Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Concert Photography Tip #2 - F is for Bokehlicious

The word Bokeh (pronounced bōˈkā or sometimes boh-kə) is often times misused to mean the background blur in an image, when in fact it is a Japanese term that describes the quality of the out-of-focus areas in an image. Many times you will hear photographers say that good bokeh is “creamy” and “circular”, whereas bad bokeh is known to be distracting or jittery.  At the end of the day it doesn’t matter since the quality of background blur (for the sake of this post, I will just use bokeh) is purely subjective and its relative beauty fall on the eye of the beholder. But I digress. My photography tip for the day is about getting to know your lens' aperture/F-stop, focal length how it affects background blur/depth of field.  If you want to have that amazing bokehlicious look, here are some things to consider to help you get it:

Nice, creamy and circular bokeh balls 
1. Aperture or f-stop
- Some photographers like to use Aperture priority mode (you select the aperture and camera decides the appropriate shutter speed and/or ISO) because it allows them to decide the amount of depth of field they want in their photos. The smaller the f value, the shallower the depth of field, which means you are more likely to get the desired bokeh look. Remember the higher the f value, the greater your depth of field will be, meaning your background will be more in focus. I primarily shoot with fixed focal length, non-zooming glass (or prime lenses) because I feel they help me produce some of the highest quality images and have the smallest aperture or f values. Most primes fall in the f/1.8 or f/1.4 range, whereas most zooms start off at f/2.8 or higher. In a previous post, Why you may be using your kit lens incorrectly, the aperture value increases as you extend the reach of your lens, something to keep in mind while using kit zooms. 

Taken at the widest aperture f/2.8
2. Focal Length
- Without getting into the science of focal lengths, to increase your chances of getting a bokehlicious image, use the longest focal length you have in your arsenal. The wider your lens, the greater your depth of field will be.  Many street photographers like to use a fast 35mm prime because it provides context to their images. Some, if not all, of the background is discernible to the viewer. However, with a long lens you not only get background compression, you also have a much shallower depth of field.  A 150mm lens at f/5.6 will provide substantially more subject isolation than a 12mm lens shot at f/2. 

Taken with a wide angle, 12mm lens. Notice the greater depth of field
and the discernible drummer and up lighting
Another shot taken with the 12mm lens at f/2. 
3. Distance between subject and background
-  Let's say you are using a long lens like the 150mm at f/1.8 and your subject's background is only inches away, the bokehfied look will suffer.  By creating distance between your subject, you will improve your chances of subject isolation and background blur.  

I understand this is not a Mad T Party shot, but it is of the great Nathan Shrake,
our favorite Mad Hatter. Notice how blurry the trees in the background are. I
purposefully positioned Nathan 60-70 feet from the trees to help achieve the look
I wanted, despite shooting at f/4.

4. Your relative distance to the subject 
- This concept took me a while to fully understand, but your relative distance to the subject impacts the amount of bokeh in your image. Getting up close and personal will shorten your plane of focus, while the inverse is true as you step away from your subject. Even with a long 100mm equivalent lens, the background appears completely in focus in the photograph below and I was shooting at a very low f value. So if you want that background blur, get intimate with your subject =).

Taken from a distance with a 100mm lens nearly wide open.  
I hope you found these quick tips helpful. Please keep in mind that managing depth of field or bokeh is matter of playing around with the aforementioned tips. No single lens or camera setting will always create the same results.  Your shooting environment will always be in a constant flux and the only way to get the look you want is to practice and  know the nuances of your lenses. As always, I am available for any questions so hit us up in the comments below. 

So say we all,

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