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How to Achieve the Best Bokeh

During the holiday season, the lights and colors can be a photographer’s dream. Who doesn’t love to capture their subject crisply in focus, with beautiful out-of-focus bokeh in the foreground and background? But while going on our merry way and trying to document the traditions and fun of the season, it’s easy to forget what steps to take to create the best bokeh.

Take these simple tips along with you as you aim to achieve the best bokeh possible during this holiday season.

Use a Longer Focal Length

Using a longer focal length will result in more compression of the foreground and background of your image, creating better bokeh. Try carting around a longer lens than you usually would, or crank out that zoom lens to its maximum focal length.

Check out the two images below. One was shot using a 35mm lens, and the other was using an 85mm lens. Notice how the background bokeh using the 85mm became much more creamy and smooth.

35mm, f/1.4
85mm, f/1.4

Use a Wide Aperture

Using a wider aperture (lower f/stop number) will result in better bokeh than with a more closed aperture. With a wide aperture, only a narrow plane is in focus, leaving the rest of the image out of focus. Challenge yourself to try opening up your lens wider than what you’re used to. You may be pleasantly surprised at the results!

In the examples below, I used the same lens, but different f/stops to show the effect.

f/4.5, 85mm
f/2, 85mm
f/5, 35mm
f/1.4, 35mm

Position Yourself Close to the Subject

The closer you are to your subject, the more shallower your depth of field will be.

Try taking a few steps closer to your subject to make a big difference in the amount of bokeh!

35mm, f/2
35mm, f/2
35mm, f/2
35mm, f/2
85mm, f/1.4
85mm, f/1.4

Move the Subject Away From the Foreground and Background

Asking your subject to take a step or two away from the background or foreground can make all the difference in creating better bokeh.

Look at the compression that is created by moving the subject just a few steps away from the background!

35mm, f/2
35mm, f/2
85mm, f/1.4
85mm, f/1.4

With these simple tips in your back pocket, you’re sure to achieve beautiful bokeh around your subjects during this holiday season. Have fun experimenting and capturing memories!

Images and lesson by Sarah Bednar

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