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.
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.
Bokeh photography can transport the viewer to an almost alien world of scale and color, such as this beautifully composed image of a butterfly.
This macro image of the miniscule hairs on a cactus uses an extremely narrow field of focus to achieve the sensual bokeh effect.
Source: Kevin Dooley
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.
Source: Kevin Law
This superb shot juxtaposes a sharp focused mug against blurred lights for a touch of bubbling bokeh.
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.
Source: Josh Liba
Niffty’s beautifully rendered photo captures the play of golden light on plants, cobwebs and sparkling dewdrops.
A close-up shot of Christmas tree lights, using a quarter-second exposure, resulted in this colorful spiral.
Source: Robert S. Donovan
Another Christmas-themed bokeh shot that verges into the realms of abstraction, with lights reduced to discs of sublime color.
Source: Kevin Dooley
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.
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.
Source: Jesse Kruger
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.
Source: 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.
The feathered light in DucDigital’s bokeh photo has an ethereal, dream-like quality.
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.
The combination of blur, water, tonality and colouration in this image creates a melancholy yet alluring atmosphere.
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.
Robert S. Donovan’s tasty bokeh shot has a sizzling burger set against a barbecue’s blurry burning embers.
Source: Robert S. Donovan
A hermit crab shelters inside its shell, with the masterfully handled bokeh effect on glistening pebbles creating a sense of sunlit depth.
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.
Light on water has long been a favorite subject matter for photographers, and a touch of bokeh produces a particularly sedate aesthetic.
This portrait captures children under sprinkler showers in the summer sun, with a pleasing bokeh effect on the joyful face in the background.
Source: Wendy Piersall
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.
Lel4nd’s bokeh shot makes great use of depth, colour and light to capture a cool pool hall aesthetic.
Bonus: 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.
Check out the following bokeh tutorials:
- 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.