The Art of Balancing Bokeh

Bokeh is derived from a Japanese word “ぼけ” (Boke). In case someone don’t know, it is referring to the out-of-focus blur background/foreground created. It is often used to separate unwanted thing from the subject you wish to present in your photos. Japanese photographers also often use “Tama bokeh” means round/ball bubbly bokeh and “Mae bokeh” means bokeh that is in front of the image.

Fuji X-E4 . Fuji XF70-300mm F4-5.6 R LM OIS WR @300mm . f6.4 . 1/500” . ISO 320 . Classic Chrome
Fuji X-E3 . Fuji XF35mm F1.4 R @35mm . f2 . 1/80” . ISO 2000 . Edited in post

Side note:
In 2021, camera sensor in the smartphone is not as big as what digital camera sensor has (or at least the size of M43 or APS-C). Hence, smartphone manufacturers use computational imaging and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create or mimic bokeh result and sometime we get to see weird results from the shots. There is still a huge step for the manufacturers to achieve the results from the bigger camera sensor but that future should be very near. I believe we will get to see amazing piece of tech in the next decade. And implementing 1 inch sensor in the flagship smartphones in the beginning of this era. I am eager to see a M43 or APS-C size sensor to be equipped in the smartphones somedays.

Side note 2:
Over here, this is just a discussion over bokeh and there is no involvement in specific brands and lenses. The photos show here is for illustration purpose.

Fuji X-T3 . Fuji XF35mm F1.4 R @35mm . f2 . 1/80” . ISO 3200 . Classic Chrome

Back to the story. Recently, I have a discussion with photographers of mainly enthusiastic hobbyists and commercial professionals about the art of bokeh. It is a nice session and bring up lots of perspectives and opinions among the rest. Below are my views of the art of bokeh.

Fuji X-T2 . Fuji XF18-55mm F2.4-4 R LM OIS @48.2mm . f4 . 1/8000” . ISO 200 . Classic Chrome
Fuji X-E4 . Fuji XF70-300mm F4-5.6 R LM OIS WR @300mm . f5.6 . 1/110” . ISO 320 . Classic Chrome

In my opinion, the objective of the bokeh is to allow the main subject being separated background/foreground and get notice by the viewers immediately (otherwise, some creative shots taking advantage of the bokeh). However, if the bokeh steals the limelight or distracts the viewer from the main subject (if that is intentional), i think this is consider failing its objective. So balancing the art of bokeh and the subject is important. The best is having the smooth transition of sharp subject to blurring background with a nice fade off / melting effect. With this, I believe our eyes are more comfortable and stay more focus on the right subject.

Fuji X-T3 . Fuji XF35mm F1.4 R @35mm . f4.5 . 1/80” . ISO 640 . Classic Chrome
Fuji X-E4 . Fuji XF50mm F1 R WR @50mm . f1 . 1/400” . ISO 160 . Classic Chrome

Having a large aperture lens and setting it to the largest aperture (f stop) value does not mean you are going to have a smooth decent sharp subject & bokeh relationship. It might results in busy or nervous bokeh causing distraction. In some situations, stopping down the f stop a little might helps to improve the overall photo result. Other elements such as the number of blades, the optical glass elements configuration and the distance from the subject and background also play a role in achieving the balance. Not forgetting that available light source is one of the more important elements to consider too.

Fuji X-E3 . Fuji XF55-200mm F3.5-4.8 R LM OIS @200mm . f5.6 . 1/1100” . ISO 200 . Classic Chrome

So what I think is we need to understand how the lens can achieve the balance between the bokeh and the subject and we definitely need to experience the lens more by shooting more with it. I do believe there is no horrible lens in today’s technology, every lens can also achieve the balance within its own capability.

Fuji X-T3 . Fuji XF50mm F1 R WR @50mm . f1 . 1/1400” . ISO 160 . Edited in post.
Fuji X-T3 . Fuji XF50mm F1 R WR @50mm . f1 . 1/550” . ISO 160 . Edited in post.

As of today, I am still learning to find the balance. There is no right or wrong answer to the art of bokeh. It is just individual preference and taste. And I guess this is where I find interesting in photography.

Fuji X-E4 . Fuji XF70-300mm F4-5.6 R LM OIS WR @300mm . f5.6 . 1/10” . ISO 3200 . Classic Chrome

For more of my photos, do follow me below:
https://www.instagram.com/alwinkok_
https://www.instagram.com/alwin.portraits

Disclaimer:
1. All the shots taken here were shot by me.
2. I reserve ownerships to these images
, if you wish to use my images for whatever reasons, please notify me and we can see how to works thing out.

Thank you for reading.

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