Have you ever seen a photograph where the subject is nice and sharp, but the background of the photo has a pleasing blurred effect?

For those that don’t know, the term photographer’s use for this is bokeh. It stems from the Japanese word ‘boke’ meaning blur or haze. I’m not going to lie, i can’t speak Japanese; i cheated and used wikipedia.

Giraffe at Copenhagen Zoo

Giraffe at Copenhagen Zoo

This image is one i took in January of last year whilst i was on a belated honeymoon with my wife. It is a prime example of what I’m talking about.

People like this effect so much that Apple have even added a mode to some of there most recent iPhones and iPads to make this easier to do, especially on portraits and selfies.

So what is the best way to produce this effect? To do this you need to understand a little bit more about your camera.

Your camera is like your eye. it has a hole (aperture). When you have your camera in full automatic mode it sets the size of the aperture for you depending upon the ambient conditions. To produce the effect we are looking for we don’t want this; the trick to good bokeh is to let as much light in as possible, but over the shortest possible period of time.

Personally when I do this i like my camera in full manual mode. I find it easier this way but some people prefer to use the semi-automatic modes on their cameras. The setting on a camera that controls the size of the aperture is called an f-stop. This can be a little confusing due to the fact that the lower number f values have larger aperture sizes, so an aperture of f1.4 lets in more light than an aperture of f22. The range of F values available to you will vary from camera to camera, and if you have a DSLR or an interchangeable lens camera, on a lens by lens basis. Generally, the more expensive the lens the better the range of f-stops.

The next thing you need to do is to tell the camera how long to keep the aperture open for. This one is simple enough and doesn’t require explaining. essentially you are talking in most cases about keeping the aperture open for a fraction of a second.

There is a 3rd setting which should be taken into account called ISO. This is your cameras sensitivity to light. Rule of thumb if you’re in good light conditions is to keep this low. Most cameras start at 100 and work up to the thousands. Some really expensive cameras can go lower still. I keep mine on 100 wherever possible and only start trying other settings if I’m not happy with how exposed my photos on the back of the camera when I’m finished taking my shot. Remember that if you set your ISO too high and your photos will look grainy. In honesty though its only other photographers who will complain about grain (or noise).

Easy peasy I hear you say. Lets just stick the camera on the lowest f-stop possible for the shortest amount of time. Its not that simple I’m afraid. and whilst its not a complicated procedure the skill is striking the correct fine balance over the settings you chose. For example, if you’re in bright daylight you can easily hit those low f-stops and a nice quick exposure time, say 1/1000th of a second and an ISO of 100. That still may be too bright though so maybe you would need to consider using a smaller f-stop (a higher number remember….i did say it was confusing) or shortening your exposure. What about if your taking shots later in the day when light conditions are not as forgiving or maybe its a dull or overcast day. You will need to play around with those settings, again keeping that f-stop as low as you can but amending the exposure time to let more light in. eventually however you would hit a point where you would have to leave the exposure alone and only increase your ISO.

So what are the ideal settings? There are none, it depends on all of the above factors. Just remember though, you need a low f-stop (bigger aperture), as little light as possible (but still letting enough in to see whats going on) and the lowest ISO your camera will allow for the ambient conditions.

Don’t forget though, you can always play with that image on your computer after your done. If you shoot in camera RAW format as opposed to JPEG straight from the camera you will get more flexibility to enhance the photo afterward. If your not sure what i mean by this then drop me a message or leave a comment and I’ll explain a bit more.

If you found this useful, think I’ve missed anything out or just want to say hello then please leave me a message below.

Bye for now.

Categories: Tutorial

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