Bokeh baby! by Kristen Smith

Aside from the razor-sharp sub­ject, one of the most impor­tant ele­ments of any close-up or macro pic­ture is bokeh. It is a funny con­cept that has many inter­pre­ta­tions and is def­i­nitely one of the more sub­jec­tive ele­ments of pho­tog­ra­phy. I’m not going to debate those, but I want to talk a lit­tle bit about how the delib­er­ate use of bokeh can help strengthen your images. Before I get going though, def­i­nitely lis­ten to this mini-podcast from Mar­tin Bai­ley on how to pro­nounce bokeh and its ety­mo­log­i­cal his­tory and cul­tural meaning.

In its sim­plest pho­to­graphic def­i­n­i­tion bokeh refers to the out of focus areas of a pic­ture. Mostly the mean­ing is applied to pho­tographs where there is a spe­cific sub­ject in the imme­di­ate fore­ground. Not always a close up or macro, but not really a land­scape either where some of the photo might not be in crisp focus. Bokeh is a prod­uct of shal­low depth of field which is achieved by a wide aper­ture rel­a­tive to the length of the lens.

One of the most dra­matic uses of bokeh is to sep­a­rate your sub­ject from the back­ground. Espe­cially if the back­ground is very busy. Ren­der­ing it smoothly out of focus makes things really pop –

Joyeuse by Kristen Smith

Joyeuse by Kris­ten Smith

One of my favorite bokeh tech­niques is to echo the main sub­ject exactly. Your imag­i­na­tion can eas­ily fill in the miss­ing detail because it resem­bles the sharp sub­ject so much. The echo rein­forces the main idea, but also gives your brain some­thing to play with. The trick is to uti­lize an aper­ture that will simul­ta­ne­ously allow you to rec­og­nize the out of focus object and leave it fuzzy. I love this technique –

Vinca by Kristen Smith

Vinca by Kris­ten Smith

I also love how bokeh can cre­ate atmos­phere in a photo – mostly a gauzy, dreamy effect. It doesn’t work in all cir­cum­stances, but if you are work­ing in the right light it is beau­ti­ful. With this kind of image, the sub­ject most often is the bokeh itself with the sharply focused parts play­ing sup­port­ing roles only.

Birch by Kristen Smith

Birch by Kris­ten Smith

The dig­i­tal age is a real help when exper­i­ment­ing with bokeh because you can see your shot imme­di­ately and use live view and depth of field pre­view to fine-tune each one. Get to know your lens by shoot­ing objects at dif­fer­ent aper­tures and focal lengths then study­ing the effect. Think about what kind of photo you want to make and how bokeh can empha­size your photo’s intent.

Got any good bokeh shots? Feel free to add them in com­ments or join the forum and start a thread.

For more of Kristen’s out­door pho­tog­ra­phy and other arti­cles visit


  1. Kristen Smith says:

    From one Kris­ten Smith to another, this is a very inter­est­ing site. I am no pro on pho­tog­ra­phy but I under­stand your con­cept of bokeh. I have a great respect for nat­ural life and espe­cially the woods and I like the respect you show it.

  2. bob says:

    I absolutely love bokeh!

  3. Short, sweet, and to the point. Nicely done.


  1. […] first is the blog sec­tion on  The most recent arti­cle is Bokeh Baby!  It’s the third one I’ve writ­ten and there will be more to come.  I’ve tried to […]

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