Caught in a Blur

Canon 50D, 50mm, f/1.4, 1/25 sec., ISO-400, Exp. -1, AWB

Disclaimer: I’ve only just began my journey in DSLR photography a few months ago so I don’t claim to be an expert on any of the subjects I post on, but it is just how I have learned them.

I’d like to dedicate my first “Picture This” post to one of my favorite aspects of photography:


First of all, how do you even pronounce that word?  “Boke-uh”, “Bow-kay”??  I’m unsure of the official pronounciation and it’s not listed on Wikipedia, hmph.  I just know that the word comes from the Japanese word boke, which means “blur” or “haze”.  All you photographers out there, how do you pronounce it?

What is bokeh??  Well, it’s the aesthetic quality of the blur in out-of-focus areas of an image.  In other words, it’s a photograph where the subject is in focus while the rest pf the photo is out of focus, blurred or fuzzy.  Why would you want the photo to be blurry?  Bokeh allows you to focus on the main subject without the background being a distraction.

And here is my explanation on how to achieve it… with some help from J Le Took This on the more complicated and technical parts!

  1. Adjusting your aperture (or depth of field) is one way to achieve this effect.  When a lens is stopped down to its maximum aperture size  or lowest F stop number (I know it sounds backwards right?!  It took me awhile to understand that max aperture = low F number and min aperture = high F number), out-of-focus points in these blurred areas will take on the shape of the opening of your lens.
  2. Adjusting your focal length is another way to achieve this effect.  Basically the longer your focal length, the more bokeh you will get.  Longer focal length is associated with larger magnification of objects and a narrower view.  Another thing to note is that the max aperture on a lens varies at a different focal lengths.  For example, on my 28-135mm lens, the max aperture is f/4.5 at the wide end and decreases to f/5.6 at the tele end.
  3. Lastly, subject distance from the lens/camera and subject distance from the background are factors that play into bokeh.  So assuming at a given aperture and focal length, the closer the subject to the camera, the shallower depth of field.  For example, the depth of field in my cookie picture in the previous post is about 2 inches while a portrait of someone from 3 feet away has a larger depth of field to be able to be able to capture the person’s whole face in focus.  Also, you will want to make sure that the background is a good distance outside of the depth of field of the subject to maximize the bokeh effect.

There isn’t a hard and fast rule for what makes a good, better, best “bokeh” image, I’d just say that, like beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder.  Cheesy, I know.

Here are a few “bokeh” images that I’ve taken!  (I’m going to include metadata with pictures, when I can, so it may help all you photographers out there help me improve my skills!)

Canon 50D, 28mm, f/3.5, 1/160 sec., ISO-250, Exp. 0, AWB

This picture of Jojo (my husband and my ever-so-cute stuffed animal son) was taken on the balcony in my hotel room in Cairo, Egypt.  The “bokeh” background is of downtown Cairo, can you spot the McDonald’s?

Canon 50D, 135mm, f/5.6, 1/2000 sec., ISO-250, Exp. 0, AWB

This suave fellow is my friend, Dustin.  The “bokeh” background is the Temple of Karnak in Luxor, Egypt.

Canon 50D, 50mm, f/2, 1/1000 sec., ISO-200, Exp. 0, AWB

My cutie pie nephew Evan is the main focus of this image, while his amazing parents (who happen to be my brother and sister-in-law) are part of the slightly “bokeh” background.

Canon 50D, 50mm, f/1.6, 1/13 sec., ISO-200, Exp. 0, AWB

This picture was taken at my in-laws house during this past holiday season.  In focus we have their mini Christmas tree, and the “bokeh” is on the picture and the wreath.

Canon 50D, 50mm, f/1.6, 1/125 sec., ISO-400, Exp. -1.3, AWB

This picture was taken at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.  The main focus is on the rather interesting looking puffer fish, while the “bokeh” background is on the rest of the fish and rocks in the aquarium.

Canon 50D, 50mm, f/1.4, 1/25 sec., ISO-400, Exp. -1, AWB

This picture was also taken at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.  You’ll notice that the subject is the yellow frog, while the “bokeh” consists of the background as well as the foliage in the foreground.  This just shows that anything outside of the depth of field can be blurry.

Now it’s your turn! Leave a comment with a link to your favorite “bokeh” image that you’ve taken or have seen!  And as always, if you have any input/suggestions/advice on anything I have said, please leave a comment and let me know!


  1. Roxanna
    January 16, 2010 / 5:56 pm

    What an informative post! Nice photos too. I always thought it was pronounced as “bow-kay”. Lol. Also, you should get back on your flickr account!

  2. Sheila
    January 16, 2010 / 7:28 pm

    your Jojo pic reminds me of a at&t commercial, you just need some ascending towers as your background. jealous of your aquarium pictures! wish the ones I took from the Shedd aquarium in Chicago turned out half as well.

    • January 17, 2010 / 10:31 pm

      That’s a beautiful bokeh image sooki!! Love the bright red color!

  3. Shen
    January 17, 2010 / 8:59 am

    great pictures, Sandy! wow…I really want to get a dSLR soon! =)

  4. January 17, 2010 / 5:23 pm

    Hey Sandy! Awesome photography! I love what you have so far. Your Canon lens has awesome bokeh effects. I think some of the entry level Nikon lenses don’t do so well.. only when you get much more expensive lenses to the bokeh blend well. At any rate, it looks really great!

    One suggestion.. some of your pics look a little underexposed. Try adding a little more light in (since you’re locking aperture, try boosting shutter speed… or boost ISO if you’re shooting in a dark environment.. but only as a last resort). =)

    Keep shooting! It looks great!

  5. Subha
    January 17, 2010 / 5:35 pm

    Sandy, I absolutely LOVE these photos!! I love the focusing technique and am really going to try and take some photos like this next weekend! Your blog is AMAZING and I am really looking forward to future posts 🙂

    • January 21, 2010 / 11:34 pm

      @Subha – Can’t wait to see your photos Subha!! Do you have a DLSR camera too??

    • January 17, 2010 / 9:20 pm

      Oh no, Meredith, sorry you’ve been looking for so long! I guess the image had too much “bokeh” that you couldn’t find it! If you look to the top left of Jojo’s head you will see a red rectangular sign with some yellow writing in the middle (which is the M). Hope that helps!

  6. January 17, 2010 / 10:12 pm

    WOW! Your photos are sooooo good! I think you should go pro. This is just the start of your pro career~ I’m glad I got to be here from the beginning. Don’t forget the little people! I love bokeh~ it’s also one of my fave parts of photography. Please update again soon!

  7. Jeff
    January 17, 2010 / 10:16 pm

    Nice job on the site! I see all these cool photos, all the baking you’re doing (wish I could actually taste it though, haha), and now a website? It makes me feel like I’m just lazy and not doing anything with my life after work anymore, haha… But keep it up, it looks awesome so far!

  8. January 17, 2010 / 10:26 pm

    I love bokeh pictures too! My favorite one is probably the one you commented on. Unfortunately, I can’t take the credit. A friend of mine did and now it’s my desktop background. :o)

  9. January 18, 2010 / 7:11 am

    Awww, I love the little monkey one!!! 🙂 I’ve been trying to tae photos like that. I wonder if my lumix LX3 will be able to do that..It looks so nice!!!

  10. Nancy
    January 18, 2010 / 8:02 am

    Hey Sandy!!! LOVE the blog….love the post! The pictures turned out so well! The examples you provided definitely carried the “bokeh” effect…i also liked how you put down the f stop number, iso, exp on below the pic! Keep up the great work!

  11. steph
    January 18, 2010 / 8:58 am

    awesome!! love the combination of technical explanation for the photographers out there who understand them (not me!! eep!) and the super cool pictures to look at 🙂 love the one with jojo. super cute.

    fish/aquarium pictures seem to be a good (or popular) subject for bokeh pictures– is that a trend in photography?

  12. Lai
    January 18, 2010 / 3:35 pm

    Sandy! Love your bokeh photos! This is my favorite type of photography too! Your bokeh photos are so professional! Take more! Here’s my boken photo I took almost 3 years ago with the point-n-shoot canon powershot SD 800 IS:
    Not taken by a DSLR, but using the same technique you described in your blog. I need to upgrade my DSLR gear to a larger aperture either f/1.4 or f/1.8. Olympus does not have any lens that goes below f/2.0.

  13. January 18, 2010 / 8:22 pm

    Lai: That point and shoot is fantastic. I was thinking about getting that one. Very, very nice! And sorry to hear about the Olympus woes. That’s one of the downsides of having a non-Canon or non-Nikon camera… the diversity of lenses is limited. Are there any adapters that can be installed to a lens to make it work for your dslr?

    Here’s a link to my quick-n-dirty bokeh samples I did with a lens I rented. =)

    Remember guys, if you don’t have it, you don’t need to buy it.. rent what you need until you know for sure that you love it.

  14. January 19, 2010 / 1:14 am

    Hey Sandy,
    Posted some pics on my blawg:…gnment-1-bokeh/

    Lai/Ying: Sorry to eavesdrop on your comments :), but I’m actually an Olympus shooter myself… Although Olympus currently doesn’t make any lenses with apertures larger than f/2.0, Sigma makes a 3rd party 1.4 lens for the 4/3rds format as well as Panasonic/Leica (although the PanaLeica lenses are quite a bit more expensive). Also, there are some legacy lenses from Olympus that offer wider apertures when used with a mechanical adapter, but they are all manual focus. Those are pretty fun to use, although, it’d be a little too cumbersome for candids (focusing isn’t as easy without the old school 35mm split focusing screen).

  15. January 21, 2010 / 3:21 pm

    Fabulous shots! I just got my camera for Christmas, so I am a complete beginner. I love the look of the bokeh pictures and cannot wait to experiment with this…thanks for the tips!

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