Bokeh is an optical effect in which the background of a photo is blurred. The blur is produced by taking photos with a shallow depth of field. Bokeh occurs in the areas of the photo that are out-of-focus. As a result, the background looks softer and the subject sharper and more vivid. If there are highlights in the background, they will take on the shape of the lens’s aperture. Most often these “specular highlights” are circles, sometimes hexagonals. If you wish, however, you could use bokeh filters to create all sorts of shapes. Some photographers go as far as blurring the entire photo, leaving only the highlights.
As with any technique, using bokeh does not guarantee your photos will be amazing. Not every subject lends itself to bokeh. If you’re focusing on one single thing, bokeh could be a good choice. But when you’re photographing a landscape, you probably don’t want to use a shallow depth of field. Similarly, not every photo improves with a blurry background. Bokeh should, in other words, be used thoughtfully.
If you’d like to use bokeh in your photography, check out our Bokeh: Using Blur To Your Advantage post. More resources are listed at the end of this article.
Examples of Bokeh Photography
Here are some beautiful bokeh photos selected from our Flickr group.
Resources for Bokeh Photography
Here are some more articles to help you get a nice bokeh effect in your photography.
Photography Life — How to Obtain Maximum Bokeh
This article lists 6 tips to create a bokeh effect. It discusses the lenses and shooting methods that will result in the best bokeh effects.
Tuts+ — Quick Tip: Creating Artificial Bokeh in Your Own Home
A simple tutorial for creating bokeh photos at home using christmas lights.
500px — How To Create Beautiful Bokeh Images
This post goes through the post-processing steps for enhancing the bokeh in a photo.