Anyone just starting out in photography acts like a CIA agent. Examining any photo and trying to figure out the possible effects that have been used.

If you are in this phase, surely you have come across the bokeh effect. It is used very frequently in portrait photographyThanks to him, the subject takes on much more prominence by blurring the background.

What is bokeh in photography?

The term bokeh comes from the Japanese word boke, which means blur. However, you must be clear that this word only refers to the quality, shape and design of the out-of-focus points in an image.

To see it more clearly, do this mental exercise: think of a photograph whose main object is a package of cookies and the background stands out for containing the lights of a Christmas tree. What makes this image particular is:

  • The cookie package is within a shallow depth of field, which makes it stand out.
  • And the background, since it is out of depth of field, looks blurry.

Now, what could be considered as bokeh in that photograph? Well, it will be the unfocused background, which this time coincides with being Christmas lights. But those lights in the picture, to be classified as a good bokeh, they must look aesthetically pleasing: uniform and subdued in color.

3 reasons to apply the bokeh effect to a photo

Although it seems like one more effect with just an aesthetic purpose, think about these reasons why you should consider using bokeh in some of your photos:

  1. Isolate the center of interest: The best way to get your main object to achieve greater prominence will be by blurring the background of the photograph. In this way, the central element of the image will take the attention of the eye.
  1. Important in event, wildlife and portrait photographs: In these types of images, it is crucial to ensure that the main subject is appreciated in all its splendor. Therefore, the bokeh effect will be the ideal resource to achieve it.
  1. Create atmospheres that express tenderness or nostalgia: If you are trying to represent any of those emotions, this resource will be helpful thanks to the dim light and light effect that is usually generated in the background. Even, if you wish, you can create environments that border on fantasy.
what is bokeh photography
Bokeh photography (Matheus Bertelli)

Tips to get bokeh in your photos

Now that you know the importance of this effect, let’s move on to practice. Follow each of these recommendations to successfully apply the bokeh effect to your photos.

Get a good goal

Remember that the quality of the bokeh will depend on the lens you use. We advise you to choose some of the following models, so you will achieve a good bokeh in your photographs:

  • Bright lenses: These lenses stand out for having a fairly wide diaphragm aperture (f / 2.8, f / 1.8 or f / 1.4). This is ideal for bokeh, as a wide aperture creates a shallow depth of field, something you’ll need to get the perfect bokeh.
    Take a look at the post about 50mm goals, are my favorites for this type of photos.
  • Teleobjetivos: They stand out for having a long focal length, a detail that makes them ideal for reducing the depth of field and compressing the image. The telephoto lenses for photographing birds they are a good choice for portrait or wildlife.
  • Macro objectives: Ideal for macro photography, since they have a fairly small minimum focus distance. The unfocused background in this type of photograph gives it a spectacular touch, if you can get one with an aperture of at least f / to blur the background of a photo

Determine the subject and background

  • Think about what the main subject of photography.
  • After choosing it, determine the fund you could use. Remember to select one that complements the central subject or object, either in terms of colors or light intensity.
  • When you are selecting the background, try to choose one that leaves you highlight the bokeh effect easily. The key to this is to go for one where there are lights that stick out, be it daylight or the lights from the street or buildings at night.
  • If you want the lights to have other shapes, get a poster board with the shape you want to “print” in the bokeh lights and place it in front of your subject.
  • Get a tripod to make shooting easier, especially if it is at night and increasing the ISO causes you to lose sharpness in the image.

Play with depth of field

This step is crucial, as good bokeh will depend on how shallow the depth of field is. In this section we will teach you to master it, and to achieve this task, you only have to keep in mind the following points:

  • Adjusts the aperture of the diaphragm: The wider the diaphragm aperture, the shallower depth of field you get. Thus, the background will be much blurrier.
  • Set a suitable focal length: The key is to achieve a greater focal length, by doing that you will get a totally out of focus background.
  • Keep in mind the distance to the plane of focus: If you focus close to the main element of your photo, the depth of field in the photo will be much smaller.

Final Recommendations

  • Think about the background while you are framing the image: Doing this will help you achieve a more impactful background, as sometimes it only takes a few degrees of camera rotation to find the ideal angle.
  • Move the main element as far as possible from the background: If you want to get a bokeh effect quickly and without complications, you just have to zoom out of the object or subject main of the fund. In this way, you will achieve a blurry and soft-looking effect.
  • Usa the neutral density filter when necessary: Thanks to this filter, you can apply the bokeh effect when there is a lot of light. You’ll even have the ease of using wide apertures without sacrificing image quality.

Bonus: create your own shapes in the bokeh

For the lights present in the bokeh to acquire the shape you want, you just have to take a cardboard, cut it in the way you like (either with star or heart figures) and put it in front of the lens. In this video you can see how to do it.

This will give your photos a more interesting appearance.

get a bokeh with shapes

How to achieve the bokeh effect using your smartphone’s camera

Until recently, getting the bokeh effect with a phone seemed unlikely. But nowadays, thanks to certain apps and functions, it is possible very easily and quickly.

Use your camera’s portrait mode

If you have a high-end smartphone, you just have to open the camera application that comes by default and choose portrait mode.

We recommend that you take the photo taking into account the following considerations:

  • Move the main subject or object away from the background
  • Get as close to the focus element as possible

After this, you just have to shoot and you will have managed to make an image with a bokeh effect through your mobile phone.

Applications to blur the background with your mobile

If you have a phone that does not have portrait mode or you want a more advanced application to blur the backgrounds, these are some of the most used:

  • Point Blur: It is one of the best apps. You just have to color the area you want to blur and then edit until you get the results you want.
  • Blur Image Editor: With this app you will have the opportunity to choose between two modes: radial and manual filter. If you use the first, you will only have to set a radius to keep the focus on one area and then blur the rest. On the other hand, with the second, the entire photo will be blurred and with your finger you must mark the area you want to focus on.
  • LightX: It is a photo editor that contains the option to blur the background. This is carried out in sections, so that you will have to pass the editor several times over the image you have chosen.
  • After Focus: You can blur the background using smart and manual mode. Most users recommend the second one, as with this you will have the opportunity to precisely mark the areas you want to focus on.
  • Instagram: It is not a photo editor itself, but it does contain the portrait option when you open the app’s camera. All you have to do is select it, take the photo and the background will be blurred. If you capture the image in an area with good light, the result will not be bad at all.

Tricks to detect if the bokeh in your photography is of quality

Now that you know the theory, surely you have not stopped practicing this effect. But, How do you know that you are applying it the right way? Read this section and you will learn how to determine how well your funds have performed.

Do you notice that the blur is gradual?

The important thing is that the photograph gradually becomes out of focus, to the point of showing an almost creamy background, without the presence of double edges.

The points of light are uniform

This is one of the most important characteristics of a well achieved bokeh. If when looking at the photo you detect that the points of light have the same shape and do not have hard edges, it means that you have done a good job.

No colored lines appear

If there are no strong colored lines in the blur areas, you are in for a good job.


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