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The Art of Bokeh

A popular effect used by photographers, bokeh in photography often draws the viewer’s attention to the subject with a soft, aesthetically pleasing background blur. Find out how to achieve a beautiful bokeh. (Report by Rovi Lau)

You have probably seen it before: a striking photograph with a sharp subject against an out-of-focus background with soft edges. In the world of photography, this is known as a "bokeh", a commonly used technique to separate the subject from the background.

The result is a visually pleasing image, which explains its popularity among professional photographers. The key is simply knowing how to do it, and when to use it.

To create an ideal bokeh, opt for a fast camera lens. This refers to lenses with aperture of at least f/2.8 or bigger (such as Canon's EF 50mm f/1.4 USM prime or Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM zoom lens). The bigger the aperture, the faster the lens will be.

In addition, it produces a shallower depth of field. This refers to the area of the lens that is in focus. These three aspects are related in creating a pleasing bokeh image. An ideal camera setting would be Aperture Priority (AP) to have a sense of bokeh.

Knowing when to use it is equally important. One could either use it to draw the viewer's attention to the subject, therefore reducing the distraction at the background/foreground or it could relate to the subject as a beautiful backdrop. The former employs the bokeh to blur out the unimportant parts in the frame and as a result, the viewer is led to the main subject itself. Inversely, the latter employs the bokeh to complement the subject, making the image appealing as a whole.

And yes, there is such thing as a bad bokeh. The image above demonstrates such an example. This is due to the distance between the lens, subject and background. The further away the subject is, the lower the intensity of depth of field, producing an unappealing blur or distraction. Of course, that means the closer it is, the better the bokeh.

Photos and text by Rovi Lau. All photos were taken with the Canon EOS 7D.

Rovi Lau

Currently in pursuit of his dream of being an architect, Rovi Lau lives a life chasing artistic and creative passions. He specialises in portrait, architecture and timelapse photography, and writes his own music in his spare time.