First and foremost, how is it pronounced? A lot of people mispronounce this word after listening to others mispronounce it too. It’s not that complicated – Bow-Keh – as in BOne KEnnel. The word Bokeh originated from a japanese word meaning ‘Blur’. 

What is bokeh? It isn’t as much the amount of blur in a photograph, than it is the quality of the blur. A soft, subtle, dreamy effect of blur which doesn’t distract from the main subject can be called a good bokeh. Whereas, harsh circles of an untidy blur effect are an example of bad bokeh. 

You could just as easily create a bokeh effect in your photos by chance, as if you were doing it deliberately. The effect occurs when your depth of field is shallow, your subject in focus, and the background and/or foreground out of focus. The bokeh effect will be more prominent if the background is lit up or has interesting colours in it. 

Read on to find out more about what conditions bring out a beautiful bokeh in photos. 

1. A wider aperture 

Anything less than f/3.5 is good. A wider aperture gives a shallower depth of field, which allows for a smaller focus area, thus creating a blur in the background. The best way to ensure the right aperture is to click in AV mode. That way you’ll be able to fix the aperture without worrying about anything else. The camera will set the exposure and shutter speed according to whatever aperture you have chosen. Sometimes, if the lighting is tricky, the camera may set the exposure differently to what you want. In that case, use the manual exposure control (+/-) buttons. 

In being more aware of the bokeh, don’t forget that the main focus should be on the subject. Set your aperture to balance the sharpness of the subject with the blur of the background. 

2. Choose a good background 

A plain wall, or a clear sky or a drab street might not be the best place to photograph if you’re looking for the bokeh effect in your photos. The background needs to have something that will reflect light and create that lovely soft spotted blur. An urban cityscape, or a candle lit background, a community fair with colourful lighting – these are a few ideas, but the options are endless. Some photographers even use strategically placed fairy lights to create the desired effect. 

3. Keep distance 

The further away your subject is from the background and closer to the lens, the more intricate and beautiful the bokeh. This is because of the narrow depth of field and a smaller focal length. If you’re particularly looking for a larger bokeh, then you’d do better to minimise the distance between the subject and the background. 

4. Consider the number of aperture blades 

Since bokeh is nothing but blurry reflections of light that passes through the aperture, the shape of the aperture hole plays an important role in the shape you get in your bokeh spots. The number of blades the aperture has determines the shape of the aperture hole. 9 blades or more will give you spherical spots which look lovely when blurred properly. However, 5-6 blades will give the hole a polygonal shape which might not be as appealing. 

It isn’t very difficult to create a bokeh effect in photographs. A 50mm lens does just as well as a telephoto lens, the effects they give are different, but both will be beautiful in their own way. Keep experimenting until you find the perfect lens for yourself that will give you the fabulous bokeh you’ve been after.