One question I’m sure to get every time I teach video is about how to get that awesome looking blurred background. In this post, you’ll get everything you need to know to get it and why it’s so awesome.
First off, and this is super important to some people, the whole blurry background thing is called Bokeh. It’s a Japanese word that, if you say wrong around some people, will call down the pronunciation police in squads of ridicule.
If English is your first language, you’ll probably never be able to say it right, but acceptable is Bo-Ke, but not BowKay or Bouquet. I’m just telling you this because some people are super uptight and probably still live in their parent’s basement.
WHAT IS BOKEH?
Bokeh is how a lens shows out-of-focus points of light. It actually mimics the way an eye actually sees. For an example, hold something in front of your face about 12 inches away. Looking at that object, you can see that it’s in focus, but everything behind it is out of focus. You can look past whatever your holding
You can look past whatever your holding in front of your face and then the background will be in focus, but not the object. Congratulations, you’ve just successfully performed a focus pull! Btw, I don’t recommend doing that little experiment often in public, unless you like people staring at you like you’re crazy.
Typically, bokeh is when the subject of your shot is in focus, but the background is out of focus. Some people call this a cinematic shot or just file it away as a “good” looking photo or video.
WHY BOKEH WORKS
The reason bokeh is such a sought after quality is really just a preference. But it can be useful is many ways.
First, it looks more natural. Because our eyes are used to focusing on one area and not all areas, bokeh just looks more natural to most people.
Second, bokeh tells your viewer where to look. Because you’re literally choosing what to focus on, your viewer has to follow your decision. This is great when you want to simplify your audience’s attention.
Third, it also helps hide things that are insignificant. It’s not always best to show everything in the background. Sometimes, your background will be unappealing or boring. Using bokeh can minimize the background turning a bad location into a usable one.
HOW TO GET YOUR BOKEH ON
There’s really two easy ways to get bokeh. The simplest is to move your subject farther away from the background. But, what really makes it work is a lens with a big aperture.
Aperture refers to the size of a lens’ hole. Yeah, that sounds about right. Think of it like this, it’s Monday morning around 9:00 a.m., and you really don’t want to wake up just yet. So instead of just opening your eyes, you crack them just a bit so that the bright morning sunlight doesn’t burn your retinas and force you to start the day.
Cracking your eyes open is a small aperture. It only lets in a little light. Holding your eyes wide open let’s in more light. That would be a wider aperture on a lens. That’s why bokeh is described as how it shows points of light that are in focus. It has everything to do with how much light the lens allows through to the camera.
Simply, right? Not so fast.
It seems like the people who invented this stuff want to make sure everything is as hard to learn as possible. So they measure aperture in what’s called f-stops. And the lower the f-stop is, the bigger the aperture. So everything is backward.
Here’s the know-how: A lens with an aperture of f1.8 or less will help you have great bokeh. Anything above f2.0 will be harder to get that awesome blurry background.
That’s really all there is to it. To get great looking images with a blurry background, you just need the right lens and a little know-how.
If you want to find the best equipment for getting started in photography or videography, be sure to check out my Video Production Checklist for all of my recommended equipment. You can also sign up for the pre-release course I’m developing for video lighting just below.
Thanks for reading.