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How to Create Dreamy, Colourful Portraits with Foreground Bokeh

Think your portraits need more colour? One common technique is to use flowers with a vivid hue to create strong foreground bokeh. (Reported by: Yuriko Omura, model: Tomoka Kanazawa (Oscar Promotion))

A “pink filter” effect with pink flowers turned into pink creamy bokeh

EOS 6D Mark II/ EF85mm f/1.2L II USM/ Manual exposure (f/1.2, 1/1,250 sec)/ ISO 400/ WB: Cloudy

The beautiful pink in this portrait is from the crape myrtle blossoms that were in my shooting location. I liked their colour so much that I decided to create a sort of pink-coloured filter with them. In the end result, the subject looks like she is standing in the middle of fluffy pink clouds.


What to use: A fast lens; preferably a medium-telephoto prime lens

To create a strong bokeh effect on the flowers, you want a fast lens capable of a large aperture for a shallow depth-of-field. A telephoto lens is good, but you don’t want to have to stand too far away from your model, so don’t use one that is too long. A medium telephoto prime lens, such as one of Canon’s EF85mm lenses (reviewed here and here), is ideal.

P.S: If you are using or intend to buy an EOS R /EOS RP, Canon intends to release two RF85mm prime lenses in the second half of 2019.


1. Check the position of the bokeh on the Live View image

Photographer checking the Live View image

To create a significant blur in the blossoms, I moved the lens so close that it almost touched the flowers. I used the Live View image to check the position and volume of the bokeh.


Check and avoid this: Poorly positioned foreground bokeh

Shot with bokeh only in the edges

There is some foreground bokeh in the right edge of this failed shot, but the portrait subject is too sharp to convey the intended dreamy, hazy feel. Also, the foreground bokeh is not close enough to the subject, which results in a poorly-balanced composition.


2. Choose a place with tightly-clustered flowers

Shooting distance from subject

I had the portrait subject move as much as possible into the tight clusters of flowers so that front and back bokeh effects could be created easily.


Check and avoid this: Too much white, empty space

Too much white, empty space

Having the portrait subject stand at a position with very few blossoms makes the composition look empty in this shot. Also, when you shoot in backlight, the sky appears white, which creates a distracting empty space. While the foreground bokeh is important, don’t neglect the background!


Tip: Enable Face + Tracking AF

Face + Tracking AF mode screenshot

When photographing portrait subjects using the Live View function, set the camera to Face + Tracking AF. The camera will automatically detect the face of the subject and set focus on it.


Final tips

- Don’t hold back. Make the bokeh effect as creamy as you can. That will make the final image look dramatically different. (Need help? Check out Lens Basics #3: Creating Bokeh)

- Use warm colours for the flowers. Cool coloured flowers might make the portrait subject look pale and sickly, especially if the flowers overlap with the face.

- Choose flowers that are in full bloom. The brown colour of withered flowers will make the bokeh effect look untidy.

- Make sure that your composition strikes a balance between the foreground bokeh and the portrait subject. You don’t want too much space between the flowers, or the subject's face to be completely covered by the bokeh effect.



Find out more interesting ways to use bokeh in the following articles:
Flash Techniques #6: How to Create Magical Bokeh Circles on a Rainy Day (uses the built-in flash)
How to Create a Sparkly Background with Bokeh Circles for Pretty Trinket Pictures
One Location, Two Looks: Abstract Nightscapes – Tranquillity vs. Vibrancy
Useful Camera Functions for Capturing Nightscapes with a Difference
Macro Lens Techniques: Liven Up Your Underwater Photos with Foreground Bokeh Dots!

For more portrait techniques, go to:
5 Portrait Techniques to Express Your Love for Her


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Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Yuriko Omura

Yuriko Omura

Born in 1983 in Tokyo. Previously a shop assistant at a camera store, Omura currently engages mostly in photo shoots for artists and photo albums.