The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

This week, on her site PHOTOGRAPHIAS, Sofia focuses on the unfocused or, more formally termed, bokeh.

Bokeh is a Japanese word that refers to blur which serves to enhance the subject of a photo (as opposed to motion blur as one might see in a photo of a race car in action).

Photo Techniques magazine introduced the word in 1997 and since then blurry backgrounds have been all the rage. As you’ll see below, I like to use bokeh as a background, a frame and a subject.

It’s a cool aesthetic that I just discovered a few years ago. I always wanted every millimeter of my photos to be crystal clear (with the exception of portraits).

One day I was out taking photos in the garden and I thought it might be interesting to take some pictures of our big cactus and took some shots of thorns, through a hole in one of the cactus pads.  Below, the blurred pad provides a frame for the thorns.                                   

It was by taking photos in our garden, and later at the San Francisco Botanical Garden that I realized that a photo with just a small portion in focus can be pleasing.  Below are some photos that were taken at the S.F. Botanical Garden.

In the photos immediately above and below (a stamen), the subject is just a small segment of the whole. The photo above was shot through a hole in a leaf.

The following two photos were also taken at the S.F. Botanical Garden.                 

In the photo below of holiday lights at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco, bokeh is the subject of the photo.

I find bokeh can be pleasing in wildlife photography. I usually shoot wildlife with a 600mm lens and since bokeh is enhanced by a longer focal length, the blurred background is usually a fait accompli.

Both I and the gray wolf below agreed that distance would be a good thing.

Gray Wolf, Yellowstone National Park

In the two photos below the blurred waters make pleasing backgrounds to the alligator and the duck.

An alligator lurks in the water of a Louisiana swamp

Below, foliage and water provide a perfect background for an angry looking egret.     

Bokeh can produce a soft background for a portrait, a much better background, I believe, than a plain screen. In the photo below, the blurred crowd provides a fitting background for Angel Pagan waiting on deck for his chance to bat.

The photo below was taken at Portsmouth Square in San Francisco.

I’ve been using this bokeh deal and I didn’t even know there’s for a word for it. Sometimes you can learn useful things on the internet that aren’t bogus. Who figured?

Visit Sofia’s site for her take on bokeh and then check out the comments for links to other examples of bokeh.

B&H Photo is one of my go to sources for gear and info. Click on the link for their excellent article about bokeh.

17 thoughts on “Lens Artist Challenge – Bokeh

  1. Sofia Alves says:

    It’s a different world when you realise blur and out-of-focus are also interesting in photography. I had the same experience as you. Great photos, by the way, very creative and unique.

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Sofia,
      Thank you for the kind words and thank you so much for hosting this challenge.

      1. Sofia Alves says:

        You’re welcome.

  2. Toonsarah says:

    What excellent examples! And I also enjoyed reading about how you discovered this effect and developed your use of it across these different genres. I especially like the wolf and that last portrait 🙂 Thanks too for that link to the article, which I’ve bookmarked to read.

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Sarah, Thank you for the kind words. I’m glad you liked the last portrait. I hadn’t done a lot of photos of people until I saw a post that you published a couple of months ago. It was an inspiration. Since seeing that post I’ve taken some day trips into San Francisco to look for some likely subjects.
      Thank you again for reading and commenting

  3. Fabulous set. That first shot of the cactus is absolutely dramatic

    1. Paul says:

      Thank you for the kind words. The cactus exacted a price with a few thorn pricks when I was setting up the shot. Worth it though.

  4. Mr. Angel Pagan is amazing! 😮 And many other as well. Excellent!

    1. Paul says:

      Ha! My wife is of the same opinion. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

  5. JohnRH says:

    GREAT selections.

    1. Paul says:

      Thank you John.

  6. Marsha says:

    All of your photos are fabulous. It looks like you had a great time with this challenge. You have some excellent portraits. Toonsarah is also excellent with portrait photography. It is an art in itself, and you have managed to take lovely portraits without the subject even knowing about it.

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Marsha, Thank you for reading and commenting. Actually Sarah’s portrait photography has inspired me to take a deeper dive into people photography. She did a magnificent post a short while ago with people as the subject.

  7. Lovely photo Paul: I’m so ancient I don’t even have an I-phone, so forgive me for not contributing. But I enjoy seeing them. Cheers, Muriel

    1. Paul says:

      Hi Muriel,
      Thank you for the kind words. Not having an iPhone isn’t an offense so no forgiveness necessary. I’m still trying to figure out whether my own phone is a boon or a leash. I’ll get back to you once I’ve figured it out. Glad you enjoyed the photos.

  8. eden baylee says:

    Sorry to be late, Paul.
    The animal and plant shots are stunning, especially the alligator.
    Your examples of this bokeh method show off your photography skills really well, and I love it when I learn a new word too, so thanks!


    1. Paul says:

      Hi Eden, Certainly no apologies necessary. Thank you for the kind words. I learned that new word too. Always done that shit and didn’t realize there was a name for it.

Would love to hear from you