focal length lens have the exact same depth of field if using the same f/stop.
    That is if the IMAGE is the SAME SIZE. Field of view however, is another matter with the short lens winning.

  • Amature May 26, 2010 10:38 pm

    Hi. I own an Olympus E620 with the 2 kit lenses ( 40-150mm 1:4-5.6 and 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6) as I haven't even owned my camera a year and am still learning. Do you think I could create shaped bokeh (with the cut outs) with the 14-42mm? I have been researching & I really don't want to have to wait to get a new lens to try it out. :)

  • Elizabeth May 15, 2010 01:01 pm

    I have tried to do this in Picasa and other software. It just ends up looking stupid, trust me. If you are looking for a artificial type look, then ok. Othewise just shoot for a minimal depth of field and watch where your focus point is when you compose.

  • Johnson Ang May 15, 2010 12:18 pm

    @ds, hear hear.

  • shripad May 14, 2010 02:47 pm

    can this effect be achieved by using Picasa3 software soft focusing is possible in special effects. How effective it will be if used.

  • DS May 14, 2010 12:40 pm

    You twits need to go to some other far flung part of the World Wide Web for this lame discussion. People are not interested in this rubbish but want to learn about photography stop wasting our time!

  • Brandon Green May 7, 2010 05:38 am

    I absolutely am being condescending. No denial there.
    In referring to my first reply..
    "My goal in this rant isn’t to be mean, I just think if someone is going to be judgmental and talk down to people, they should probably first make sure they themselves aren’t guilty of the very thing(s) they are accusing others of."

    I'm more than happy to have a difference of opinion. I love opinions! I happen to have a pretty decent collection of them! I just think it's really rude when people do what you did. And no, you weren't just "expressing your opinion" as you have since tried to characterize it, you were overriding an entire discussion by insisting that your pronunciation was the correct pronunciation, and then went on to tell us how annoyed it makes you. Yea, believe it or not we were actually doing just fine before you showed up to tell us how annoying we are.

    So, in the future, regardless of how many different languages you speak, you may want to consider recognizing that much of language, like culture, is a moving target; and that oftentimes if you simply put things out there and discuss them with others (like we did before you got here) you might just find that some words you thought had very firm pronunciations, may no longer. You may also find that other words, like "pedantic", actually do have a pretty firm meaning, and that by condescending to other people, you open yourself up to the very condescension you lead with.

    Off topic: Not a big deal, but when you link to that XKCD comic in the future, it'd be awesome if you used this link instead, so the original author gets credit.

  • Glasslady May 7, 2010 04:47 am

    Yes, I can grasp your irony. But your use of it doesn't change the fact that we evidently have irreconcilable differences of opinion. I'm not obligated to respond to it, however, or laugh, or find it amusing. Nor does it cover up your condescension.

  • Brandon Green May 7, 2010 04:42 am

    Yes!! Exactly!! How is it that you read XKCD but you can't grasp over-the-top, clearly intentional irony?

  • Glasslady May 7, 2010 04:37 am

    "Someone looks pedantic when they, for example, spend excessive time arguing with strangers on the internet about the definition or use or pronunciation of a word. :)"

    Good job. By the way, put words in my mouth however much you want, it doesn't make you any more correct than before. But, I'm not going to waste my breath. I'm somehow reminded of this though...

  • Brandon Green May 7, 2010 04:30 am

    So you read our long drawn out discussion above of the various pronunciations of bokeh, including people who spent extensive time living in Japan, saying it differently than other individuals who lived in Japan. We discussed the various westernized pronunciations, to our eventual fairly amicable conclusion that different people, in different places, pronounce it differently, and given the evolution of language no one really has call to proclaim that the way they say it is the definitive pronunciation; you read all that, and you thought, "Nope, they're all clearly wrong, I better let them know". Wonderful, how thoughtful of you.

    Someone who misuses/mispronounces big words doesn't look pedantic, either. What exactly about misusing a word or mispronouncing something would make someone look 1) overly concerned with formal rules or trivial points of learning, 2) being showy of their knowledge often in a boring manner, or 3) being finicky or picky with their language?

    Someone looks pedantic when they, for example, spend excessive time arguing with strangers on the internet about the definition or use or pronunciation of a word. :) A general clue, though not a rule, is that the type of person who will casually drop the word pedantic in conversation, can, in my experience, be described by it. Much like the word "sesquipedalianism" - The practice of using long, sometimes obscure, words in speech or writing.

  • Glasslady May 7, 2010 03:41 am


    Wow, someone took something personally it seems. Don't assume that I didn't read the discussion, I did. I'm neither being judgmental or looking down on others. I stated what I felt--that certain mispronunciations can be fairly annoying. Especially when it's pretty simple. You may not be bothered by someone blatantly mispronouncing something; that's your prerogative.

    Regarding the use of pedantic; look closely at what I typed "To do otherwise makes you look pedantic and ridiculous". Makes you look pedantic, not makes you pedantic. There is a difference, you know. So before writing a multi-paragraph argument about someone "drastically misusing" a word, I'd pay somewhat closer attention to syntax. Or at least read something twice before C&Ping wiktionary entries like some internet tough guy.

  • Brandon Green May 7, 2010 01:38 am

    I think it's ironic that someone would, without reading ANY of the discussion that we already had on this topic in the previous comments, leave their own comment explaining something we've already gone over; and then proceed to express dissatisfaction with other people using big words that they don't understand, while at the same time drastically misusing the word "pedantic". THAT is ironically hypocritical.
    1. Like a pedant, overly concerned with formal rules and trivial points of learning.
    2. Being showy of one’s knowledge, often in a boring manner.
    3. Being finicky or picky with language.

    As described in the post above, someone who is being careless with language and using big words incorrectly would not make them look "pedantic", as they are clearly not overly concerned with formal rules/trivial points of learning, clearly not being showy of knowledge so much as their lack thereof, and clearly not being finicky or picky with language; kinda the opposite of that really.

    My goal in this rant isn't to be mean, I just think if someone is going to be judgmental and talk down to people, they should probably first make sure they themselves aren't guilty of the very thing(s) they are accusing others of.

    And yes, before someone else points it out, I do understand the perhaps not-so-subtle irony in my pasting the definition of the word "pedantic" :D

  • Johnson Ang May 5, 2010 05:22 pm

    Just like to share my "angel" bokeh.
    [eimg link='' title='Angels' url='']

  • Glasslady May 4, 2010 04:40 pm

    It's pronounced as if there were an accent on the 'e'. Bo-ke. Bo as in 'bow and arrrow' and ke as in 'keg' (Pro-Tip: Bows and arrows shouldn't be used in conjunction with kegs). As a speaker of both Japanese and English it's fairly annoying to see relatively simple words mispronounced, as with the alcoholic drink, sake.

    It's like using big words. Only use them if you know what they mean and in the right context. To do otherwise makes you look pedantic and ridiculous. Same with pronunciation.

    Great article though! I really like the bokeh I get from my lenses (Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX DC and Caon EF 50mm f/1.4) as well as the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM I get to use once and a while. I find I can get excellent bokeh even stopped down to f/4 or more; it just requires greater focal length and a bit more distance between me and my target--a distant backdrop helps immensely.

  • Brandon Green May 4, 2010 11:38 am

    Alright man, you win. Good luck.

  • Rooster May 4, 2010 07:52 am

    The Depth Of Field DOF is determined by the:
    1 magnification
    2 aperture
    By keeping the magnification (the subject) the same, the DOF is ONLY determined by the apertue value.

    If you want to make it more complicated for yourself OK, but don't try to convince other people that is it much more complicated, delicate, personal or whatever.

  • Brandon Green May 4, 2010 03:03 am

    I completely disagree. I'm of the opinion that having to pick up and move the camera or move the subject makes it more complicated, not less. Wide angle lenses are typically used to shoot completely different types of shots then telephoto lenses, so to make the assumption that you're going to use each of them to shoot the same subject at the same size I think is assuming a lot more than you should. Aside from that, we're talking about camera function in determining what raw factors contribute to the DoF and how. But, different people do find it easier to conceptualize things differently, so there's always that.

  • Rooster May 4, 2010 02:55 am

    "So what I’m saying is that if you vary any one of the following by itself, you will get a different DoF: lens focal length, lens focus distance, or lens aperture. I’m pretty sure that is what they meant in the article above."

    Yes, and that's a complicated and confusing explanation.
    It's much easier to keep your subject the same. In that case the DOF only depends only on the aperture.
    Why make it more complicated than it is?

  • Brandon Green May 4, 2010 02:45 am


    The DoF only remains constant across different lens focal length's if you are varying the focus distance to keep the subject the same size in the frame for each lens. Here's a great calculator for seeing that in action:

    From that same page: "If the subject occupies the same fraction of the image (constant magnification) for both a telephoto and a wide angle lens, the total depth of field is virtually* constant with focal length! This would of course require you to either get much closer with a wide angle lens or much further with a telephoto lens"

    So what I'm saying is that if you vary any one of the following by itself, you will get a different DoF: lens focal length, lens focus distance, or lens aperture. I'm pretty sure that is what they meant in the article above.

  • Rooster May 3, 2010 09:09 pm

    "Also, the shorter the focal length, the greater the depth of field. The last consideration in controlling depth of field is the lens-to-focal point distance. A longer distance between the lens and the focal point creates a greater depth-of-field."

    Not quite true:
    The Depth of Field (DOF) for a given subject dimension and camera format depends only on the aperture value:

    subject dimension 1000mm, crop camera (1.6x crop):
    focal length 24mm @ f/1.8: DOF = 139mm
    focal length 85mm @ f/1.8: DOF = 138mm
    focal length 200mm @ f/1.8: DOF =138mm

    The background blur (BB) at infinity depends on the aperture value and focal length.

    subject dimension 1000mm, crop camera (1.6x crop):
    focal length 24mm @ f/1.8: BB 1.3% of the picture width
    focal length 85mm @ f/1.8: BB 4.7% of the picture width
    focal length 200mm @ f/1.8: BB 11% of the picture width

  • Colleen Farrell May 3, 2010 04:10 am

    Yes, it's "boe-cah" as in Boca, not "boe-kay" as in "bouquet." ;-) (Besides, the the latter word is also pronounced "boo-kay")

    @ Dierdre, you're right, we don't *have* to pronounce foreign words the way native-speakers do. But sometimes we do. We don't say "paree" for Paris but we do pronounce "rendezvous" the way the French do. ;-)

    @ lon: thanks for spelling out exactly what bokeh is for those who didn't get it.

  • David Zivic May 1, 2010 11:13 pm

    Liked your article on Bokeh. I do want to correct the pronounciation of the word though. The word was created by Mike Johnston when he was Editor of a popular photography magazine in the United States. He wrote a great article on the subject and reviewed a bunch of lenses based on their Bokeh abilities. The correct pronunciation and lens review can be found here. c

  • Brandon May 1, 2010 05:33 pm

    @Jeffrey Byrne

    Quite the contrary, bokeh is a very specific term. It is not merely synonymous with blur or depth of field, but rather it refers to the specific aesthetic qualities of how a particular lens renders the out of focus area throughout the image. The easiest way to examine the bokeh is to photograph drastically out of focus pin points of light surrounded by relatively dark areas, as that reveals both the shape of the aperture and the light distribution within it. Another thing to consider is that the bokeh can and does differ depending on the angle of the incoming light relative to the lens center. How much it varies depends entirely on the lens. This can be viewed by photographing an array of out of focus pin lights and noting their differences in shape and angle depending on their position.

    All of this goes into defining the bokeh of a particular lens. Again, it's not just blurry pin lights, its the aesthetic qualities of how a particular lens renders any out of focus areas in the image.

    I hope this helps.

  • Jeffrey Byrnes May 1, 2010 04:10 pm

    Bohke or however you say it is such a lame term. Its called: Depth of Field. Or Shallow depth of field. You can even say narrow depth of field. Bohke is pointless. It is a lame, generic term for something that already has a term and definition.

  • Brandon Green May 1, 2010 09:29 am

    I really like that one you linked to.. odd that the link doesn't show up on the website, just in the email notice.. oh well here it is again anyways:

    I like the nonstandard framing, and the way the line seperating the FG from the out of focus BG is reminiscent of a yin/yang curve, while your framing gives both the fg and bg equal space.

    My only complaint is that I think your watermark in the corner might by a little too big, as I kinda feel like it's intrusive and distracting. Though I still can't decide how I feel about the watermark issue for my own images, so take that with a grain of salt.

  • Hannes April 30, 2010 11:20 pm

    Good tips:)

  • Elizabeth April 30, 2010 06:48 pm

    This is an example of my favorite bokeh to date - I think in botanic macros it's an essential part of the photo.
    [eimg url='' title='ec6251f0']
    Hope the image link works - if not, go to to the Cherry Blossom folder - there's a couple great examples if I do say so myself.
    I welcome all comments/critiques.

  • Salva April 30, 2010 07:28 am

    A low aperture value produces short depth-of-field, and consequently a larger blurry portion of the image.

    You were right!! My English is wrong XD. I didn't realize that you wrote value. So yes, a low aperture value (high aperture) short depth of field and blurry background.


  • Salva April 30, 2010 07:25 am

    Hello, I am a total beginner but I think that I found a mistake. In the article you say:

    A low aperture value produces short depth-of-field, and consequently a larger blurry portion of the image.

    I think that you mean the lower number in the lenses the better, but the lowest number in the lenses is the maximum aperture. So to get a very blurred boukeh you need the lowest number=maximum aperture.

    Also I have just learn that Full Frame cameras will have a better boukeh than APS while APS are very good for great depth of field ( everything focused from the front to the background).

    I am learning with John Greengo, and I am a newbie (3 weeks ago I didn't know what a DSLR was!!) And I received my first one this Tuesday. SO I can misunderstood a lot of things,but I don't think so. I find photography very interesting now!!

    Good blog by the way


  • michael sutton April 30, 2010 06:44 am

    what a great tutorial, ive always wanted to try the customised bokeh, last weekend i tried out my first hdr with bokeh, i am really happy with my result.

  • Deirdre April 30, 2010 06:40 am

    Oh -- despite all those points I just made -- I actually really enjoyed the article! Thank you for helping me to think about bokeh as something I can plan rather than just as luck.

  • Deirdre April 30, 2010 06:37 am

    1) Just because it's pronounced one way in Japan doesn't mean it has to be pronounced the same way here. After all, we say "pariss" not "paree."

    2) you can get wonderful dotted light bokeh with an inexpensive 50mm f/1.8 lens. It may not be as perfectly circular or sharp or whatever was what you'd get with a more expensive lens, but people shouldn't be put off. I take most of my photos with dotted lights with my 35mm f/1.8. I have even seen some lovely dotted bokeh shots with kit lenses (such as the Nikon 18-55 or 55-200 lenses). It takes more work to set up such a shot, but it can be done).

    3) my daughter only uses a point & shoot (canon a590IS -- not an expensive camera) and has achieved some okay blur in the background by using the "flower" setting even on non-flowers. The "portrait" setting will sometimes do it as well.

  • Jason Collin Photography April 30, 2010 06:08 am


    Well, I will respectfully disagree and again site my knowledge and experience of the Japanese language and the Japanese origin of the word. Maybe it is a regional U.S. thing, everyone in Florida says "bow-kay" also.

  • Holly April 30, 2010 03:47 am

    @sonya natasha, that is how I pronounce it too. Are your p&s friends sad when you tell them it's impossible to achieve bokeh with their equipment? There's a reason SLR's are considered professional equipment, bokeh being one of them! ;-) Of course a wide angle shot (or macro) on a p&s can be indistinguishable from a DSL image, I always advise p&s owners to work to the strength of their equipment. :-)

  • Lon April 30, 2010 03:44 am

    "love bokeh and am guilty of using it too much"

    "I think bokeh is one of those trends right now in photography that can be way overuse"

    "But if you think you do it to much try shooting with wide glass its very hard to get bokah there"

    "is not how much DOF you give to your picture but also to pay attention to where exactly it is"

    "I loved it [50mm 1.8 Canon lens]and have many cherished photos with great bokeh from it"

    "I agree that it can be overused, but people love it! My p&s friends are constantly asking me to teach them how to do ‘that blurry thing that makes pictures look professional…"

    All these comments make me believe most people don't understand the definition of bokeh - this thread has turned into more a discussion of depth-of-field, specifically the use of a shallow one. While a shallow depth-of-field produces a lot of blur, or "defocus" which in turn reveals the "bokeh", the bokeh itself is not the amount of blur for defocussed objects, but is rather the more subjective, aesthetic QUALITY of that blur. You can't "use" bokeh too much - it is simply a characteristic that is present whenever there is any amount of defocus. "Great bokeh" doesn't mean a ton of blur, it means out of focus edges are balanced, symmetrical, and generally pleasing to the eye. For instance, the Canon 50mm f/1.8 can give a very shallow depth-of-field with lots of blur when shot wide open, but the bokeh on that lens is generally considered low-quality because the smaller number of aperture blades produces more jagged highlight blurs, and the blur is often asymettrical or uneven (as opposed to a 50mm f/1.2L stopped to f1.8 which would produce the same amount of blur as the f/1.8 except the quality of the blur would be considered "better")

  • Sonya Natasha April 30, 2010 02:22 am

    I pronounce Bokeh the same as another poster mentioned - Boca, as in Boca Raton. I agree that it can be overused, but people love it! My p&s friends are constantly asking me to teach them how to do 'that blurry thing that makes pictures look professional...'

  • Jeff April 30, 2010 02:06 am

    With appropriate research, you'll discover the proper pronunciation of bokeh is "bow-kuh." After that you'll cringe whenever others attempt to make themselves appear as if they have a good grasp of the industry lingo and pronounce it "bow-kay." Together, let's preserve the word etymology and the intelligence of our industry or hobby and say it right. ;-) BTW, a custom bokeh mask is a great idea. A quick Google search results in many "make-your-own" tutorials. But, does anyone know if there are manufactured "lens cap"-style bokeh masks available?

  • Holly April 30, 2010 01:46 am

    Not sure I agree with the comment that it's a mistake to aim for using the lowest possible aperture. My Canon 85 mm f1.2L is a favourite for a reason, and (I'm my mind at least) you don't spend that kind of coin and to not shoot wide open as much as possible. Especially with that lens which is known to be tack sharp wide open.

    I shoot on-location family photography, and shooting wide open at 1.2 is wonderful for bringing the focus to the subject, and blurring out a districting background. A favourite shoot, where I shot with the 85, is this one:

    This first image was shot wide open at 1.2, just love the shallow depth of field and the softness it gives to the background. And the backlit series of mom and daughter...still one of my favourite series shot with that lens.

    The Canon 85 f1.2L is definitely a favourite for a reason, that reason is spelled B-O-K-E-H. :-)

  • Mark April 30, 2010 01:37 am

    glad the comment about focal distance caught someones attention because I was confused. question for group, do you think the effect is greater with a longer focal length eg. 85v50, 105v85, 200v105?

  • Brooks Rickard April 30, 2010 01:37 am

    One of my favorite lens for the bokeh effect is my sigma 150-500mm at f6.3. Shoot just about any portrait from 10-30 ft washes out the background nicely as long as its not right next to subject.

  • Eric April 30, 2010 12:11 am


    I've read some reviews that say that since the glass is so big, it can be slower to focus. It'll also be bigger and heavier, and since it's an L lens, that contributes to the price jump. Maybe you can rent both of them and see which one you want before you buy.

  • Flores April 29, 2010 05:44 pm

    Thanks, Anna and Miha. I rarely change F-stops and only using when it is too dark or too bright. So, actually I may change it to control the DOF as well. Thanks for the info, highly appreciated.

  • Miha Vesel April 29, 2010 05:24 pm

    I think if you set f value to around f/11, you'll have sharp background (or you can set even higher f number if you are not satisfied with the result)

  • Anand Kulkarni April 29, 2010 05:13 pm

    @Flores -

    Low Focal Length (say 24) +

    Narrow Apperture (say f/16 or f/22) +

    try to focus on the middleground to get most of foreground & most of background clear (this depends on what & why are you shooting and other factors)

  • Flores April 29, 2010 04:35 pm

    Sorry for being out of topic. My problem is: how to avoid blur background using 24-55mm lens? When I am taking landscape picture, I do not want any blur in the background, but my 24-55 nikkor lens always makes background blur.Thanks for any help.

  • Elaine April 29, 2010 04:08 pm

    Thanks! I've been looking for an article like this one for some time :)

  • Major Bokeh April 29, 2010 02:50 pm

    Bokeh is pronounced BOW as in bow and arrow with a B and long O, then Ka. Ka like car without the R or Ma like momma. "hey Ma get the Ca" - BOW - KAH, BOW - KAH, BOW - KAH!

    Bow-kay is a bunch of lovely, colorful flowers and by the way, they are in complete focus!

  • Major Bokeh April 29, 2010 02:44 pm


    I started with the plastic fantastic 50mm 1.8 Canon lens which set me back all of USD$75. It was my second lens on my Rebel XT next to the equally plastic kit lens. I loved it and have many cherished photos with great bokeh from it. Many great low light images as well. But I have had the good fortune to make significant upgrades to my collection, so when I had the chance to get a new 50mm, I didn't think twice about going to the 1.2. I didn't even consider the 1.4 and I am sure it's a wonderful value too. But I tend to "go big or go home" so it was the 1.2 for me and I have never regretted it. The build quality, image sharpness and narrow DOF are so much fun. Plus with that gaping hole and huge glass it's a really handsome piece of equipment to hold and behold.

    @lachlan - I got it. Very funny.

    Lastly. I grew up saying See Pee Ya. But "Sep E Ya" is kind of a cool Euro sound like "Zed" for zero and "bonnet,(hood) boot, (trunk) and saloon (sedan)" for car terms. It's great to have a truly global site like this one (hat tip Darren) that makes this big blue marble smaller and brings us all a little closer!

    I'm off to catch the lift! (elevator)

  • Brandon Green April 29, 2010 01:39 pm

    Haha yes, I have many words like that which to this day I am struggling to reprogram myself to say correctly. I can't think of any others at the moment so you'll just have to take my word for it. I blame it on my generation's internet which didn't have bandwidth for casual sound transmission.

  • Jason Collin Photography April 29, 2010 01:33 pm

    @brandon I think the ke as in Kenneth is the same as pronouncing it "boe-kay"

    Now, about pronouncing sepia correctly, I must admit for years I had no idea because I never heard the word spoken and only read it so pronounced it the way you don't like in my mind for a decade probably...then when I returned to the U.S. and heard someone say it see-pee-uh, I thought they were crazy!

  • Brandon Green April 29, 2010 01:19 pm

    lol sepia.. I pronounce it: See, Pee, Uhh.
    Please don't tell me it's Sep (as in strep) EE Uhh.

  • Brandon Green April 29, 2010 01:16 pm

    In waiting for your response I happened to check with Wikipedia, and I wonder if you might have a quick look at the "Origin" section, near the very top, as I'm having a hard time making heads or tails of it.. "ke as in kenneth" ??

  • Jason Collin Photography April 29, 2010 01:13 pm


    Neither syllable gets stressed (Japanese language does not really have stress like English does)

    So no pause, no stress between syllables, just a simple boe-kay

    I hear the guys on This Week in Photography often pronounce it like you wrote, like a Boca Burger pronunciation, which is surprising because Alex Lindsay spent quite a bit of time in Japan and should be saying boe-kay.

    Now about pronouncing sepia . . . . .

  • Brandon Green April 29, 2010 01:05 pm

    I'm used to pronouncing it "bow - kuh", emphasis on the first syllable. (bow as in bow and arrow) So if you're telling me it's really pronounced "bow - kay", which syllable gets emphasized?

  • Captured by Jess April 29, 2010 01:03 pm

    Did a poll of my photog friends and agreed the pronunciation is "boca" as in Boca Raton.
    No one has heard it pronounced "bouquet". Good thing too because I thought I was the only one who was saying it "wrong".. ;)
    Lovely article nonetheless!

  • Jason Collin Photography April 29, 2010 10:53 am

    @Khurt is someone that recently lived in Tokyo for 6 years and has a Japanese wife, the pronunciation for bokeh is "boe-kay" Just in case anyone wants another Japanese lesson, the drink sake is not pronounced "sah-kee" it's the same as bokeh is, "sah-kay"

    It definitely helps I think to live in a metropolitan area to consistently find great night time bokeh out on the street. Speaking of Tokyo, here is a bokeh sample from there (taxi tail light causing the bokeh):

  • Lachlan April 29, 2010 10:39 am

    "Bokeh is one of the most-used photographic techniques, but one of the least focused-on."

    please tell me this sentence was intentional - either way, had me rofl.

  • zach April 29, 2010 10:25 am

    this post mistakenly states " A low aperture value produces short depth-of-field" aperture is inversely related to depth of field. e.g. f/1.4 gives you a narrow depth of field while f/22 gives you a very wide depth of field. or 1/22 is smaller than 1/1.4. other than that this post has some very good pointers

  • Kyle Bailey April 29, 2010 10:24 am

    Another great article and one that I will put into use. I have never tried to create bokeh it has simply been an unintentional result of my aperture. I will keep these tips in mind to create or at least exemplify the effect in some shot over the next few weeks and add the results to a new set on my Flickr Stream at as well as my blog at

    Thanks for the tips!

  • Brandon Green April 29, 2010 09:58 am

    @major bokeh:
    I own the Canon 50mm f/1.4, and I have to wonder, considering that the difference in aperture between the 50mm f/1.2 and 50mm f/1.4 is only a third of an f-stop, but the difference in price is ridiculous, ($389 vs $1619), do you really think the f/1.2 is really worth the extra $1230?

    I've been pretty thrilled with my f/1.4, and the occasion that I actually use it full open is very rare.

  • johnp April 29, 2010 09:48 am

    What about added bokeh in post production? Sacrilege no doubt to most but I find it does have a place. I admit to using Tiffen to add bokeh, it lets you control the effect in many different ways that may not always be possible in camera. Then there is always gaussian blur in other programs although I find that not subtle enough.

  • Major Bokeh April 29, 2010 09:14 am

    How do I feel about bokeh? Look at my name. I have the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM. The depth of field is razor thin when shooting wide open. Great big fun. Good article.

  • CLNike April 29, 2010 06:57 am

    Sorry that's *lens lol

  • CLNike April 29, 2010 06:56 am

    I would really like to see an example of #3 where the use of custom bokeh is created by putting a cutout on the lense front.

  • scott April 29, 2010 04:47 am

    great article. my only dispute is with the comment on the pronunciation, it is a Japanese word, and since their language has a very predictable syllabary, the word has only one way of being said "bow-keh".

  • Johan April 29, 2010 04:03 am

    So simply put, "great brokeh" is a product of the price of the lens and not the quality of the photographer.
    I use shallow depth of field in my portraits so nothing draws the eyes away from my subject. "Great brokeh" is an insult to me, because that means I failed.

  • Andres Calle April 29, 2010 03:47 am

    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..

  • Greg Taylor April 29, 2010 03:08 am

    I like a shallow depth of field in portraits. The way I achieve the shallow DOF is by using my prime 50mm f1.8

    I think bokeh is one of those trends right now in photography that can be way overused.

  • Lon April 29, 2010 02:59 am

    I may be stating the obvious, but I thought that bokeh typically refers to the quality of out-of-focus highlights or other light features, rather then just the amount or type of blur. Bokeh definitely affects the overall qualities of the blurry area, but I think in the context of this article, as demonstrated by the sample pictures, refers more to quality of bokeh on the out-of-focus lights in the background?

  • Brandon Green April 29, 2010 01:44 am

    I know the subject in this photo (my mom) is a little soft, but I still really like this shot overall.. the bokeh lights are from a Christmas tree... [eimg url='' title='IMG_7118.JPG']

  • Andres Calle April 29, 2010 01:39 am

    Oopss forgot to include the link:

  • Andres Calle April 29, 2010 01:37 am

    I've been trying to get it right all the time, but like someone said in the beggining is not how much DOF you give to your picture but also to pay attention to where exactly it is...

    Here is my best example:

  • Ilan (@ilanbr) April 29, 2010 01:12 am

    A few years back, this 'play' with bokeh was nice and pretty original, but somehow - and maybe it's flickrs fault - these "custom" bokeh photos became too common. Or very gimmicky.

    I don't know, maybe it's just me.... it sure looks like many do enjoy these things :)

    Here is a 50mm f/1.8 wide open attempt. Nothing too fancy I guess - - Starry night in summer :)

  • Khürt April 29, 2010 01:06 am

    The term comes from the Japanese word boke (?? or ??), which means "blur" or "haze", or boke-aji (???), the "blur quality". The Japanese term boke is also used in the sense of a mental haze or senility.[7]

    The English spelling bokeh was popularized in 1997 in Photo Techniques magazine, when Mike Johnston, the editor at the time, commissioned three papers on the topic for the March/April 1997 issue; he altered the spelling to suggest the correct pronunciation to English speakers, saying "it is properly pronounced with bo as in bone and ke as in Kenneth, with equal stress on either syllable".[2] Bokeh replaced the previous spelling boke that had been in use at least since 1996, when Merklinger had also suggested "or Bokeh if you prefer."

  • Jay McIntyre April 29, 2010 12:53 am

    I had a little fun with this on Christmas Eve.

  • Jared Polin April 29, 2010 12:30 am

    Hey Shannon, I dont think you can use it to much, you can def use it to your advantage the only issues that arise at times would be hitting the tight focus where it needs to be. But if you think you do it to much try shooting with wide glass its very hard to get bokah there.

    Jared Polin

  • corrin April 29, 2010 12:27 am

    My bokeh technique has been...luck. It's fun to learn how it can be controlled and I look forward to experimenting!

  • Shannon April 29, 2010 12:21 am

    Great post. I love bokeh and am guilty of using it too much.