Editor’s note: For a newer, updated version of this post, check it out here.
The word ‘bokeh’ derives from the Japanese for ‘blur’ or ‘haze’, and in photography describes the effect found in out-of-focus regions of images. Different lens designs, aperture shapes and sizes, and various depths of field have profound effects on the type and extent of bokeh produced in a photograph. Bokeh happens in the areas of an image beyond the depth of focus; by playing with focus and lens, photographers can create some stunning images.
This post brings together 25 examples of incredible bokeh photography, and concludes with a summary of great tutorials where you can learn bokeh techniques for yourself.
Bokeh Day. This image is an excellent example of bokeh, with the metallic effect on the bubbles and receding blur of lights offering a sense of depth and dimension. (via DW212)
Bokeh Butterfly. Bokeh photography can transport the viewer to an almost alien world of scale and color, such as this beautifully composed image of a butterfly. (via Aussiegall)
Cactus Needle Bokeh. This macro image of the miniscule hairs on a cactus uses an extremely narrow field of focus to achieve the sensual bokeh effect. (via Kevin Dooley)
Forget-me-not’s. Kevin Law’s bokeh image is another to take nature as its subject matter, with the pretty forget-me-nots’ summer blossoms set against the blurred greens of an English meadow. (via Kevin Law)
A Cup of Bokeh, Please. This superb shot juxtaposes a sharp focused mug against blurred lights for a touch of bubbling bokeh. (via Shermeee)
Sweet Disposition. Photographer Josh Liba likes to take portraits of this character called Yushi in various settings. In this case, she finds herself in a field of corn stubble at sunset, with a delightful combination of color and soft focus. (via Josh Liba)
The Smell of Bokeh. Niffty’s beautifully rendered photo captures the play of golden light on plants, cobwebs and sparkling dewdrops. (via Niffty)
When Bokeh and Alcohol Mix. A close-up shot of Christmas tree lights, using a quarter-second exposure, resulted in this colorful spiral. (via Robert S. Donovan)
Christmas. Another Christmas-themed bokeh shot that verges into the realms of abstraction, with lights reduced to discs of sublime color. (via Kevin Dooley)
Bokeh Spiral. Many of the spirals found in nature are based on the logarithmic principles of the Golden Section, such as the receding body of a plant as seen in this bokeh image. (via Eriwst)
Happy Bokeh Wednesday!. It took a lot of patience to achieve this image, but finally the photographer managed to capture the fine detail of a falling leaf’s desiccated flesh against the blurred autumnal colours of the background. (via Jesse Kruger)
Bokeh Snow Tree. Pink Sherbet’s atmospheric shot captures a blizzard blowing through the branches of a tree in Massachusetts, with the blurred snowflakes offering a sense of depth and movement. (via Pink Sherbet)
Typical Elbe Bokeh?. This maritime image uses bokeh effects to create a sense of scale and distance with the form of a freight-laden ship pleasingly blurring into the background. (via Eriwst)
Bokeh Mu’a. The feathered light in DucDigital’s bokeh photo has an ethereal, dream-like quality. (via DucDigital)
2009 Illuminate Yaletown. Bokeh photographs often feature greater blurring on lights that are further from the camera, sometimes producing startling geometric effects, such as this shot by Zen-Shooter. (via Zen-Shooter)
Lonely Night of Bokeh. The combination of blur, water, tonality and colouration in this image creates a melancholy yet alluring atmosphere. (via Studio494)
Bokeh!. This image was captured when the photographer visited Shivamogga, in the Indian state of Karnataka. The corrugated iron roof, rivulets of water and glistening, blurred vegetation are characteristic of the subcontinent’s monsoon season. (via Mynameisharsha)
Bokeh Burger. Robert S. Donovan’s tasty bokeh shot has a sizzling burger set against a barbecue’s blurry burning embers. (via Robert S. Donovan)
Sheltering Angel. A hermit crab shelters inside its shell, with the masterfully handled bokeh effect on glistening pebbles creating a sense of sunlit depth. (via Lel4nd)
Bokehlicious NY Streets. DeaPeaJay expertly handles the balance between the tree in the foreground with the lights of New York behind, achieving just the right level of focus and blur. (via DeaPeaJay)
Sunset Bokeh. Light on water has long been a favorite subject matter for photographers, and a touch of bokeh produces a particularly sedate aesthetic. (via Tanakawho)
Summer in Bokeh. This portrait captures children under sprinkler showers in the summer sun, with a pleasing bokeh effect on the joyful face in the background. (via Wendy Piersall)
Double Sweet Bokeh. This fresh photo has a bokeh blur on the polka dot background and a strawberry in the foreground, with the central fruit’s flesh picked out in stunning detail.
Bokeh Billiard. Lel4nd’s bokeh shot makes great use of depth, colour and light to capture a cool pool hall aesthetic. (via Lel4nd)
Bokeh Photography Tutorials
There are plenty of tutorials available on the internet where photographers can learn bokeh skills and apply them to their work. The effects can be produced using professional camera equipment, pocket cameras or digitally in applications such as Photoshop. Below is a brief summary of the best tutorials, covering the key areas of bokeh photography.
- DSLR Bokeh Tutorial – Roberts Donovan sets out in simple steps the techniques of bokeh photography with digital SLR cameras. This informative lesson acknowledges that bokeh skills are very simple to pick up, and equally as difficult to master.
- Pocket Camera Bokeh Tutorial – Following on from the previous tutorial, this lesson explains how to apply bokeh techniques to pocket digital cameras. Once again, simple steps layout the principles of achieving bokeh effects, paying particular attention to overcoming the automatic functions of point-and-shoot cameras.
- DIY – Create Your Own Bokeh – This is a really neat tutorial explaining how to create effects using specially cut apertures attached to lens, effectively equipping you with a DIY bokeh kit. Once you’ve mastered the techniques, the possibilities open up for endless experimentation with camera settings and different shapes and sizes of custom-cut apertures.
- Awesome Digital Bokeh Effect in Photoshop – In this tutorial, Fabio Sasso explains in nine easy-to-follow steps the process of digitally creating bokeh-style effects in Photoshop. The lesson is principally aimed at producing wallpapers, but once the technique is learned it can be applied to other types of image creation.
- Colourful Bokeh Effect in Pixelmator – As in the previous tutorial, this lesson shows how to create attractive bokeh-themed wallpapers, but using Pixelmator instead of Photoshop. The process is simpler in Pixelmator, so you can quickly grasp the skills to make bokeh effects and apply them to a range of digital contexts.
Editor’s note: This post is written by James Adam for Hongkiat.com. James is a writer and analyst working for Cartridge Save, an online specialist store supplying printer ink in the UK.