The term “bokeh” usu­al­ly refers to two things: both the blurred back­ground in the pic­tures, and the nature of this blur­ry back­ground. Blurred back­grounds are usu­al­ly asso­ci­at­ed with a pro­fes­sion­al, “cin­e­mat­ic” shot, so it’s not sur­pris­ing that they are of such inter­est to pho­tog­ra­phers. How to make beau­ti­ful bokeh, we under­stand this text.

Many peo­ple think that the blurred back­ground is the result of refine­ment in graph­ic edi­tors. In fact, com­plete­ly sim­u­lat­ing bokeh in Pho­to­shop is almost impos­si­ble. Well, or at least very dif­fi­cult / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

What is bokeh
Lens­es that give beau­ti­ful bokeh
How to work with a fast lens
How to get beau­ti­ful bokeh on a kit lens
How to Get the Most Blurred Back­ground on a Kit Lens

So, bokeh is either the degree of back­ground blur, or the way the back­ground fades into blur.

With the degree of blur, every­thing is clear. When shoot­ing any sub­ject, the back­ground can be either as sharp as that sub­ject or more fuzzy.

An unsharp back­ground is con­sid­ered opti­mal for por­trait pho­tog­ra­phy, as it sep­a­rates the per­son well from the back­ground.

A por­trait with a blurred back­ground is a clas­sic of mod­ern com­mer­cial pho­tog­ra­phy / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Fotosklad.Expert

As for the nature of the blur, this is a more sub­tle mat­ter. If great­ly sim­pli­fied, bokeh can be smooth or jit­tery. An even one sep­a­rates the mod­el from the back­ground bet­ter, but can cre­ate the effect of pho­to wall­pa­per, a ner­vous one, on the con­trary, con­nects the object and the back­ground more, but can make mess and visu­al dirt in the frame. The nature of the blur depends on the opti­cal design of the lens and often on its qual­i­ty and cost.

There are lens­es that give a very dis­tinc­tive bokeh pat­tern. For exam­ple, “Helios-40” with its twist­ed bokeh.

Twist­ed bokeh is a sig­na­ture fea­ture of Helios / Pho­to: unsplash.com

Read also:

Lens pat­tern: what is it, how to use

The main para­me­ter that is respon­si­ble for bokeh is the lens aper­ture. The larg­er it is, the soft­er the back­ground will turn out.

The sec­ond is focal length. The same depen­dence: the larg­er it is, the stronger the blur will be.

The same scene shot with lens­es 50 mm and 75 mm long with plus or minus the same aper­ture / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Fotosklad.Expert

The matrix of your cam­era also affects the blur. The larg­er it is, the more the back­ground is blurred.

Lens­es that will def­i­nite­ly give good back­ground blur (for full frame):

– Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM. A por­trait lens from Canon’s top L‑series. It turns out a high-qual­i­ty sharp image even at an open aper­ture;

– Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM is a fast aper­ture por­trait lens. It is slight­ly dark­er, but much cheap­er than the pre­vi­ous mod­el;

– Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM. Clas­sic high-aper­ture “fifty kopecks”. Gives a beau­ti­ful blur of the back­ground and at the same time high sharp­ness. There is a more bud­get ver­sion with aper­ture ratio of 1.4;

– AF‑S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G. Expen­sive, fast, pro­fes­sion­al. Cor­rect round high­lights in the blur area and soft pleas­ant bokeh includ­ed;

– AF‑S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G. Slight­ly dark­er, but also more bud­get-friend­ly por­trait lens;

– NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G. Top almost “fifty dol­lars” from Nikon. The focal length is slight­ly dif­fer­ent from today’s clas­sic 50 mil­lime­ters and sends us back to film times;

– AF‑S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G. A more bud­get lens with a clas­sic focal length of 50mm. It has a slight­ly worse aut­o­fo­cus than the NIKKOR 58mm. In addi­tion, this lens gives a less sharp pic­ture. But, in gen­er­al, this is a good work­ing “glass”;

– Sig­ma AF 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art. Quite heavy and decent “fifty kopecks”. Gives good sharp­ness and beau­ti­ful blur. There are mod­i­fi­ca­tions for dif­fer­ent sys­tems;

– Sig­ma 50–100mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art. The fastest tele­pho­to lens in exis­tence. The only big minus is the weight, which is about one and a half kilo­grams;

– Sony FE 85mm f/1.4. Top por­trait fifty dol­lars with calm bokeh and a con­ve­nient con­trol sys­tem from the rings on the lens;

– Sony FE 85mm f/1.8. More bud­get ver­sion for Sony.

For cam­eras with a cropped matrix, there are also decent fast lens­es. But it is impor­tant to remem­ber one thing: the size of the matrix direct­ly affects the lev­el of back­ground blur. The pic­ture that a 1.4 lens will give on a crop will rough­ly cor­re­spond to that of a 2.0 lens on a full frame.

Fast lens­es for Canon, Nikon and Sony fit per­fect­ly on crop. You just need to take into account that the equiv­a­lent focal length will increase one and a half times. That is, 50 mm turns into 75 mm. There­fore, fast fix­es for cropped cam­eras of these sys­tems are not very com­mon.

Lens­es that give good back­ground blur (for crop and micro 4/3):

– Sig­ma 56mm f/1.4;

– Vil­trox PFU RBMH 85mm F1.8 STM;

– Fuji­film XF 35mm f/1.4;

– Fuji­film XF 56mm f/1.2;

– Olym­pus M.Zuiko Dig­i­tal ED 75mm f/1.8;

– Olym­pus M.Zuiko Dig­i­tal 45mm f/1.8.

A big plus of crops and cam­eras of the Micro 4/3 sys­tem is that often the optics for them are much cheap­er than for their full-frame broth­ers. And at a rel­a­tive­ly low price, they give good sharp­ness.

Get­ting a beau­ti­ful­ly blurred back­ground on a fast lens is quite sim­ple. To do this, it is impor­tant to ensure that the diaphragm remains open. It’s best to for­get about auto mode and work in aper­ture pri­or­i­ty.

It’s a shame to spend sev­er­al tens of thou­sands of rubles on a lens and get a pic­ture like on a phone. This hap­pens if you acci­den­tal­ly close the aper­ture / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Fotosklad.Expert

Anoth­er prob­lem that a begin­ner may encounter is focus­ing. When shoot­ing on a light “glass”, it is impor­tant to focus accu­rate­ly, oth­er­wise there is a risk of get­ting a pic­ture with a sharp back­ground and a blur­ry main char­ac­ter. Read more about how to solve such prob­lems, we wrote in this text.

If in this ques­tion you are veiled­ly ask­ing “how to get the same blur as on a Canon EF 85mm f / 1.4L IS USM for 150 thou­sand rubles, on a lens that costs five thou­sand”, then the only hon­est answer is no way. It’s impos­si­ble. If it were pos­si­ble, every­one would use it and not over­pay for a fast lens.

There are areas where you can find a life hack and hack the sys­tem, but this, unfor­tu­nate­ly, is not the case. If you real­ly like blur­ry back­grounds, your best bet is to look at bud­get fix­es with small aper­tures. They may not be as jing­ly sharp and not as fast in aut­o­fo­cus as the top ones, but still allow you to achieve a blur­ry back­ground.

For exam­ple, Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM, Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor, 7Artisans 35mm F0.95, Meike 50mm f/1.7. The last two will not have aut­o­fo­cus, and, of course, all of the lens­es list­ed will lose in qual­i­ty to expen­sive “glass­es”. But you can use them as the first fast lens: just to get to know each oth­er and under­stand if you need it.

Okay, there is no oppor­tu­ni­ty to buy expen­sive light “glass”, there is a whale lens. Let’s try to get the most out of it.

Place the mod­el as far away from the back­ground as pos­si­ble. If you put it on a cliff against the back­drop of an end­less sea, it will blur bet­ter than a wall that will be a meter away from the mod­el.

Back­ground dis­tance is blur’s best friend / Pho­to: unsplash.com

Unscrew the zoom to the max­i­mum and move away from the mod­el. The longer your lens, the more blur­ry the back­ground will be. But the fur­ther you have to move away from the mod­el.

Set the aper­ture to the low­est pos­si­ble val­ue in this sit­u­a­tion. Remem­ber that the most impor­tant thing in the art of blur­ring the back­ground is an open aper­ture. If you are work­ing in an automa­ton and the cam­era cov­ers the aper­ture itself, all oth­er tricks will have no effect.

Focus on larg­er por­traits and details. The larg­er the por­trait, the greater the back­ground blur lev­el.

Two shots tak­en with the same lens / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Fotosklad.Expert