Floral Photography Tip – Depth of Field and Blurry Backgrounds (or Bokeh – which sounds way more fun!)

Posted by on Sep 5, 2013 in My Blog | 1 Comment

When I got my first Nikon way back in the 1990’s, I was obsessed with creating images with blurry backgrounds.  In fact, I think almost every photo I took back then had a blurry background — a look I still love.  I eventually realized that not every photo needed to be blurred.  But, I still gravitate to that dreamy, blurry look.

For anyone who is just starting out, I thought I’d do a quick run down on how to create ‘the bokeh effect’ in the digital world of today.  First, let’s explore Depth of Field (DOF).  In photography, Depth of Field refers to the amount of focus or blur, from near to far, that appears in a photograph.



A photograph with a blurry background has low (or shallow) depth of field.


Example: Low (or Shallow) Depth of Field

If you have an SLR camera (one with removable lenses) you can achieve this by setting your aperture to a low number, a low f-stop.  While there are other factors, adjusting your f-stop is the main means of controlling your depth of field.  Setting it to a low f-stop opens up your aperture.  A larger aperture means more blur.

You can adjust the f-shop on some point and shoots, but not all of them.  Here’s a list of Top 10 Point-and-Shoot Cameras with Manual Controls.



Conversely, a photograph that is completely in focus has high depth of field.


Example: High Depth of Field (foreground and background in focus)

Setting your lens to its highest aperture number, or f-stop, makes your aperture small.  (It’s counter-intuitive, but true.  Trust me.)




Example: The Bokeh Effect

You might see it written as Boke, but the most common English translation of the Japanese word is Bokeh.  It is the out-of focus background achieved using a lens at its widest aperture, which creates an out-of-focus blur in a photograph.  So Bokeh is just shallow depth of field, though sometimes it also refers to the shape light takes in a background.

Now that we have a handle on depth of field, let’s explore five main ways to create a blurred, dreamy background:


1)    Using the aperture settings on your camera, as described above.

Experiment with setting your aperture to a low number and fire away.  Take the same photograph, using different f-Stops and see what you like best.  Repeat with a different types of photographs (portraits, nature, cityscapes, flowers!) and develop your own style based on what makes your heart beast the fastest.

Note: You might hear someone say you need a fast lens to create a shallow depth of field.  What they mean by that is a lens whose aperture can get down to 2.4, 1.8, 1.4.  A “slower” lenses may only get down to an aperture of 3.5 or 5.6.  A fast lens = a more expensive lens.  You don’t necessarily need a super fast lens to achieve this look, but there may come a day where you’d like to explore this option.


2) Software like Lightroom, Photoshop, or OnOne

Some photographers prefer to create a standard image in their camera and then add effects using software.  This way, if you don’t like the blur, you have the option of removing it.  Stay tuned for some tutorials on this.

No Blur in Original Photograph

No Blur in Original Photograph

Blur Added with OnOne

Blur Added with OnOne

3)    Selective blur using selective focus lenses like a Lensbaby

There are a number of manufacturers that offer selective focus lenses, but I have to tell you – I love my Lensbaby!  It’s a lens that you can use with a number of different cameras like Nikon, Canon, Pentax, and others.  Just attach it to your camera and what you see through the lens is what you get – selective blur.  Lensbaby has a number of different lenses and accessories to choose from.  I love my Lensbaby so much that it’s going to get a post all its own in the near future.


Example: Lensbaby Selective Focus

4)    Diana (or Diana-type) cameras or lenses

The Diana camera is a cult camera that  has been around since the 60’s.  Initially they were marketed as cheap plastic cameras whose image quality was poor, and when better cameras started making the rounds, Diana cameras fell out of favour.  That is, until photography students started using them because their cheap plastic construction permitted light leakage and other issues.  This made for some wonderfully artistic photography.  Now, you can get a wide variety of Diana cameras to exercize your creative muscle.

Technically, a Diana camera doesn’t really qualify as a camera that shoots Bokeh, but it’s a camera (or lens) that shoots in a dreamy out-of-focus way.  You can get an old-school film Diana camera from Lomography or you can simply buy a lens for your digital camera through good old AmazonThe nice thing about them is that they do not cost much at all.  It’s plastic.  It’s cheap.  It’s fun.


Example: Shot with a Diana lens (This one didn’t turn out so hot. I’ll post a new one soon.)

5)    Apps

And then there are Apps.  Why pay for an SLR camera or all that software if you can buy an app for less than $5 that will create lovely effects.  I can’t vouch for any of these yet, but here is a blog that provides 5 iPhone Apps For Creating a Bokeh Photo EffectAnd here’s one for Android.


That’s the break-down on blur.  Get out there (or stay inside) and create some dreamy, blurry photos!


See Tip #1 – Soft Light





1 Comment

  1. Floral Photography Tip #1 - Soft Light | KAREN HARBIN | Karen Harbin
    August 7, 2014

    […] See Tip #2 – Depth of Field, Blurry Backgrounds, and Bokeh […]

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