creativity exercise: beautiful bokeh

first snow of the season and frost bokeh by Caryn Scanlan

The word “bokeh” is a relatively new term (in popular use for less than twenty years) derived from the Japanese word “boke,” meaning blur or haze. When we refer to bokeh, we’re usually discussing the aesthetic quality of that blur, often describing it in terms of shape, softness, or smoothness.

winter bokeh photography by Ashley Spaulding
*image by Ashley Spaulding ‘Ashley’

What plays into bokeh? Let’s take a look at some of the primary factors.

Large Aperture. The top factor is shallow depth of field. After all, if everything is in focus, there is no blur! With that in mind, shooting wide open is a key factor in producing bokeh. Try starting with your aperture between f/1.2 and f/2.8, depending on your lens’ capabilities.

Distance. Bokeh can also be produced by shooting very close up (as with a macro lens), which also yields shallow depth of field. When taking this approach, keep the distance between your camera and your subject significantly shorter than the distance between the subject and the background.

Background Highlights. Bokeh is most visible around “out of focus points of light,” such as specular highlights created by direct light (light shining through foliage, headlights on the highway, multiple light sources in nighttime urban areas, small light sources such as Christmas lights) or reflective surfaces (water, metal, glass, etc).

Lens Choice. Bokeh is also affected by the lens itself. Older lenses in particular are more likely to produce hard-edged bokeh (shaped octagonally, for example), though many new lenses have curved aperture blades to give bokeh a more circular appearance. Beyond aperture size and shape, certain lenses are often known for producing creamier, more beautiful bokeh. Among them are Canon and Nikon’s top portrait lenses (especially those that open to f/1.4 or wider), telephoto lenses, and macro lenses.

This month, let’s work on producing images that showcase creative and beautiful bokeh, using bokeh as a striking background for the primary subject or making the bokeh itself the primary subject or an important element within the frame.

editors’ choice!

Editors' Choice photography award for Clickin Moms

Congratulations to the ladies below whose photographs were selected as this month’s Editors’ Choices!

Tara Stallings ‘taraj_00’:

film christmas tree bokeh photography by taraj_00

Emily Greenfield ’emgreenfield’:

christmas tree and glass of wine bokeh by Emily Greenfield

Carly Bingham ‘CarlyBingham’:

piano playing and christmas tree bokeh by Carly Bingham

Kristy ‘kristabelle’:

black and white child portrait with bokeh by Kristy

Andee Marie ‘andeemarie’:

black and white angel figurine with bokeh by Andee Marie

Lana ‘capturedbylana’:

child in crown photography with christmas light bokeh by Captured By Lana

Elizabeth Sterner ‘elizabethclarkphoto’:

raindrops on tree branch bokeh by Elizabeth Clark Photo

Tracey Brown ‘traceybrown75’:

Eiffel tower in Paris with raindrop bokeh by traceybrown

Caryn Scanlan ‘CarynScanlan’:

first snow of the season and frost bokeh by Caryn Scanlan

Thank you to everyone who participated in the exercise!  We love seeing all the beautiful imagery!

Do you want to participate in the next Creativity Exercise?  Visit the forum here where Sarah has challenged us with the theme “The Unconventional Self Portrait“.  Don’t have a membership to Clickin Moms yet?  Head on over here to sign up!  You can still participate in this ‘Beautiful Bokeh’ challenge by either visiting the forum here or sharing with us in the comments below.  We’d love to see your work!

free creative photography exercises by Sarah Wilkerson for Clickin Moms


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