Bokeh for dummies (like me)

It is totally possible to achieve amazing Bokeh-shots with basic equipment. Here is how!

“What is bokeh?”
My answer: A dreamy touch to a photograph.
Official answer: The word “bokeh”  is Japanese in origin and refers to blur or a blurry quality, and in photography it is a very recognizable technique.

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“How to achieve bokeh in my pictures?”
Every photographer will answer you with the equipment you will need to achieve the best bokeh. I will help you to work around the lack of equipment, all you need is any basic DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) camera. I use a Nikon D3100.

If you have several lenses and one of them has a big aperture you should totally go for that lens. That is what the pro’s will tell you ;)
Aperture: identify on your camera screen by the “f/” and the number behind it. The smaller the number the bigger the aperture. I know that is confusing. This image will explain it:

aperture

The smaller the number, the wider the aperture.

A standard lens will have a maximum aperture of about f/4.0.
The ideal for great bokeh is a lens with a maximum between f/1.8 and f/3.0.
But don’t worry. I took the photo’s in this post with (a Nikkor 55-200mm zoom which has) a maximum aperture of f/4.0 

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“What does aperture do?”
A wide aperture will create a ‘Depth Of Field”. It will focus on a small part of the capture, and anything in the background of even the foreground will be blurry. Creating an effect of depth.

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“How do I start?”
It’s quite simple, you just need to grab your DSLR and experiment and have fun. Put your camera in Manual setting, this is very important to get to know your equipment and achieve a signature look. Something that doesn’t look standard or regular.
Setting your camera to a wide Aperture means that lot’s of light can come in in a short time. Apart from your aperture there are other settings in Manual you need to look out for, like shutter speed.

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“Shutter speed?”
Shutter speed is simply the amount of time your shutter is open to let the light in and take your picture. Outdoors in the sun you need a short shutter speed, indoors on a cloudy day you will need a longer shutter speed.

And this is where aperture comes in: While shooting Bokeh your aperture is wide and you can choose a short shutter speed, try some different ones and experiment with it. Is your picture too dark? Set a slightly longer shutter speed.

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Tips for shooting Bokeh with a standard lens (f/4.0)

  • The closer you are to your subject, the better. With my 55-200 lens I was actually quite far away, but it was the closest my lens could focus on the subject.
  • The more space there is between your subject and it’s background the blurrier your bokeh will be.
  • Set aperture to maximum (lowest numerical number)

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Now just get out of the house and experiment with this new information. You don’t need an incredible environment to take incredible photographs. I live in the city and have these small pieces of land next to our building with just enough trees and flowers. A small city-garden or park will do.
Look at this:

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This is where I took my pictures, not as dreamy now is it?  (You can even see my apartment with the yellow balcony on the top floor!) Just zoom in, that’s the trick!

Oh! And don’t forget to Edit. I don’t know any photographers who don’t edit their photo’s. I edit with Camerabag, an application for Macbook. I just love it!

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I hope I have cleared up the bokeh situation for you, send me your feedback and of course your bokeh shots! Just leave me a link or tag me in your tweet with your bokeh.

Happy shooting!

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17 thoughts on “Bokeh for dummies (like me)

  1. I downloaded CameraBag thanks to your suggestion. However, I wonder how we can add text/watermark to photo in CameraBag? Guess we cannot do it?

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    • Yes, it is possible to add watermark. Go to -adjustments- and you will find watermark at the bottom. Unfortunately this is the one thing I am not satisfied with in Camerabag. I recommend you to try it for yourself and see. I add my signature with Picasa which is completely free to download.
      Thank you for reading and I wish you all the best with your Bokeh! More tutorials for dummies (like me) to come!
      -Mariska.

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      • Thank you for your quick reply! I found watermark function in CameraBag but it didn’t work when I typed text. It seems like we have to browse another file to add to the photo.
        Anyway, I tried with Lightroom, which is also a good application, but not really happy as it only allows watermark in certain positions. And the fonts are not really pretty. Btw, I like the font of your signature (Mariska) at the bottom of your posts.

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  2. These photos are wonderful Mariska! Thank you so much for sharing these photography tips, they are very useful. Do you use Photoshop to edit your pictures? Any special actions? I really like your post-processing work – you’re so talented! :)

    Yael

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    • Thank you for your comment Yael, I discovered your blog a few weeks ago and really like your work! So it’s always nice to have those who you admire, admire you back :)
      I work with Camerabag for Mac. An application really worth way more than it’s price (it’s not expensive at all). You can edit step by step to create your own filters and save them (what I do, to give every shooting a different style) or you can choose from hundreds of filters and edit them until it fits your image :)

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      • Thank you so much sweetie. I’m so glad we connected through our blogs, it’s always nice to find somebody with similar interests and hobbies (in our case photography!).

        Camerabag? I’ve never heard of it, but I’ll definitely check it out! I use Photoshop for all my editing, but it has so many features that sometimes it gets so complicated to use. Thank you so much for introducing me to this new software. Have a nice day!

        Yael

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        • I have used photoshop too, a while ago. Then I switched to Apple and lost my photoshop. It did get complicated sometimes and because I like basic editing I figured I’d look for a cheaper solution and I did. And I win so much time with it, and spare myself from frustration. ;)

          I’ll hear or see from you :) x
          Mariska

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  3. Thanks for the wonderful tips! I’ve been messing around with it for quite a while but just doesn’t seem to be able to achieve the same results than you! :-( I guess I just need more training! Cheers!

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