Bokeh and creativity
What the hell is bokeh?
The term Bokeh /bōˈkā/ describes how lenses render out of focus areas of images (stills or video/cinema). The aesthetic quality of the out of focus (blurred) areas in the images shared below can be called “Bokeh”. Wikipedia defines Bokeh as the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image produced by a lens.
Tools and Techniques
Creators need tools and techniques to create. And for photographers and videographers, camera lenses, lights, light modifiers, tripods are all tools. However, deliberate use of focus in an image is not a tool, but an important photography technique. But this technique does affect the choice of tool (camera body, lens type) significantly.
Heavily blurred image areas can create mystery and evoke emotion. For example, this technique is able to separate the subject more distinctly from the background. And obviously, this techniques helps us creators in telling our stories visually. Lastly, out of focus areas help in simplifying the imagery.
Technical background of camera / lens focus
Camera (still and movie) lenses do not render always everything in sharp focus. Importantly, rendering camera subjects in focus depends on the type lens (e.g. wide angle versus telephoto). Other “technical” factors such as F-stop (lens aperture / opening), and lens/subject distance are both highly important as well.
For example, a lens is able to focus the light beams reflected from a subject precisely to the sensor (or film) plan. Thereby, the lens helps create a sharp image. In addition, creators can use lens properties and settings to bring attention to certain “important” aspects of the image. Less important aspects, like the background or foreground, can be de-emphasized using a combination of lower F-stop (big aperture opening), longer lenses and shorter distance to the subject. It is more difficult to create heavily blurred image areas with small sensor cameras with wide lenses and small apertures (e.g. iPhones, pocket cameras). Therefore, a strong Bokeh effect is much easier achieved with large camera sensors, with longer lenses and with larger apertures.
By controlling (and choosing) lens length, aperture (lens opening), subject distance, and sensor size, photographers can selectively emphasize or deemphasize focus in an image.
I am sharing a series of examples below, where the subject (grasses) is typically in sharp focus. And the focus falls off sharply to out of focus areas. This out of focus rendering of lenses is sometimes called Bokeh. Different lenses have different Bokeh qualities. Regardless, more importantly, out of focus rendering can be used creatively to emphasize subjects and deemphasize backgrounds, in a somewhat painterly fashion. Out of focus rendering creates artistic images that are not per se how we see the reality, but can create beautiful imagery.
Grasses Series (stills)
In the series below, I wanted to use this Bokeh/out of focus effects consistently when photographing and showing the simple beauty of grasses.
Often, in landscape photography foreground to background is rendered sharp (often by using wide lenses and high F-stop numbers). However, even in landscape photography, out of focus rendering can be used creatively to emphasize / deemphasize areas of the image, and to be used creatively. Check out my post from In the Swiss Alps for some more examples.
This video shows some slow motion of dandelions. It again nicely illustrates how focus can be used to sharply separate subject from background. Thereby helping the viewer to focus on the subject and to avoid distractions.