How to get more Bokeh in your photos
How do you get more bokeh? Let me explain … you can’t! Using “bokeh” as a phrase like that makes no sense. Bokeh and shallow depth-of-field (DoF) aren’t equivalent. DoF does affect bokeh to a certain measure, but it’s not the same thing. You can not use those phrases interchangeably. Phrases like “give it more bokeh” hurt our sensibilities because it is nonsensical.
Bokeh is a description of the QUALITY of the background blur. There’s no QUANTITY to it, hence you can’t give more or less bokeh.
In this image, shot with a Nikon 50mm f/1.4 lens, at f/1.4 … you can see the depth of field is shallow. f/1.4 shallow …. and yet the background looks “busy”. There’s a jittery look to it. The background blur intrudes in the photograph, and draws attention to it. The background blur becomes intrusive. (Click on the image to see the full-size version.)
This is bad bokeh. It is bokeh of poor quality. This is bokeh with whatever negative adjective you want to add to it. However, I didn’t “give it some bokeh” by using the lens wide open. I can’t “give it some bokeh” by using a different 50mm lens.
I can improve the look of the photo by using a lens with great bokeh that will give a much smoother and pleasing look.
So for the love of all that is good on this planet, please don’t use the word “bokeh” like that any more. You can have good bokeh. You can have bad bokeh. You can have interesting, swirly bokeh when you use certain vintage lenses. But you most certainly can not have “more bokeh” or “less bokeh.”
But wait, there’s more!
If you think this is more of a rant than an informative article, there are other things that bug me as well.
Here are five other things that photographers say, that fill me with rage on a near-daily basis:
- Zoom with your feet.
You absolutely can not zoom with your feet. If you move, your perspective changes. When you zoom, your perspective doesn’t change. Big difference.
- Zoom lenses make you lazy.
What!? I see this statement so often by primes-only photographers. It makes no sense at all. There are so many times when you can’t move to get better framing. A corollary to this: when I have a 2nd shooter that only uses primes, I brace myself for all the images that are poorly cropped in camera. That’s right, “work harder” with those prime lenses. Go on, zoom with your feet, I dare you!
- “One more!”
This phrase needs to be dropped from your lexicon. I can guarantee you that your clients and subjects find this annoying and self-indulgent.
To counter this habit, I say, “This will be 4, maybe 5 photos.” I take them. Then that’s it.
- “I can shoot an entire wedding with only a (x)mm lens.”
So you never photograph in a church where you are limited in movement? And never get a 20 person bridal party? I can convincingly call BS on that single wedding lens claim.
- Photographers that don’t understand aspect ratios and cropping. (And for that matter, DPI)
A long time ago I worked for a photographer that didn’t understand that I couldn’t make the people in an 8×10 print larger. That’s the crop. That’s the size. There’s no way to make the faces larger. I felt powerless in even trying to start to explain this.