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 Tips for Better Bokeh in Photography

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

“Bokeh” describes the quality of an image’s out-of-focus areas, both in the foreground and background. While some aspects of bokeh are subjective, people prefer smooth, creamy bokeh, while the notorious “onion rings” are undesirable in photos and are probably best left to do. food. Naturally, photographers want the best possible bokeh effect. This means that out-of-focus areas are smoother than coarsely textured and don’t draw undue attention to irregular shapes. Today I’m going to cover a few things that can improve the bokeh in your photos, from choosing the right lens to even using retouching software.

Choose the Right Lens

Sometimes you can buy your way to fame and that’s certainly true for better bokeh. Let’s say I want to have my first focal length at the classic portrait 85mm focal length. By checking on B&H Photo, I found there are only 21 in the Sony E-mount, eight of which have a maximum aperture of f/1.4! However, if you buy them all, you’ll find that they don’t all produce the same quality of bokeh. Why is this very? Almost every optical characteristic of a lens, from the aperture blade to the special elements, affects the bokeh effect. For example, see how the aperture blades can affect specific highlights, just one aspect of the bokeh effect:

As you can see, the shapes start out large and round when shooting with the aperture wide open. They shrink and become more jagged when you stop. However, the three lenses also have very different shapes in the background. Why are these shapes different? The answer is that the faint highlights in the image are shaped like the blades of your lens’s aperture. For example, the top row is the Pentax A 50mm f/1.7 lens. It has six aperture blades, which turn the balls into hexagons when the lens is stopped. On this lens, the aperture blades form a near-perfect hexagon when stationary, blurring out particularly sharp protrusions.

Note: If you want to make some adjustments to the photo just let me know. I can do it for you at a very low cost. You can hire me to edit your photo

Such designs are common on older manual focus lenses. It’s important to keep in mind that these lenses have been around since the rise of lens adapters and mirrorless cameras. Anyway, moving down to the middle row shot with the more modern Laowa 50mm f/2.8 2X macro, you can see that the aperture blades work better here and never produce the Pentax shuriken bokeh. This lens has seven aperture blades instead of six, creating heptagons a bit closer to the rings. Finally, we come to the bottom row produced by the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G lens. Unlike the other two lenses, the bokeh balls are still quite round even when the lens stops down to f/2.8.

Is it because of more aperture blades? No. In fact, Nikon still has seven blades like Laowa. The difference is that they are rounded in Nikon. While the individual hexagons can look classy in some circles, if you want more rounded bokeh, aim for the rounded aperture blades. In general, good modern portrait lenses with lots of rounded aperture blades, like the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4, have 11!

Are the number of aperture blades and their roundness the only things to look for in a lens? Incorrect. Unfortunately, lenses can have many other problems such as chromatic aberration, coma, and distortion, all of which can affect bokeh. The fix is ​​to read reviews like our lens review on Photography Life, which demonstrates the lens’ many properties and compares it to others.

Choose the Right Apertures

You have seen that you can change the bokeh effect of a photo by changing the aperture. You’ve also seen that if a lens is shot wide open, the highlights are typically much more rounded than when you stopped. Does that mean you always have to shoot wide to get the best bokeh? Unnecessary. Lenses sometimes produce distorted bokeh circles near the edge of the frame with wider apertures. For example, look at this comparison between an open shot at f/1.8 and one at f/2.2 using the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G: Wide open at f/1.8, you can see that the bokeh balls look like the pupil of a cat’s eye. I don’t mind the cat-eye bokeh in the slightest, but I know it bothers some people. A slight stop at f/2.2 almost completely eliminates this effect on the 50mm f/1.8G. So if your lens has rounded aperture blades, you’ll usually get better circles by stopping for a bit.

Avoid Specular Highlights

With a lens designed to produce beautiful bokeh, blurred highlights can be an eye-catching part of your photo. However, some lenses do not perform well with very strong highlights. This is especially true for lenses outside the portrait range, where such functionality is not met with much, or with lenses that use unusual elements such as Fresnel lenses. For example, the following image is a worst-case scenario for a Nikon 500mm f/5.6 PF:

You will find that the bokeh effect is quite terrible. It’s not even limited to speculative highlights; even common areas have harsh, sinewy textures. This kind of weird bokeh is partly due to the 500mm f/5.6 PF’s Fresnel element misbehaving with shimmering, snow-like surfaces. Having said that, this photo is really hard to find in my photo library because it doesn’t happen often. In fact, in most cases, this lens has no problem producing good bokeh. It’s about knowing which situations are particularly awkward for your target.

Keep the Background Far Away

If you can’t change your lens, change your background! Closer background elements often result in harsher textures, and not all lenses can handle this equally well. If the background is very far away, it will just blow out, no matter what lens you use. For example, in the following portrait of a rather familiar mallard changing its breeding plumage, the background is very smooth simply because it is so far away. It was shot with the same 500mm lens as before, but the bokeh in this photo is very smooth and pleasing to my eyes.

Keep Your Lens and Sensor Clean

There are countless reasons to keep your device clean and bokeh is one of them. Take a look at these bokeh circles before and after cleaning the dirty rear of the lens: Yes, that rear lens is annoying. (Don’t worry, it’s not the lens I’m using, but a broken lens I use for demos like this.) These dust particles appear in the bokeh circles, causing them to become rough. If the bokeh circles are large and dusty, this will be easy to see under normal circumstances. Five minutes of servicing your lenses and sensors will save you many early morning nightmares. While it’s a good idea to keep all your devices clean from top to bottom, as a general rule, the closer your sensor is to the sensor, the more unwanted spots there will be. Of course, dirt on the sensor is the worst and will appear even in targeted areas!

Get Rid of Noise

Is there anything that can ruin a good bokeh effect faster than noise? Well, maybe a damaged aperture blade could be. But even though the noise doesn’t come from the optical properties of the lens like chromatic aberration, it still hinders the enjoyment of good bokeh. Naturally, noise reduction is the answer. However, there is noise reduction and then noise reduction. The usual one-click noise reduction doesn’t always yield ideal results. For example, consider the following image of Song Sparrow:

I love how the grass quickly blends into a sea of ​​green. However, in the original image, there is some roughness in the background due to noise: the first square is from the image before the distortion. The second is the result after applying regular denoising. As has improved, there is still a bit of roughness that can keep me up at night if I can’t get rid of it. Therefore, I selectively applied some smoothing to the green part of the image, resulting in the final square. The final effect could have been a bit more subtle, but I did for two reasons.

First, the results are very noticeable to me on a 4k screen or in even small print like 8×10. And second, I really feel like the small details, even if not immediately noticeable to everyone, add to and contribute to the unconscious enjoyment of an image. In fact, I apply a unique noise reduction strategy to every high ISO frame to ensure that the beautiful lens bokeh is not hindered by unwanted noise roughness. Since some Raw development programs now include the ability to make local edits, there’s no reason not to take the extra step and make your blur areas a little better.

Note: If you want to make some adjustments to the photo just let me know. I can do it for you at a very low cost. You can hire me to edit your photo

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