My LightCentric Photography website hosts my photographic image galleries (including a “store” for purchase of my images). From time to time, I do maintainence on the site. There are new images to be added (and occasionally images I decide on retrospect, to cull). I have a gallery called “New on LightCentric” to which I upload just some of my new images for a brief period after which they become permanent parts of one Photography Gallery or another. I also sometimes update biographical and equipment-related information. Doing this maintenance, sometimes prompts me to go searching through my archives for an image, and – invariably – I hit a detour along the way and “discover” an image or two that I somehow have missed until now.
“Bokeh” might just be one of the mosts hackneyed topics that we photographers like to talk about to impress people. But it really is a thing 🙂
That happened recently, when I realized I had left a whole group of images from 2013 unprocessed. I have been busy post-processing them and upolading them to the site. And – while not often – I occasionally decide to create a complete new subject gallery. I have one under construction (more at a later date). But as I was processing the “new” images – most of them flowers – from 2013, a couple thoughts ocurred to me. First, surprisingly to me, I have never specifically addressed the topic of bokeh, here. Second, it caused me decide to add a separate “Bokeh” gallery on my photo site. I have accomplished the second, and made some additional adjustments to my site to accomodate it.
Bokeh is said to emanate from the Japanese word which translates to “blur.” In the context of photography, it is more than just blur. It is the aesthetically attractive blur in the background (usually) of an image. I am certainly not going to suggest that I am the first one to write about this topic. In fact, “bokeh” might just be one of the mosts hackneyed topics that we photographers like to talk about to impress people. But it really is a thing 🙂 . And when it is right, it can be a very attractive part of an image. It can be used to set off the part of a subject we really want to highlight. Or, it can be used to obfuscate a “busy” background or background element, without eliminating it from the photo entirely. It is part of photography that really draws me in.
Bokeh is produced by several different (often combined) phenomena. For much of my own imagery, the primary factor is lens design – aperture and focal length. Wider apertures, provide less depth of field and therefore result in bokeh when you focus on a foreground element. Longer focal lengths also produce shallower depth of field, with the same result. As you can see, the majority of my “bokeh” images here and on my website are closeup images where the bokeh is mostly created this way. Bokeh is a large part of what, in my mind, changes a snapshot photograph into “art.”
Really still just a factor of the above mechanics, bokeh can also created by placement of the photographer and subject. When the subject is very close to the lens, or the background is further away from the subject, bokeh is also created. This is especially true with longer focal length lenses. And, where the depth of field is very small, bokeh can sometimes be created both behind and in front of the subject.
Finally, in our digital world, bokeh can be “manufactured” using various blurring filters available in post-processing software. However, this is more of a challenge than first comes to mind and it takes a bit of skill to make it look realistic. I do not do this very often, but I do occasionally use these tools to enhance existing bokeh in an image.
It is worth taking some time in your visualization and composition process to consider the areas in the photograph that will be rendered as if there are particularly bright objects in the background, they may result in an unpleasant look. White lights, particularly, can often show up in an image as bright circles. While you may want this a part of the image, they may also be garish and overall, a distraction from what you want the viewer to focus on. Note, for example, the series of 8 or so blue circular shapes in the top left quadrant of the fall foliage image in Vermont. While I like the overall image, I would like it better without those elements. This can be true of spots of bright contrast in an image. If the image lends itself, I often use photoshop to remove such objects if they are small enough.
As I go through my archives, I see that most of my outdoor, landscape and street photography puts a heavy emphasis on sharpness and depth of field from foreground to background. That suggests to me as a goal, that I look for more creative opportunities to use bokeh in such imagery. A goal for my next photo outing.