sunday school: i *heart* bokeh

“Ooh! LOVE the bokeh!” “That bokeh is just magical!” “Beautiful bokeh!”

How many times have you encountered comments like those while browsing photos on Flickr? If you have no idea what *bokeh* is, or have a vague idea but aren’t sure, you’re probably not alone. I was pretty confused about the whole thing until I did some research recently, and actually, I’m still confused.

So what did I find out? Well, most simply put, bokeh is the Japanese word for “fuzzy,” and it refers to the aesthetically pleasing out-of-focus areas of a photo, often achieved with a wide aperture or a telephoto lens. I have to admit that terms like “spherical aberration” and “circle of confusion” make my eyes glaze over, so I won’t get into the technicalities here.  Besides, I’m sure you all have some mad googling skillz.

From what I’m able to gather, there are different types of bokeh. There’s the creamy, smooth and silky kind that looks like you wiped that portion of the photo with a sponge. Then there’s the kind of bokeh that shows the shape of the aperture–round for a large aperture that’s wide open, polygonal for an aperture that’s stopped down a couple stops, or even in different shapes if you want to get crafty with paper and scissors. And while there may be a general consensus as to what is and isn’t considered good bokeh, I think it’s pretty subjective.

Now, I’ve seen some really lovely bokeh in the Shutter Sisters’ pool, so I know we’ve got a bunch of bokeh enthusiasts in our midst. Bokeh apparently has its own day of the week, not to mention numerous groups on Flickr. If you have a tip for getting really cool bokeh or have some favorite bokeh photos of your own, please share, and tag your photos with the word “bokeh” and submit them to the Shutter Sisters Flickr pool so we can enjoy all the bokeh glory in slideshow format.

P.S. I got the heart bokeh in the photo for this post by cutting out a heart in a circular piece of cardstock (you want it thick enough to block light, so black would probably work best) that would fit in the front of my 50mm f/1.8 lens (which was the perfect lens for this experiment as the glass part of the lens is set far into the lens body).  I suppose you could do the whole lens hood method, but, eh, I was happy enough with the results I got.  A tip for cutting out hearts: if you are a scrapbooker, you already know what to do.  If you are not,  you can run out and buy (or borrow) a heart-shaped hole-puncher-thingie, or you can do what I did.  I took a simple hand-held hole puncher, punched out two circles that were conjoined to create the bosom of the heart, and took sharp scissors to make the pointy bottom of the heart. 


  1. Betty says

    I want to love bokeh but it’s so hard! My eye is immediately drawn to the fuzzy bright background spots and then it’s hard to shift to the actual subject of the photo. I think bokeh should enhance the subject but unfortunately it usually steals the spotlight.

  2. says

    I am soooooo going to try that heart bokeh! How cool!

    I love bokeh. I don’t like it when it’s overdone, although usually when you see it like that it’s intentional and FOR the bokeh, not the subject so much.

    I got some bokeh I really liked today at F4-F6. Lens shaped bokeh seems to work best the wider open the lens and with some light coming through a patterned background. (Like light shining through leaves.) Creamy bokeh seems to result from a more consistent background. (Like grass or sky.) I get my best bokeh with my 50mm.

    And here’s some creamy bokeh:

  3. says

    Altho I’d heard the word before..I never knew what exactly bokeh is. I guess I use a lot of it in my images.Here are just a few examples:

    Love your heart-shaped idea. Am definitely going to try it. The results are amazing!!!! Thanks for sharing….

  4. says

    I have Lawyer Mama [Steph] to thank for introducing me to bokeh. She left the comment on my favorite bubble pictures

    I had to look it up, and liked what I saw! I do wonder though, the difference between bokeh and depth of field.

    Is this bokeh or depth of field?

  5. says

    Here’s my most favorite bokeh trick.

    I’ve got a blurry photo of the river. I was trying my hand at bokeh, and achieved the bokeh, but that was all I had. Nothing in focus. 100% blur.


    I layer that blurry river photo over another and zipboombang, I’ve got a wicked cool effect.


    Oooooh, it is fun. Ya’ll try it. You’ll lurve it. :) :) :)

  6. says

    oooh thanks heather for that layering trick! i’m definitely going to try that!

    and much thanks to you sarah-ji for the bokeh celebration! i too have been wanting to try out that heart bokeh trick but didn’t quite get it. thanks for the explanation!

    my recent obsession with macro flowers definitely has taught me about bokeh! here are a few of my bokeh offerings:

  7. says

    @ Melissa B: Bokeh and depth of field are related. Depth of field is the plane depth of what is IN focus and bokeh is the rest of it that is OUT of focus. That’s my understanding of it anyway.

    So a shallow or narrow depth of field is when you only have a small portion of your photo that is in focus(like your photo above, macro shots and usually for portraits – use large aperture like f/1.8). A wider depth of field is when you have more parts of your image in focus (like big sweeping landscape shots use small aperture like f/22).

    Hope that helps some!

  8. Ann Wiechmann says

    What I love most about Shutter Sisters is that almost every day, you lead me to look at my photos, and my world, just a little differently. To notice the beautiful little details that I would have missed. Thanks for that!

    I found a few pictures with bokeh, and wanted to share them. I can’t wait to try using different shapes. What a fun idea.

    And this one, with natural, flower shaped bokeh :),

  9. says

    Who knew about the heart bokeh! Wow.

    We are thinking alike.
    I wrote a piece for PW last week…and she posted it today….

    I "heart" bokeh, too :o)

  10. Cindi says

    I understand bokeh to be caused by some kind of light in the background, such as Christmas lights, sunlight shining through leaves, reflections on water, and not to be just out of focus background like grass in shade. I have a Lensbaby 3G that makes super interesting bokeh. I have seen shots taken at night with streetlights or a band performing on a stage with stage lights where the Lensbaby distorts those lights in very serendipitous ways but I have yet to try any of that. Lensbaby sells discs with various shapes punched out to get the heart or star, etc bokeh.

    These shots were taken at Glenwood Cemetery in Houston (Howard Hughes is buried there in an unmarked family plot) and I like the way the Lensbaby made the bokeh in the background. Although I do have difficulty getting the area of focus where I want it, and that area focused well, otherwise the Lensbaby is a fun lens.

  11. says

    I have a serious love affair with bokeh! I shoot almost exclusively at f1.8 for that very reason. I have never done any of the cool shapes bokeh with cutouts, tho – must try that!

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