Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Bokeh Photography Tips

What on earth is bokeh? Well, bokeh is adapted from the Japanese word 'boke' which means "blur" or "haze" and in photography terms it's when the background of your image is aesthetically out of focus or blurry. Little details of light in the background such as fairy lights, candles, sunlight through trees, car headlights or Christmas lights (the list goes on) will blur out to beautiful soft hazy circles such as the photo above! Squint your eyes and look at a string of fairy lights - that's bokeh.

You may have seen images like this all over Pinterest and Instagram. It's a popular technique and I especially love it for night photography or for portraits. So today I'm going to show you how it's done and how you can achieve it too. These tips are basic and I've tried to keep my explanations as easy as possible so those of you who have only just picked up a camera will still be able to follow along...

What You Need

- Camera with manual functions
- A lens with a wide aperture such as a 85mm, 50mm, 35mm 
- Shallow depth of field (i.e. f1.4, f2, 2.8)
- Pretty background and on object to place in the foreground

This technique can be achieved with a standard compact camera but personally I've found it tricky as most compacts do not have manual focus or allow you to manually alter the aperture. Using my DSLR with a 50mm or 35mm fixed lens lens makes it super easy. 

I used a Nikon D3000 with a 35mm Nikkor lens set on F1.4 and altered my Shutter Speed/ISO accordingly. 

Quick Tips

- Shallow depth of field = where the background is very blurry and out of focus
- Wide Aperture = how wide your camera lens can open up, letting in more light, creating the blurry background. The wider the aperture the smaller the number. For example, an f stop of 1.4 is very large.
- Shutter Speed = how fast the camera takes the picture

How to create Bokeh...

001. Your camera needs to be on the Manual (M) setting. 

002. Turn your aperture to it's lowest number so your lens may take you down to stop f1.4, f2, f2.8 or f4. The smaller the number the better. The shallow depth of field created with a wide aperture stop helps to blur the lights.

003. Alter your shutter speed to compensate for this aperture change. If you don't your image may be very underexposed (dark) or very overexposed (bright) 

004. Shooting in a dark room or out on the street at night will have different needs to shooting in the sunlight or in a well lit room. Trial and error with taking shots and changing the shutter speed until you have your desired look. A tripod or stable surface may come in handy especially if you are shooting in a dark room.

005. Shooting in a spot with lots of twinkly lights in the background works the best. Fairy lights are perfect for practicing. 

006. Point, and focus on the object in the foreground, whether that's your coffee mug or your mum's face. The foreground object/subject needs to be a fair distance from your background lights - you can play around with this distance.

007. Moving the camera closer to your foreground subject, or zooming in will also increase the bokeh. 

008. Take the shot! Take lots of shots! Keep trying, adjust the settings if it's not quite right - if the whole photo is blurry put the camera on a solid surface. 

Extra Tips

- Shooting in a low light room or outdoors makes the bokeh effect especially obvious. 
- But you'll need to light up your main subject (lamps or spotlights work well) 
- Try moving the background lights around if possible or move yourself around the scene for different angles

This effect can make your blog photos or even portrait photos of your friends and family extra special. If you enjoyed reading these photography tips please let me know and if you'd like to see more in the future leave me a comment with your burning photography questions and I'll do my best to answer them! If you have any questions about anything mentioned in this post feel free to ask me on Twitter. Have fun with your Bokeh photographs!



  1. What a fantastic post! It was really super helpful :D I would love to see more of these kind of posts :)

    Sarah | More Than Adored

  2. This post is awesome, I'm going to give it a go next time. Pictures look lovely


  3. this post was sooo good! never knew it was soo easy I can be part of the 'bokeh crew' now!

  4. Lovely idea for a post, I'm so naff at photography so I love reading stuff like this.. Think I need to upgrade my camera though!


  5. Love this post, thanks so much for it defiantly going to use these tips! I'm rubbish at photography!

  6. These tips are great for someone like me who has very little knowledge about photography and finds it almost impossible to take a good photo! Thanks :)

  7. This was a really interesting and useful post! Thank you so much :) I'd definitely appreciate it if you could post more like this x

  8. great tips! the pictures are so dreamy. =)

  9. Love these tips, I've got a 50mm lens and have been getting Bokeh but not as much as I wanted and now I've realised it's the distance so thank you :)

    Paula ♥ | xo

  10. what an awesome post. I cant thank you enough. Even with a good dslr camera, i suck at photography... i have always been interested at Bokeh effect but was never quite successful at it. After reading this post im gonna give it another try......n yes pls do more of such post on photography. I have always admired the tastefully taken pictures on your blog :)
    Love from India xoxo
    Pink Tiara

  11. Thank you so much for the great tips!

  12. Such a good post, I have always wondered how to do this x

  13. Great tips! I would love to see more of these types of post in the future! x

    Maddy from UNSTITCHEDD

  14. I love this post! I love photography but I've never been 'taught' anything and a lot of things still elude me - blog posts like this are so, so helpful to me as I continue to take photographs and learn more about what my camera can help me do!

  15. The bokeh effect is so pretty! Thank you so much for this tutorial - I'll definitely be giving it a go when I get a decent camera!

    Helen x // Beautiful Curiosities

  16. Your blog is so helpful ! I have read a bunch of your tips now and they're all super great <3
    Love it !!


  17. This post is extremely helpful because I've always wanted to learn how to do this! Such a creative, fun technique to try. There always something new to experiment with in the world of photography, and that's why I love it.

  18. Absolutely exceptional, brilliant stuff, I am much pleased while reading this. my company

  19. I want more posts! Enjoyed this like crazy.

    Mira La Belle


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