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Thread: Bokeh vs shallow Depth of Field

  1. #1
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    Bokeh vs shallow Depth of Field

    So when is it good Bokeh or just shallow depth of field? Lets discuss...

    Definition:
    Bokeh (derived from Japanese, a noun boke 暈け, meaning "blur" or "haze") is a photographic term referring to the appearance of point of light sources in an out-of-focus area of an image produced by a camera lens using a shallow depth of field. Different lens bokeh produces different aesthetic qualities in out-of-focus backgrounds, which are often used to reduce distractions and emphasise the primary subject.
    When the term Bokeh is used it usually refers to the aesthetic quality of the OOF part of the image; not just the fact it is OOF.

    Using recent images of mine - is this good Bokeh or just OOF background?

    Please post your own images to the thread for discussion as well !

    I had to clone out a 2nd powerline on this one as well.


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    I would say #1 is Bokeh and #2 is DOF.

    Here are a few of mine, First 2 are Bokeh I think, the last is just good DOF control





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    Just having a read about Bokeh and there are some interesting thoughts, I think the line is blurred from what is OOF DOF and what is Bokeh, they may overlay at a point.

    "Bokeh describes the appearance, or "feel," of out-of-focus areas. Bokeh is not how far something is out-of-focus, bokeh is the character of whatever blur is there. "

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    Quote Originally Posted by DzRbenson View Post
    Just having a read about Bokeh and there are some interesting thoughts, I think the line is blurred from what is OOF DOF and what is Bokeh, they may overlay at a point.
    "Bokeh describes the appearance, or "feel," of out-of-focus areas. Bokeh is not how far something is out-of-focus, bokeh is the character of whatever blur is there. "
    Exactly! So what is good Bokeh? - hence this thread. I agree with your assessments above.

    The pleasing aesthetic aspects of the background are what is important.

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    If its just out of focus to me that is what it is, however if there are highlights that are OOF and certain shapes, that starts to create Bokeh.

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    I've heard good bokeh described as 'creamy'. To me, there is a smoothness and lack of shape to it. I don't believe that a busy background that is inadequately out of focus or blurred could ever have good bokeh.

    Here are my bokeh offerings...the colour in the first is deliberate





    I think the first is bokeh...the second would be debateable.

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    First, here's an example of extremely shallow DoF. F1.2
    No.1


    Pleasing background? Subject isolation?
    No.2


    Smooth Creamy background. Is it just out of focus or good Bokeh.

    No.3
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    The way in which I see(and judge) bokeh:

    Magpie shot. Technically bad bokeh if you try to maintain the line that good bokeh is supposed to be pleasing, but in that magpie image the nervous looking bokeh isn't so bad.
    It probably stems from the fact that it's uniform, and it makes a mottled lke effect which you'd normally see as a backdrop for a portrait studio... so in this particular case it looks more than acceptable. But if it were my lens at those settings, I'd be watching that kind of bokeh carefully.
    Rose shot. Perfect bokeh! You can clearly make out the shapes of the background and it's 'buttery' smooth, or creamy as the regular terminology dictates. I'd have no hesitation in using that lens with now much care to how the bokeh would be rendered, as long as it's rendered consistently nicely across the aperture and focus distance range.

    DzR's images:
    #1 bokeh looks like it's bordering on being nervous(top right corner). It's starts to show a small level of nervyness, even though it's looks well controlled, as there is a nice smoothness coming out. Another lens I'd be careful of if I want good bokeh.
    #2 better bokeh. There are small circular highlights, but you can see that the circle is not perfectly formed or defined, mainly at the edges of the frame.
    #3 that looks like a slightly more closed down aperture setting(I haven't checked the exif data for the vitals ). Bokeh is bokeh and regardless of how well you control DOF it makes no difference as to how well a lens's blur will render. You can minimise the impact of bad bokeh by varying aperture and focus distance to the subject, but the only way you can make bad bokeh look OK is by PPing it with gaussian blur(or whatever)

    I have two 50mm primes and from memory the Siggy 50/1.4 renders bokeh much nicer than the Nikon 50/1.2 at wider apertures. I think(from memory again) at about f/4 or so, the Nikon 50 is quite ok.

    Heck! even the damned 500mm mirror lens can produce 'good' bokeh, and we all know how badly they render bokeh with their ugly donut shaped highlights! But used in a specific manner, it can enhance the image in a weird manner....


    once again.. it is technically bad bokeh(as it's from the mirror lens) But I think it looks appropriate for the scene, and was rendered how I wanted it to be. I wanted it to be a ghoulish looking scene, and I remember whilst in Adelaide, Nicole was with me when I decided it was time to bring out the mirror lens for this scene and take many steps back, where I could have just used the 80-200/2.8, but it wouldn't have created the blurred donut rings to try to make the ghoulish faces I wanted.
    I that case the bokeh actually looks good(to me).. and normally if I use the 500mm for what it was intended for, that is long reach, I almost invariably gaussian blur the horrid looking donut highlights out in PP.

    many really fast primes will usually render bokeh badly at their two fastest aperture settings, I noticed that the Siggy looked a bit better than the Nikon(AF-S) in that respect, after all I wanted a fast prime so it has to work best at it's fastest.. even though the Siggy cost more, was bigger, heavier, and!!...... a Sigma, not a Nikon!!

    I think as with most forms of art(and bokeh really is about art) it's very subjective and some people just like different.

    I think that totally obliterated backgrounds, of which you see lots of in bird photos taken with super tele lenses, is not bokeh... it's just a blurred background, and as long as it's not over exposed too much, it'll always look nice.
    Any lens can do that if it allows a great amount of subject isolation, ie. can focus close enough on a subject that is far from the background.

    Anyhow!.. I'll post some comparos taken with my two fifties.
    Nikon D800E, D300, D70s
    {Nikon} -> 50/1.2 : 500/8(CPU'd) : 105/2.8VR Micro : 180/2.8ais : 105mm f/1.8ais : 24mm/2ais
    {Sigma}; ->10-20/4-5.6 : 50/1.4 : 12-24/4.5-5.6II : 150-600mm|S
    {Tamron}; -> 17-50/2.8 : 28-75/2.8 : 70-200/2.8 : 300/2.8 SP MF : 24-70/2.8VC


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    OK, here goes nothing

    As I think of it, bokeh is how the out of focus highlights appear in the image, no highlights no bokeh, with most images it should be soft at the edge like a feathered brush in a paint program, sometimes it looks like a doughnut this being (imho) the worst, with some cases it is very distinct like in my example below, a very sharp dedicated macro lens with a lot of very bright highlights, you can even count the number of blades in the iris (they are octagons so 8 straight blades), in this case (imho ) improving the image.


    Where as this is most definitely oof due to a verrrrry narrow dof with only a few highlights providing some bokeh.


    Cheers David
    c&c always welcome, both good and bad, provided it is constructive.
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    wow, there are some superb images here.

    the oof area is boke (often mispelled incorrectly of 'bokeh ). we then need to describe the boke. boke can set a good lens apart from a really good lens. in japanes, boke means haze or out of focus. it has nothing to do with highlights in the boke or out of focus area. boke is always used in conjuction with another describing word/s such as harsh, nice, painterly et al. boke on its own tells us nothing.
    Attached Images Attached Images

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    JMT... Like #2 the best - if we talk about quality of light - #3 is just DoF.
    Good examples.

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    Kym, you can't say #3 is just DoF. You can say #3 has a shallow DoF. Every image has DoF, whether its large, small or otherwise. If an image has an out of focus area, then it has boke. Whether it is pleasing boke or not needs to be clarified and is entirely at the discretion of the viewer.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TOM View Post
    Kym, you can't say #3 is just DoF. You can say #3 has a shallow DoF. Every image has DoF, whether its large, small or otherwise. If an image has an out of focus area, then it has boke. Whether it is pleasing boke or not needs to be clarified and is entirely at the discretion of the viewer.
    I think the terminology is interesting. You make a good point.

    Most take the term Bokeh (at least colloquially and in most photographic press) as a qualitative term; which is why i started the thread.

    Yeah - to me #3 above is just shallow DoF.
    But #2 has a very pleasing OOF light; aka Bokeh.

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/bokeh
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bokeh (refers to Japanese boke)
    http://www.idigitalphoto.com/dictionary/bokeh
    http://knowledgerush.com/kr/encyclopedia/Bokeh/

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    yeah Kym, am American editor coined the term bokeh in lieu of boke to stop confusion.

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    I am out of my league here but maybe it is when the out of focus foreground and or background tells a story like in the second pic above, it is a lady on a night out in town, even though we don't see her or the city.
    I would call this DOf but the first of the flowers are more surreal to bring out the colours of the flowers and the backgroud has no story to it.
    Maybe this is the bokeh.
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    I can see where Kym is coming from, regarding the pics that I posted from my travels, 1 and 2 definitely screams out BOKEH straight away, whereas when you look at the 3rd the first thing that comes to my mind is oh wow look at that DOF, not bokeh - hence the reason I posted 3 different types of bokeh/DOF photos for debate

    but if u were to rate the most aesthetically pleasing in terms of bokeh, then #1 takes the cake IMO

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    wow look at that DOF
    ...or lack thereof

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    Quote Originally Posted by JM Tran View Post
    ....

    but if u were to rate the most aesthetically pleasing in terms of bokeh, then #1 takes the cake IMO
    My personal preference for rating bokeh(and I always use that spelling as it's relating specifically to photographic material, and not Japanese vocabulary).. using JM's samples; #2 has better bokeh, whereas #1 is just a shallow DOF, with a nice pattern.
    Technically speaking any lens with the ability to focus closely can produce the 'bokeh' seen in #1, but it's much harder to produce in #2, and the lens needs to be a great lens to do that.
    #3 looks a little harsh from the center right to the far RHS, where I can see vertical lines, not completely uniform and thus distracting.(curious as to which lens?)

    I've rated all of my lenses in terms of bokeh rendition(taking the 500mm out of the equation)and the Tammy 17-50 is certainly my weakest lens(despite how good the lens actually is!) then the 50/1.2 up to about f/2, and all of the others seem to get better(my Tammy 70-200/2.8 is not as good as the Nikon 80-200/2.8 I used to have though.
    My best lens for bokeh is the Nikon 105VR, closely followed by the Sigma 50/1.4.

    All that means is that when I use a certain lens, I either have to consider the background or not.. it's that element of thinking about your photography, referred to in another thread.
    Actually! I think I just figured out why I seem to prefer the Tammy 28-75 over the 17-50, even though the 17-50 is the sharper of the two lenses. On the (lower res)D70s, sharpness was everything and trying to extract (more)detail was more difficult, so the 17-50 was favourite. Now with the D300, detail isn't as important as there is 'enough' of it for my purposes, but overall image quality is important, and the 28-75 has good to excellent bokeh rendition.

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    Kym I forgot to comment on your OP, my opinion on the first pic is that it has a pleasing boke, or a pleasing OOF area. The second image has plain boke; not pleasing, not unpleasant.

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