Lens-Artists #194: Bokeh

For the Lens-Artists photo challenge (LAPC) this week, Sofia asks us to look at the blurred areas in our photos, also known as bokeh. There are different opinions about the blurry area in a photo, but my perception is that it adds to the overall quality of the picture. In the first photo, I took a close-up of flowering salvia plant in my neighbor’s garden. I love the contrast of colors, but more importantly, I think the use of bokeh helps to see the tiny details on the salvia flowers, stems, and leaves.

Flowering fuchsia plant, captured with 300mm DSLR lens up-close, using garden in background to provide a colorful bokeh effect. Sharing for Cee’s Flower of the Day.

Large praying mantis stands out on pink roses with help of green garden colors in background creating bokeh effect; original posted here.

By creating the bokeh effect, there is a gentle and soft blur in the background, creating a pleasing, yet contrasting image. Sometimes I pick something with a lot of color for the background, but other times, the duller colors help create a more dramatic contrast, like the next image with the flycatcher. My favorite way to achieve bokeh is to use my 300mm DSLR lens on my Nikon and get up close to my object. (I don’t have a macro lens yet, so this is my work-around.) And, of course, when it is harder to get up close, my zoom lens helps with this issue, too.

Male vermillion flycatcher bravely scoping out a forest in winter; captured in Wickenburg, Arizona, with 300mm DSLR lens.

I am still learning how to manually change the aperture and shutter speed on my camera, but I noticed that when I take pictures in lower light–or my favorite, cloudy conditions–I can get a better bokeh effect. I am starting to see that when I manually adjust my aperture in less-than-favorable lighting conditions, I can still achieve a good blur behind the object. This next flower is an example of trying to create a bokeh effect with dappled sunlight in the garden (I would have preferred cloudiness or complete shade).

Red-and-orange rose after rain storm has started to clear out; attempted to use dappled sunlight to create bokeh effect.

Besides the lighting, the background can be important. In other words, the scene that I am blurring can add to the overall story. I love getting other greenery or natural items behind the object I’m focusing on. Often, if I am taking a close-up photo of a flower, I’ll try to use the other plants in the garden for the bokeh effect. Depending on the types of plants in the background, I can get some dramatic patterns.

Creating bokeh effect behind lilies by using other lilies and garden plants as background.

Other times, I will edit the lighting in the photo afterwards, causing the background to get darker and the object in the foreground to stand out more. I’ll use this technique if the object has a lot of details that I want to focus on, such as veins, water droplets, or other details on the plant.

Early spring succulent blooming; created bokeh effect by blurring and darkening background of not-quite-green garden.

Not as much bokeh effect here, but took close-up of rose right after rain to focus on details on flower, rather than background of garden; first seen in FOTD post.

Conversely, if I want a photograph of an object but don’t really like the items in the background, zooming in on the object at close range with a larger lens can help blur the undesired object behind it.

Male Costa’s hummingbird at San Diego Zoo Hummingbird Sanctuary; used bokeh effect to blur out ugly wall behind him.

Male yellow-bellied trogon from South America poses curiously for a photo; captured with 300mm DSLR lens at San Diego Zoo, California.

Or, better yet, the undesired objects become a great blur of color in the background, adding to the art of the photo, rather than detracting from it.

Costa’s hummingbird drinking from nectar feeder at San Diego Zoo Hummingbird Sanctuary; bokeh effect blurs out other guests and uses green leaves to provide contrast.

I will also darken the background when trying to create a bokeh effect, so that I can highlight other features of my subject.

Tip of hummingbird’s tongue just barely visible, but stands out a little more with a darker background; click on photo to enlarge further.

This next photo is an example of using the greenery in the background to help create a contrasting bokeh effect. It also helps to hide some of the objects. If I had not zoomed in on baby Mawe and created that blurriness behind her, then it might have been harder to see her features. More importantly, without the bokeh effect, the photo would seem less natural with all of the manmade items in her enclosure.

Baby Mawe, born December, 2021, at San Diego Zoo, poses for an up-close shot; bokeh effect created with 300mm DSLR lens.

The last type of bokeh effect I use frequently, especially with landscape photos, is to blur the background just enough to make the objects in the foreground stand out. In this way, you can still see enough of the background but have context to the overall scene.

Agave blooming in tropical gardens of San Diego Safari Park; used bokeh effect to blur background.

Use of bokeh effect to highlight cacti and flowers during 2019 super-bloom in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California.

As I learn more about photography, I plan to continue to incorporate the bokeh effect. I like the idea of generating more artful pictures with this technique.

Published by Dawn Palmer

I am a professional proofreader (ProofreadingatDawn.com) and write a photography blog (PeacefulatDawn.com). In my free time, I love taking photos, admiring beautiful moments in nature, and I will often be out early in the morning or late in the evening trying to capture the peacefulness and beauty around me.

17 thoughts on “Lens-Artists #194: Bokeh

  1. WOW. Such carefully taken photos and they all tell a story . The red flycatcher! That looks like a Christmas card. I loved the hummingbirds, especially the one drinking from the feeder. And the praying mantis looked like it had something to say to you. The photo from Anza-Borrego brought a smile to my face as we were just there a few months ago checking it out. I would love to go back one time during wild flower season. Beautiful photos, Dawn. Donna

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! 😊 I loved the birds too…they’re so cute. 😊 Some people were creeped out by the praying mantis, but I thought he was looking right at me. 🤓 I remember your photos from Anza; they reminded me of my wildflower trip. 😎

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! 😊 I just use the photo editing software on my Apple laptop—nothing fancy—and I decrease the lighting. Usually, there’s a little bit of blurriness or bokeh before I do that, but when click on the lighting scale in the photo editing section on my laptop, I can drag the scale to the left or right to make it lighter or darker. I know there’s fancier ways of doing this, but that’s what I’ve tried so far. This technique also works better when it’s not super bright outside and the natural, unedited photo has some lower lighting to start with. 🤓

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