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Using Bokeh to Add a Fantastical Touch

By employing bokeh effect to capture a portrait shot, you can produce photos with a richer ambience compared to what we see with our eyes. In this article, I will introduce some bokeh techniques that make use of objects around us to create a fantastical impression. (Reported by: Yuriko Omura Model: Riyoko Takagi)

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My Reasons for Using Bokeh

I make use of bokeh effects in a portrait shot to express the "ambience". This technique is essential if you want a photo to exude a richer ambience compared to what we see with our eyes. By blurring objects that are commonly found around us, you can easily produce shots that make a striking impression on the viewer.
Specifically, bokeh effect can be utilised in three ways: (1) to bring out the atmosphere; (2) to create a fantastical feel; and (3) for use as a texture. In the first method, objects in the surroundings, such as grass and flowers, are blurred to create a relaxed ambience around the subject. The second method places light-coloured round bokeh (such as soap bubbles) around the subject to create a fantastical feel, while the third creates texture by blurring objects with unique shapes (such as tree branches and shadows) that are found around the subject. When employing any of the above three methods for expression, the most important thing that I take note of is to include a bold bokeh effect somewhere in the image. In the case of portraits, many tend to create mild bokeh effects, thinking that this may help to accentuate the subject. Personally, I feel that the resulting atmosphere is more intriguing when the object is blurred to an extent that makes it unrecognisable. For foreground blur, in particular, it would be interesting to apply an effect until the subject is barely identifiable. That being said, blurring the image excessively makes it look like the work of a beginner, so you are advised to consider the balance between the subject and the amount of bokeh. To create such an effect, I made use of a 70-200mm class zoom lens with a large diameter, and captured shots at the maximum aperture with the focal length set as close as possible to the telephoto end.

Taking Note of the Foreground Blur's Flow in the Composition

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM/ FL: 73mm/ Manual exposure (f/2.8, 1/100 sec.)/ ISO 100 / WB: 5,700K

The leaves in the foreground are blurred boldly, with the subject standing on the other side of the swaying foliage.

A: Background blur

B: Flow in the bokeh of the leaves

C: Focus

Creating a Large Foreground Blur with Soap Bubbles

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM/ FL: 90mm/ Manual exposure (f/2.8, 1/100 sec.)/ ISO 400/ WB: 5,700K

I created white round bokeh in front of the subject using soap bubbles, with the intention of creating a cottony and fantastical feel.

A: Background blur

B: Foreground blur created using soap bubbles

C: Focus

If your intention is to create a large foreground blur, soap bubbles would be a perfect choice. Here, I had the model blow some soap bubbles. Wind would cause the bubbles to be blown away and out of the frame, so it is best for the shoot to take place on a windless day. Have the model stand at a position where white round bokeh can be created. In this example, the location I have chosen was in front of a tree with round bokeh created by light shining through the leaves. I positioned the camera diagonally below the subject, and had the model blow soap bubbles while facing the lens. You can create a fantastical feel when the soap bubbles are captured as white round bokeh. I set the focus on the eye of the subject, and opened up the aperture fully to f/2.8. A white blurry background helps to enhance the dreamy atmosphere, so I selected a focal length of 90mm on the telephoto side.

Creating Texture in the Background Using the Blurry Leaves

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM/ FL: 73mm/ Manual exposure (f/2.8, 1/100 sec.)/ ISO 100/ WB: 5,700K

Blurring the leaves in the background brings out the unique texture behind the subject.

A: Leaves are blurred to create a pattern

B: Focus

First of all, look for tree branches that provide a good texture for the background blur. An ideal choice would be branches hanging down from a high position. After you have found the right location, have the model stand underneath the branches. Here, I positioned the camera diagonally below the subject, and chose an angle that was able to capture the branches above her in the composition as much as possible. You can obtain a more balanced shot with the subject facing slightly upward. The texture produced will look more intriguing if the outline of the leaves on the branches above the subject turn out blurry and soft, so I set the aperture to the maximum value of f/2.8. To obtain an angle of view that includes a moderate amount of the branches hanging over the subject into the composition, I chose a focal length of 73mm.

Yuriko Omura

Born in 1983 in Tokyo. After working as a shop assistant at a camera store, Omura is currently engaged in photo shoots for artists and photo albums.