Perfecting Being Out of Focus: Bokeh

Outside in the elements, this time of year here in Fort Langley (near Vancouver, B.C.) it has being, well, for lack of a better word, crappy out. We seem to go through week long periods of constant overcast days, where even the wildlife just seem to want to stay away becuase it is so grey and damp out. So, if you have a the shutter bug in you, shooting indoors is all that there is left to do to satisfy the itch.

Using my plant as a model, which is about the only interesting thing that is near and already set up to shoot, I focused on not focusing. My goal was to find that nice blend of soft out of focus background, with the super sharp object in focus in the foreground and put them together. Not long ago I was trying to achieve the all focused field of view, and only shooting with the aperture as small as possible, but since then, I now see the beauty of Bokeh.

What is bokeh you ask?

In the words of Ken Rockwell on the topic of bokeh, at, he says that, “Bokeh describes the rendition of out-of-focus points of light.

So what lured me towards the art of bokeh was wanting to place the object that I was photographing as the central feature of the image, and completely obscuring everything else out of view, yet still having it there as a point of reference. My early attempts were not that impressive, and as I started doing more shots using this methods, a number of issues started jumping out at me.

I am shooting with a Sony a33 using its kit lens the 3.5-5.6/18-55 SAM, so right off the bat I have huge limitations for doing indoor shots when I should be using a more appropriate lens like a 30mm 2.5 macro,  but I am on a budget, so the macro lens will have to wait.

The above image was the first shot in my shoot, using just the auto focus and flash mode of the camera. After moving the camera around the table and aiming it at the plant from different angles, I found out that the focusing was not the only issue I had to deal with.

The type of light that I was using in the room was problematic. I have a compact florescent light (CFL) over top of the plant and two incandescent light sources in the room, but further back. Switching the incandescent light source off and using the flash and CFL added more blue than what I wanted. And I tried several white balance settings before I started to get the true whites and colour tones I wanted.

On the left was the White Balance set to florescent, and on the right, using the camera’s Auto White Balance setting to do the work.

Lighting was a huge issue. Using both hot and cold light and mixing them together was not good either. Without the flash, I had very little light that I could control, and that was not good enough for the job. Cranking up the ISO for the lack of light was not working for me either as I got lots of unwanted noise in the image. This is where my inexperience showed; frustration was setting in.

The above image I felt I was getting closer. The light coming in from the back ground seemed to be about as soft as I could get it. Also, I was using the manual focus at this point. Manually adjusting the lens worked far better than the auto focus from the camera. The camera assumed that I wanted the object in the centre of the image in focus, and the nine focus points from the censor kept pushing the lens to only focus in the other areas of the viewfinder, not the object I wanted. I switched it off the Auto Focus to get the results I was looking for.

Above: this was one of those shots that was interesting becuase the camera was set to automatic, except for the focusing, and it turned out exceptionally good and interesting. I am not going to say that it is great, but it captured the depth of field very well. I personally think the image is way too complicated, so I decided to post it here as well and see if you have any comments about it.

5 Thoughts on “Perfecting Being Out of Focus: Bokeh

  1. Question,

    What do you mean when you say that your picture “captured the depth of field very well”? I have generally not seen that term used that way.

  2. Hey Radam,

    I looked at that phrase today and went through several thoughts on it, wondering if I miss used it. So, after a few hours, I returned and re-read the whole post and have come to the conclusion that I should have said something more along the lines of, “captured the depth in the image,” or “the image has a good impression of depth…”?

    I will need some more time on this before I will clarify what it is I am trying to express in my thoughts.

    Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year!

  3. Happy New Year to you!

    “Depth of Field” is an expression of how large the zone of focus (front to back wise) is. Think of it as Depth of Focus around your in-focus subject.

    If an image has a shallow or narrow depth of field (like your last image above), it has a narrow band of space that is in-focus, and it helps ISOLATE your subject from the fore and background. I wouldn’t so much say “you captured well the depth of field”; rather “you successfully isolated or brought emphasis on your subject by using a narrow depth of field.”

    Does that make sense?

  4. You could also make reference to the dimensions of the depth of field.

    ie: “The depth of field is only about half an inch.”

  5. Regarding that last picture, I agree that it is too busy. Unfortunately you are limited by the max aperture of your lens.

    If you had a lens with larger aperture you’d be able to narrow up that depth of field further, focus on one of the foreground leafs and really blur out that background.

    As long as your lens has good Bokeh, the busyness would disappear behind your subject.

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