What is Bokeh?

Window Pane bokeh Sedum bokeh Wooden wheel bokeh

Wikipedia defines bokeh as “the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light”. And my dictionary states; “bokeh, bōˈkā. “The visual quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photographic image, especially as rendered by a particular lens.”

Bokeh has become another one of those not-so-well-understood terms that has become over used, and in many cases misused, by photographers since recent technological advances in cameras have made the medium of photography so accessible and popular.

A young photographer walked into my shop last week and asked the question, “Do you have one of those depth of field lenses?” I knew what the answer was because that was not the first time I have been asked the same question.

The first time I was asked I thought there might be some new piece of equipment on the market and inquired if that meant a wide aperture that controls depth of field. That’s where the word bokeh came up. The response was, “Ya, depth of field, bokeh.”

In my classes I include a tutorial on depth of field and more than once participants have interrupted me saying, “Oh, so that’s what bokeh is.”

Actually, the word bokeh comes from the Japanese word boke, which means “blur” or “haze”, or boke-aji, the “blur quality”.  That’s right, not blur, but blur quality.

Wikipedia carries on stating, “However, differences inlens aberrations and aperture shape cause some lens designs to blur the image in a way that is pleasing to the eye, while others produce blurring that is unpleasant or distracting—”good” and “bad” bokeh, respectively. Bokeh occurs for parts of the scene that lie outside the depth of field”.

One of the problems with that word might be that photographers are applying it when trying to describe not only control over depth of field, but selective soft focus. Those new to these effects are searching for a quick term to define effects that they don’t understand.

The authors of www.picturecorrect.com write that there are, “fundamental differences between soft focus and bokeh. In soft focus photography there is an intentional blurriness added to the subject while the actual edges are retained in sharp focus, but in bokeh it is only an element of the image that is intentionally blurred. Additionally, bokeh tends to emphasize certain points of light in the image as well.”

Bokeh appears in the areas of an image that remains outside the focal region. Because of this the most common technique used to add it is a shallow depth of field created through a wide open aperture”.

Depth of field is, “That area, in front of, and, behind the subject, that is in acceptable sharpness.” In my experience depth of field is one concept that eludes many photographers.

I suggest photographers think of it as selective focus. Thinking that way will help one make decisions about how much should be in focus around the subject, and, of course, allowing bokeh to appear.

In my opinion, one need not be surprised or critical when someone says they want a “depth of field lens…ya know, a Bokeh lens”. Every medium has its slang or jargon, and. unless one has enough interest and energy to study a fast changing technologically like photography, I can understand the confusion using many of the new words.

As always, I do appreciate your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

5 responses to “What is Bokeh?

  1. I had not known that there was confusion with this term; however, it is not surprising. I, myself, have jumbled my fair share of photo-jargon terms and phraseology.
    I’ve been involved in photography (of sorts) for only a year or so, and while learning quickly, it can be too easy to misunderstand a term, the purpose of a certain piece of gear, or the function of a knob on one’s camera.
    All along the way, I’ve truly appreciated people like you who are willing to patiently teach without belittling. There are less like you, in this field, than I thought there would be. 😉

    Like

  2. What is also misunderstood is how you pronounce it : ) It is ‘Bo’ as in “Boy” and ‘keh’ as in “kelp” and similar to “bouquet” except less drawn out and not “boca” or “bokey”. Just like “Neekon” and not “Nycon”.

    Like

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