Making photographs, not just taking them – Dundee, Tayside, Scotland

Bokeh

So another blog about another assignment over on PixelatedPhotographer.com?  It seems these days that this is the only thing I get the camera out for, need to do something about that and find more time over the coming summer months.

Anyway this assignment, as given away by the title of this blog, was Bokeh.  What is Bokeh you may well ask.  This is something that I still haven’t fully got my head around so cannot say exactly what images are Bokeh and which are simply shots with a very shallow depth of field (most of it is out of focus).

The word Bokeh is Japanese and it’s basic meaning (taken from Wikipedia):

is the blur, or the aesthetic quality of the blur, in out-of-focus areas of an image.”

There is more to its meaning and how it can be used in photography but that’s where it starts getting confusing and subjective so I won’t go into that here.

If you were to go onto Google and search for Bokeh images the chances are you’d get around 99% of the images on screen being some kind of night/dark scene with lights in the background and a subject in the foreground.  These lights will be either circles, hexagons, or any other shape that the photographer wanted to appear.

Note: with the shape of the lights being determined by the shape of the opening the light travels though i.e. circles are when the lens is fully open at the maximum apeture, hexagons/pentagons are when the the lens isn’t fully open so the shape is made by the blades within the lens or any other shape is when a mask is placed over the lens. 

It is these scenes that people can easily identify as Bokeh so it’s what most people go for when trying to shoot this technique.  It is for this reason that my first thoughts turned to this type of shot and what I could do, i.e. what shapes could I come up with and what should be the foreground subject.

I came up with 2 ideas for subject and shape but it required a bit of work before I could attempt to capture anything.  Firstly I needed to make a mask for the lens I wanted to use.  This being my Canon 50mm f/1.8, purely for the reason that this is my fastest glass (being f/1.8), meaning I could get a shallower depth of field and, therefore, the back ground lights don’t need to be as far away to get the effect.

Next I had to cut out the shapes I needed in the card that would sit infront of the lens, but not knowing what size they needed to be I did a couple of sizes just in case.

A test in my kitchen, where I manually got the lens to focus at its shortest in order to try capturing the effect, quickly showed that even the shallow depth of field at f/1.8 meant I needed a lot of space to shoot my ideas.  I could only just get the effect I wanted (i.e. the shapes big enough to be recognisable) when at the opposite end of the room from the light source, some 13-14 feet away!

Then I had to get some of the Christmas lights out of the loft to be in the background.

Clearly I needed to think outside of the box to get this to work, or more accuratley outside the house.  The only way this would work is if I set up the lights on my patio doors and set up the suject in my garden having me shooting back towards the house and the lights.  It did also mean I ended up lying on my belly in my garden at night in the dark taking photos of my house – my neighbours now think I’m serisouly weird!

So here is the results from that shoot:

But given the fact that I had nothing to light the subjects properly with in the garden, other than a couple of keyring torches, you can’t see what they are very well and because of this I’m not happy at all with the final images.  The upside to that is I now know how to do this technique and will try it again in the future.

Not being happy with these images I decided doing the usual dark/night type of shot for Bokeh just wasn’t working and I wouldn’t get something I’d be happy with before the cut off date of the assignment.  So instead I intentionally went out taking this kind of shot a couple of days later whilst out with the family for the day.

During this time I ended up capturing these:

And this one which I used as my entry for the assignment:

So I now have an image that I’m more than happy with but I’m still left with the question of what is Bokeh and what images make for good or bad Bokeh? And what category does this image fall into?  I did have a couple of people try to explain it to me and what the difference is between it and shallow depth of field shots, but if I’m truly honest I still don’t think I’ve got my head around it.  All I know is I’ve learnt how the technique of making light sources into shapes of my design and I’ve ended up with an image I like.  That’s good enough for me.

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