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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Lovely Bokeh for You (well, maybe)

For the past month or so I've been updating my book Exposure Photo Workshop: Develop Your Digital Photography Talent and because of the cold weather I haven't been shooting much, but last Sunday we had a nice day and so I headed to the beach. One of the things I needed to illustrate was the concept of "bokeh" (pronounced, I think, bo-keh).  Bokeh, which comes from the Japanese word "boke" which translates in English to "mental haze" or, according to some translations, even "senility." The word came into photographic circles in the mid 1990s and it's used to describe the quality of the out-of-focus area in a photograph that has limited depth of field. Good bokeh is when you have a nice silky soft/smooth out of focus area, and bad bokeh is when the background (particularly out-of-focus highlight circles) distracts from the subject itself (see below).

Today I had an email exchange with my photographer friend (and editor, who has edited many of my books) Derek Doeffinger about the subject of bokeh. Derek's interpretation of bokeh is that, while it can describe the OOF (out of focus) areas of a photo at any aperture, it is most often used to describe the OOF area of images shot at full aperture with large-aperture (for example, a lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 or f/2) lenses. I think he may be right in how the term started out being used, but today it kind of loosely refers to the aesthetic quality of any OOF area in a photo. I shot my photo of the shell with a 70-300mm lens at f/4.5, so it may not be exactly what some purists are talking about, but I think the concept is the same: the quality of the OOF areas. And the shell photo does have a nice soft OOF background. Derek, by the way, is author of several beautiful books of waterfall photographs shot in upstate New York, including: Waterfalls and Gorges of the Finger Lakes and Waterfalls of the Adirondacks and Catskills (New York). If you're heading up that way this summer and want to shoot some cool waterfalls, get his books--you simply won't believe the photographs. In fact, I'm using a few of those photos in my exposure book (along with several more of his photos of other subjects--including some cools shots from Mexico and Nicaragua).

So, I'm not sure that any purists would look at my shell shot and say "nice bokeh," but for now it will have to do and I'll keep shooting more photos with this nice visual concept. If you want to read more about bokeh, just do a Google search, or look on Flickr for bokeh groups. Below, by the way, is a photo with what I would call "bad" bokeh--the highlight circles are a major distraction from the daffodils. I shot it up in Litchfield a few years ago and I'll talk about where I shot it in an upcoming post--you'll want to know about if if you live in New England...teaser: there are more than a million daffodils there. Oh yeah, and by the way, it's a store-bought shell--my radio partner Ken Brown thought I might have been lucky and found it on the Connecticut shore. I did, I found it on the shore in Mystic for $100!

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