When I was first learning how to shoot photography I was always drawn to the beautiful images with blurry backgrounds. The point of interest would literally pop off the page when the background was slightly out of focus. This blur is referred to as Bokeh (pronounced bo-ka), and it quickly became my mission to learn how this was done!

(Photo credits left: Shoot Fly Shoot and right: Heather Bullard)

A lightbulb moment for me was when I learned that creating this effect was all about depth of field, and this was accomplished with the lens. So what is depth of field? In a nutshell, it refers to how much of the image is in focus.

• Shallow depth of field = A small portion of the image is in focus leaving everything behind, and in front of, the point of interest blurry.

• Deep depth of field = A large portion of the image is in focus. Meaning, more of the image is sharp and not blurry.

Shallow depth of field


(Photo credit Maria Carr)

Here’s another look at depth of field from a different perspective:

Notice how in the top example only the flower being focused on is sharp. This is a very shallow depth of field. Where as in the bottom example, almost all of the flowers are sharp and in focus. This is accomplished with aperture. So what is aperture? Aperture is just a hole, or opening in your lens that can be made wide or small depending on the situation.

I used to think that the more expensive the camera, the better the photographs would be. But the truth is, depth of field is all about what lens you are using. Different lenses have different apertures, and that’s where the magic starts to happen. We go into this in detail in our Photography 101 class, but the key thing to keep in mind is simply:

• The bigger the aperture opening = the more shallow depth of field

And that’s the trick to beautiful bokeh! Do you use bokeh when you shoot?




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  • Pam

    Hi Kevin, Just purchased your photography 101 last week. ITS AWESOME, I have had my Nikon D90 for almost 3 years. I always wanted to venture off and start using manual but never could quiet grasp the whole concept. Thank you, your on line class makes it alot easier for a visual learner like myself.

    • shootflyshoot

      Thanks Pam! Your comment made my day! 🙂

  • Seriously Sassy Mama

    Thank for adding the pictures.  Being a visual learning it has helped me immensely.

    • shootflyshoot

      I am a visual learner also! Pics have always helped me to understand ideas! Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  • I love bokeh! I always try to get some kind of blurry background to help make the image pop! 🙂 

    • shootflyshoot

      Me too! On any kind  close up photography I really try to get the object of interest to pop off the page. 

  • LuAnn

    Kevin, I would really love to take your class. I have an iPad and can’t seem to watch any of the video’s. If I take the class will I be able to use my iPad?

    • shootflyshoot

      Hi LuAnn! We have a lot of users who watch the videos on their ipads. You may have to run the latest updates. All the videos are hosted on Vimeo, so you should be good to go!

  • I try to shoot bokeh but I don’t have the right lens. I only have the stock when that came with  my nikon. I need to invest in the other one soon 🙂 I can get it as low as 5 but that is it. Thanks for the tips 🙂

    • shootflyshoot

      Hey Jessica! Yeah, the lens makes all the difference! My 50mm lens changed the game for me.

  • I new what bokeh was, but it wasn’t until late last year that I learned that’s what the actual term was to describe the out of focus effect in images.

    I don’t use it that much, because the lens I currently have on my camera doesn’t give me the effects I’m looking for, but when I borrow my husband’s lenses, I like to experiment a little – I especially love it to photograph Christmas lights.

    • shootflyshoot

      Beautiful pic Susan! The ornament jumps off that background, that’s awesome! 🙂

  • Stacey Dawn

    Great tutorial.  I hope to take your class soon as I want to learn the ins and outs of the dreaded M (manual) mode!!  Thanks for the explanation!

    • shootflyshoot

      Thanks Stacey! 🙂

  • Michelle

    Thank you for your article.  I’m definitely a newbie and would like to start learning.  I have a Canon SX40 HS, it does not have a removable lens.  I tried to change the aperture to achieve bokeh but it didn’t work, the highest the aperture went was around 8.  

    My question is – can you point me toward some good info that can help me learn to take better pics with the camera I have?   The real reason I needed this camera is that I need to take good close up shots of product that I make and will be selling online.  

    Also, what kind of lens allows you the shallow depth of field that you talked about to achieve bokeh?  (We do have a 35mm film camera with a couple lenses).

  • Cheryl

    I have the 50mm lens for my canon 40d. I am having fun learning the manual mode, love your videos!!! I would like to shoot a family of four, but am concerned that all four faces will be in focus if I try to achieve bokeh, any advise? Thx