Shroom by Peter Bargh
Bokeh is the term used to describe how good the out of focus blur, which is usually in the background, looks. Good bokeh will show attractive out of focus highlights and how the lens you're using is designed and the shape of its aperture play an important role in creating bokeh that works. Different apertures and how far you are from your subject also effect how good the bokeh will look in your shot.
The shape of your lens aperture will change depending how many blades are used and what shape they are. These blades are what open and close to let more/less light through on to the sensor. The more blades there are, the rounder the opening will be which can mean the shape of the out-of-focus highlights in the background of your shot (the bokeh) will be more circular. Generally, the more expensive lenses have more blades and as a result they generally create bokeh that's more pleasing. Longer lenses tend to produce better results too, however some lenses will produce better bokeh in some situations than others so try putting your lens to the test, shooting close up portraits against a background that has highlights that can be thrown out of focus.
Depth Of Field
You may think that using the maximum aperture will give you the best results but sometimes it's worth using a slightly smaller aperture so you can still make out some of the shapes in the background of the shot. Make sure you focus on your subject at the front of the frame too so everything behind can fall nicely out of focus. Putting a little distance between your subject and the background will also help enhance the effect. If you don't have a subject in the foreground and are going for a more abstract shot you'll need to focus manually.
Play With Shapes
You don't just have to settle for circular out of focus highlights as your can use black card and a pair of scissors to change the shapes that appear. You need to decide on a shape cut it out of the card then fast the card around your lens like you would a lens hood. Try to not make your shapes too small or complicated as they won't stand out very well in your final shot.
Get Out At Night
During the evening the glow coming from various colourful lights in towns and cities make perfect backgrounds for this technique. Just remember to use a longer lens with a wide aperture, focus on your subject and everything in the background of your shot should glow. Keep an eye on your shutter speeds when working in low light as if you drop too low it can cause the lights in the background to blur rather than glow so you may need to increase your ISO.
Try shooting close-up portraits against a background of foliage where the speckles of light can be turned into out of focus highlights. Sun glinting off water and glass can also be turned into blurry circles of light too. You can also use fairy lights indoors to create out of focus coloured circles.
Updated August 2013.
Use a longer focal length
Switch to a wider aperture
Focus on your subject
Put a little distance between your subject and the background
Backgrounds with individual, glowing points of light work well
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