4 Ways to get beautiful bokeh

  • first snow of the season and frost bokeh by Caryn Scanlan

4 Ways to get beautiful bokeh

The word “bokeh” is a relatively new term (in popular use for less than twenty years).

It’s 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

Ashley Spaulding

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

1. 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.

film christmas tree bokeh photography by taraj_00

Tara Stallings

raindrops on tree branch bokeh by Elizabeth Clark Photo

Elizabeth Clark

black and white angel figurine with bokeh by Andee Marie

Andee Marie

2. 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.

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


Eiffel tower in Paris with raindrop bokeh by traceybrown

Tracey Brown

3. 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).

piano playing and christmas tree bokeh by Carly Bingham

Carly Bingham

christmas tree and glass of wine bokeh by Emily Greenfield

Emily Greenfield

4. 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.

black and white child portrait with bokeh by Kristy


first snow of the season and frost bokeh by Caryn Scanlan

Caryn Scanlan

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.

What’s the best way to improve your photography? Shoot thoughtfully and frequently! Try new things and embrace creative and technical challenges. Every month, Sarah Wilkerson posts a new tutorial and challenges our members to join in a new Creativity Exercise on the Clickin Moms photography forum. At the conclusion of the exercise, we select Editors’ Choice images from among the exercise submissions and share them here with you on the blog. Congratulations to the ladies whose photographs included in the exercise above were selected as this month’s Editors’ Choices, and thank you to everyone who participated in the exercise!

Editors' Choice photography award for Clickin Moms

About the Author:

Sarah Wilkerson is the CEO of Click & Company and also provides mentoring services, teaches advanced Click Photo School courses on composition & creativity, and authors the “Why It Works” series in CLICK magazine. She specializes in low light photography, everyday documentary, and tilt-shift work. A former attorney and Duke graduate, Sarah resides in northern Virginia with her Army JAG husband, four children, and three dogs. Visit Sarah Wilkerson online.


  1. Crystal Jan 07 2013 at 12:02 pm - Reply

    These are all so, so beautiful. I just love the angel in b&w with the subtle bokeh behind her.

  2. Katrina Stewart Jan 07 2013 at 12:38 pm - Reply

    Just beautiful!

  3. jodi Jan 07 2013 at 12:49 pm - Reply

    congratulations on being featured here, ladies!!! these are such beautiful images!

  4. Ashley Spaulding Jan 07 2013 at 1:01 pm - Reply

    I love bokeh, so I loved this creativity exercise! Congratulations to all of the ladies whose images were chosen as Editors’ Choices!!

  5. Melissa Koehler Jan 07 2013 at 1:27 pm - Reply

    These are fabulous! Great article and congrats to the winners!! 🙂

  6. Jen Conley Jan 07 2013 at 3:31 pm - Reply


  7. Willie Kers Jan 07 2013 at 4:28 pm - Reply

    These are stunning and so inspiring! Congrats to all winners. I just love the one of Lana. Such beautiful golden and soft colors and an awesome expression on her face. She truly looks like a happy princess 🙂

  8. JoAnna Jan 07 2013 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    congrats, lades! beautiful bokeh, indeed!

  9. Kristin Dokoza Jan 07 2013 at 7:34 pm - Reply

    Bokeh lover here! These are all just beautiful ladies, congrats!

  10. Tara Stallings Jan 07 2013 at 8:22 pm - Reply

    Gah, I’m in there, cool! Love all the shots!

  11. mommaceleste (Celeste Pav) Jan 07 2013 at 8:26 pm - Reply

    These are all fantastic! Congrats to all those featured! <3

  12. Caryn Scanlan Jan 07 2013 at 10:48 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the honor, CM! Congrats to all the ladies… beautiful, beautiful images!

  13. Lana Simovski Jan 07 2013 at 11:53 pm - Reply

    I am honored, thank you so much

  14. Lana Simovski Jan 07 2013 at 11:54 pm - Reply

    Congratulations to all ladies, gorgeous images

  15. kendra Jan 08 2013 at 12:12 am - Reply

    congratulations!!!! These are all stunning!

  16. Elizabeth Jan 08 2013 at 7:25 am - Reply

    Yay! So excited to be included in this amazing group of photos. Congrats to all. Tara – your tree on film was the first one to get me inspired to submit. Love it!!

  17. Andee Jan 08 2013 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    Can I get a what what, hoo hoo, yip, yip?! How bout them apples?! Thanks for including my angel image! 🙂

  18. Tara Stallings Jan 08 2013 at 9:45 pm - Reply

    Aww, thanks Elizabeth!

  19. Randa Jan 08 2013 at 11:17 pm - Reply

    Every one…so beautiful!

  20. Melissa Jan 09 2013 at 5:58 pm - Reply

    Oh these are lovely!!! How’d I miss this gorgeous blog post?! Too hard to pick a favorite, but I sure do love the Eiffel Tower!

  21. Susan O'Neal Feb 04 2013 at 10:49 am - Reply

    CONGRATULATIONS all — !! these are just beautiful & I LOVED seeing ‘someone’ I know & love very much — right at the beginning 🙂 I LOVE BOKEH — love it !!

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