Bokeh and the Butterfly

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Check out the owl butterfly here. It is crispy sharp with a totally blurred out smooth background. That blurry area is called bokeh. Bokeh is the pattern that is created by the lens in the out of focus areas. Different lenses have different bokeh qualities, and the bokeh is something that every lens review will comment on. Typically the bokeh quality is not something we can control, but we can control the amount of blur in the background.

When an image has a small area in focus with the background and maybe foreground blurred like this one, it is said to have a shallow depth of field. When everything is in focus like a postcard, it is said to have a large depth of field (DOF).

I will control my urge to geek out here, and not get into the equations. There is plenty of info on the internet about DOF, as well as many DOF calculators for Android and iPhones. I encourage you to chase them down if you are interested.

First off, I do not believe you can achieve a shallow DOF with a point-n-shoot camera, and definitely not with your phone. So these tips are really directed to DSLRs, and probably the micro 4/3 formats.

Here is how you can get that blurred background to isolate your subject.
i) Maximize your aperture, the bigger the opening the better (f5.6, f4.0, f3.6, f2.8,…)Note that the larger the number following the f actually means a smaller opening.
ii) Use a long lens, not a wide angle lens i.e. less than 50mm.
iii) The closer you are to your subject, the less DOF and more blur.
iv) The more distance between your subject and your background, the blurrier the background.

You may become a bokeh junkie like me, but I urge to be careful especially when taking pics of people. In close range with f2.0 or f1.8 or larger, you can start to have just parts of a person’s face in focus, or with groups of people, you may only have a few people in focus. If you are going to shoot a group, use an f5.6 or smaller aperture (larger number following the f).

I hope these tips help you get the most bokeh out of your camera.

The owl butterfly image was taken with my 70-200mm f2.8 lens at the following settings:

  • Aperture priority
  • f2.8
  • ISO 800
  • 1/100 sec
  • 200mm

You can see more butterfly images below.

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