I’ve talked about bokeh before, so the concept shouldn’t be new for long-time readers of the blog.  In fact, you may remember I’ve broached this subject several times, here, here, and hereBut in the interests of full disclosure, a little teaser explanation is in order.  So, what is bokeh?  The idea of bokeh is to throw the background out of focus to help bring your subject into sharper focus on the part of the viewer.  Sometimes though, an entire shot can be intentionally out of focus, with the whole scene a blur of beauty just in the nuances between light and dark.  Shapes alone can be very powerful story tellers, and the quality of the bokeh can be a huge factor in your ability to tell that story.  For instance, take a look at the following five scenes – all of the same scene, and all intentionally thrown out of focus in hopes of telling a story…

The first – from the Sigma 70mm Macro f2.8 – while this lens excels in the macro range, the f2.8 also nicely defines bokeh with smooth blur on the points of light:

Sigma 70mm Macro f2.8
Sigma 70mm Macro f2.8

The second comes from the kit Canon lens, the 18-55.  This was the non-IS version and I captured it at f5, which was the lowest f-stop I could drop to at 50mm:

Canon 18-55mm f5.0
Canon 18-55mm f5.0

Next up, my trusty, but not rusty 70-200L f4.0 from Canon:

Canon 70-200L f4.0
Canon 70-200L f4.0

And, last but not least, the Sigma 50-500 f4.5:

Sigma 50-500 f4.5
Sigma 50-500 f4.5

The images are easily identifiable as a holiday symbol we are likely all familiar with, but the nature of the bokeh and blur tell quite different stories.  Some have more light bokeh spots than others.  There are others that have a smoother gradation of circles for their bokeh (due in large part to the number of blades that build the aperture).  Others still, have brighter spots of light.  Which one is the most successful in telling the story?  That depends on what the story is that you want to tell, what image speaks to you the most, and then, what the viewer takes away from your chosen image.  My theme here (if you didn’t guess it yet), is that Christmas is coming!  Our tree is up, and some primo subject matter is now present again for the photo-inclined.  So, what are the answers to these questions…only you can tell, because so much of it is subjective.  Which one works best for you?  Which do you find most compelling?  Sound off in the comments, and share your own thoughts on the “beauty of bokeh”.  Does it work?  Can it work?  Some have thought bokeh is a cop-out for blurry shots that should otherwise be in focus, while others have developed entire portfolios of imagery on the concept.  My suspicion is that bokeh as a subject matter is one of those things where you either love it or you hate it…so, which is it?

One thought on “The nature of bokeh

  1. I’ve seen other people discussing this issue too of different bokeh with different lenses. I guess I just don’t have my critical eye as developed as other people, but I think of out of focus as just out of focus, and I usually don’t try to determine the quality of out of focus parts of the image. Am I missing something?

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