What is Bokeh Anyway?

One thing I like to do in my off-time (don’t laugh to hard, Mom, I do find off-time) is look through Flickr groups. I belong to like 75 of them now and holy hell, there are so many awesome photographers out there – I really enjoy looking through their work, getting ideas and being inspired like crazy.

But one thing that I have noticed is everyone seems to have a different idea of that crazy little word called BOKEH. I will see comments all over the place that say “nice bokeh!” … and I go back to the photo and scratch my head. Because I see NO BOKEH. Zero. Zip. Zilch.

My understanding is bokeh is this: Interesting patterns in out of focus areas that were created by shallow depth of field.

Bokeh is not just a blurry area caused by shallow depth of field.

For example…

Bokeh behind the berries!
Berry Bokeh

Nice depth of field, but NO bokeh!
The Point

Am I totally wrong? Am I being crazy picky?

It won’t be the first time.

This article has 24 comments

  1. Meghann

    I’m with you. Blurry spot does not automatically equal bokeh.

  2. Mary Lynn

    Myself, I had no idea what the term meant. However, I asked my hubby who is the photographer of the family. He agrees with you.

  3. monstergirlee

    ahem, uh yeah, The former, not the latter.
    I am guilty of using it wrong. And now that I recall it I do remember its not just out of focus, its as you described it.
    Not picky, correct.

  4. Lori

    The first time someone commented “nice bokeh!” on one of my photos, I had to Google the term. I agree with you, though: short DOF is a prerequsite for bokeh, but bokeh != DOF alone.

  5. laura - dolcepics

    I think there are different kinds of bokeh and bokeh is merely the “out of focus areas of an image” that can be aesthetically pleasing. So, both images have bokeh. The first photo demonstrates what I call “hollywood lights” bokeh which brings out the out-of-focus highlights. The second photo you have there has what I call “creamy-buttery” bokeh. It’s still aesthetically pleasing (very much so) so in my book, it’s still bokeh. The nit pickiness lies in the “quality” of bokeh (which has a lot to do with the lens). You can write a whole essay on that alone so I won’t even go there. 🙂

    Nice shots!

  6. laura - dolcepics

    Oh, and yes, I agree that blur is not bokeh… blur is totally different. Bokeh is intentional out-of-focus areas.

    Just read someone’s comment and thought it should be clarified.


  7. Nat

    It’s my understanding that bokeh is not shallow depth of field it has to make an interesting pattern. But I could be wrong…

    I have wasted so much time on flickr I am honestly ashamed of myself.

  8. kerrianne.org

    I, for one, am just thankful you functionally defined it for me.

    Also: I love that first picture.

  9. Tree

    From a very unartistic person, I love discovering things like this and realizing the technical issues and / or difficulties involved in great art! I learn so much.

  10. Anonymous

    I always thought what you did, but Dolcepics makes sense too.

  11. Irene

    You know, I never knew that! Of course, I have only been into this photography thing for about a year. But I never knew the pattern was an integral part of bokeh. I just thought it was being out of focus. Thanks for the insight. Now I can look a wee bit more intelligent…and I need all the help I can get!

  12. Aimee Greeblemonkey

    Hmm, Dolce, I see your point – but I still really think it should be an interesting pattern. But I also trust your opinion. Hmmm.

  13. Marge

    You mean to say it’s not the smell if the photo? Y’know, like wine?


    You are totally picking nits and I love it.

  14. MadameMeow

    Bokeh has to be intentional but is subjective — on Wikipedia’s entry for bokeh, there is a link to a dictionary of photography with a very good definition. Messy link is here: http://books.google.com/books?id=fu3akyrFZEMC&pg=PA45&ots=7Lz2nPD45H&dq=bokeh+focus&sig=ujPC1GSlFHGO3ysHLY8oy-r2ILY#PPA45,M1

  15. Ashleigh

    I agree.

    Bokeh is spot to be purposeful. Not just some blurred apsect of a photo.

    Great DOF is different than great bokeh.

    Here here!

  16. Bryan

    The first time someone said “nice bokeh” to me I was happy all day. Isn’t that enough?

    Maybe it’s like he word Smurf?

  17. Paige

    Yes I agree with you. The first one is bokeh. And it seems to me that bokeh is often created by patterns made by light in the background. Like light coming through trees or christmas lights.

  18. g-man

    It is my understanding that bokeh is the name given to the ring effect that an out of focus (DOF) point of light has. If there is no “point of light” like the sunlight in between the flowers of the first image, then there can be no bokeh, like the second image which has an even light in the blurry background.

  19. Grey Street Girl

    This is such an interesting debate. I’ve been feeling the same way too – out of focus does not always equal bokeh. But, if someone compliments my non-bokeh blur by saying, “Oh pretty, silky bokeh!” I’m totally, selfishly, okay with that. 🙂

    And, when one of those sites someone linked to talked about calculating blur, my head nearly exploded.

  20. Anonymous

    I am totally with you! Pet peeve of mine too!

  21. Rebecca F.

    Here is why I love your site. You have such an absolutely pleasant mix of technology, interesting stuff and family life.

    I had no idea what bokeh was but I sure did enjoy reading your post, examining the pics and then reading the comments left.


  22. Sue at nobaddays

    Bokeh or no bokeh: http://tinyurl.com/6cnrjo
    ??? I’m thinking bokeh.

  23. Mon

    Wow! Finally, someone like you enlightened me about this subject. Some people just say the word nice DOF or BOKEH without even analyzing what they are trying to imply. Your two fotos explained it precisely what you meant. Thanks…

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