Why We Blather On About Bokeh

New photographers, particularly in the digital era, obsess over camera bodies. Bodies are important, to be sure, but they get the lion’s share of marketing attention because they are more or less the same, except for features. Lenses are more important to the quality of your photos. (Vision and imagination are more important than either lenses or bodies, but I’m going to stick to subjects with which I have personal experience.)

Many photographers have one or two “beloved” lenses. The focal length may suit one’s particular style, or a lens’s unique color and contrast might trigger a visceral reaction that endears it. If you go online to read about lenses, you will hear endless discussion of “bokeh.” Bokeh refers to a lens’s rendering of out-of-focus areas. Generally, photographers consider smoother better, because it improves subject isolation. Here are a couple of examples.

When I got my first digital slr, I attached my old 85mm f/1.8 and ran into the backyard to take some pictures. Even at f/5.6, the out of focus areas are smooth and creamy, at least compared to the image below. You can see the shape of the lens aperture in the out-of-focus highlights, and it is nearly round.

Out-of-focus highlights in this shot are very roughly shaped, adding to the clutter of the image. I still like the shot, but I also like it as an illustration because you can see the shape of the aperture in the bokeh. A lens with a rounder iris (via more aperture blades) produces a smoother bokeh, usually at a premium price. 35mm f/2.0, shot at f/4.0.

1 Comment

Filed under Camera Gear

One response to “Why We Blather On About Bokeh

  1. myrna

    thanks dean … i never quite understood bokeh until this blog … always has been visioned in my mind as a bunch of flowers!

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