Bokeh, Baby!

The large aperture of the 50mm f1.8 Sony/Zeiss lens (75mm equivalent at f1.8) creates a nice blurred backgound.
[Copyright Andy Richards 2013]
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.

The nice background blur in these Japanese Maple leaves, taken in my front yard, reustled primarily from a very close subject distance from my lenst (Zeiss 32 f1.8 – 48mm equivalent).
[Copyright Andy Richards 2013]
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.

Purple Coneflower with Stella D’Oro Day Lillies in the background, made with Carl Zeiss f1.3 32mm (48mm equivalent) @ f4
[Copyright Andy Richards 2013]
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.”

Fall Foliage – Thetford Hill, VT; 200mm (300mm equivalent) Nikkor. Even though shot at f11, the branch is far enough away from the backgrount that this focal length and subject and background separation results in pleasing bokeh.
[Coyright Andy Richards 2006]
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.

Of all the wildlilfe I have tried to photograph, I have always found the Wood Duck the most skittish – and therefore elusvie and difficult to capture. I liked the out of focus reeds in this image as it seemed to me to add a bit to the “mystery” of the duck hiding back there. This image was made from a blind with a 300 (450mm equivalent) at f 2.8.
[Copyright Andy Richards 2006]
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.

I wanted the repeating pattern of the background lilies to be blurred enought that they were just the suggestion of an identical blossom in the background. Even though this was made with the same Zeiss 32mm f1.8 (48mm equivalent), I wanted more blur, and “enhanced” it with photoshop. While I like the result, a careful comparison reveals that the natural bokeh of the lens is quite different from the enhanced or “created” bokeh produced in digital post-processing.
[Copyright Andy Richards 2013]
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.

This image is a sentimental favorite; one of the very first DSLR images I ever made, with my newly acquired Nikon D100 in 2002. Surprisingly, the image was made with perhaps the sharpest lens I ever owned, Nikon’s 60mm “Micro,” at a the relatively small aperture of f8. The distance between the subject and background, and the close distance from the lens to subject, created that nice blurred background in this image.
[Copyright Andy Richards 2002]
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.


Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan U.P.
[Copyright Andy Richards 2012]
On one of my many trips up to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (“The U.P.”), a mentor challenged me to look for something more close up and intimate, as opposed to the “grand landscape” we were seeking. He offhandedly suggested, for example, a birch clump.

There is actually a White Birch Forest, several miles from where we were working that day. I was constrained to the area, because I was “on call,” and was guiding a “workshop” being conducted by the mentor.

My buddy and I wandered somewhat aimlessly in an area where it seemed like something like this might be found. And find it we did. While not setting any worlds on fire artistically, this has become one of my favorite fall images.

A Photographic “Happy Place”

Old Red Mill
Jericho, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Vermont has always been my photographic “happy place.” In 2005, I made my first dedicated photographic trip back (having lived there for several years in my youth). While there in the late 70’s, I met my first photgraphic mentor and inspiration.

He recently posted an image of this Mill on his FB Page, and it stimulated me to go back and re-work this one. Modern versions of Photoshop ACR and NIK Viveza 2 helped me immensely on this very difficult to expose image.

The Old Red Mill was was on our 2005 itinerary.


Copyright Andy Richards 2020

A couple weeks back, my post was entitled “Cold as Ice.” The base image was the same as the base image in this photograph. As I noted recently, it seems like more often than not, my more “marginal” images yield the best results from experimenting with filters and apps. Like the ice image, this is a combination of adding a filter from Topaz Labs, and then bringing the image back into Photoshop and playing around and tweeking colors and textures. Don’t know whether you like the result, but it did seem to successfully “thaw” the ice. 🙂