Achieve Bokeh With Shallow Depth-of-Field [ReelRebel #40]

Achieve Bokeh With Shallow Depth of Field [ReelRebel #40]

"Bokeh" makes your footage look more film-like: a creamy-blurred background with a sharp, in-focus image in front of it.  Derived from the Japanese word (boke) for a mental fog, it's best created by using a large sensor camera, like a Canon DSLR, combined with a fast lens.  But there are plenty of other considerations: like how much space you have between your subject and the background, the f-stop settings on your camera, and the focal length of the lens you are using.  So let's take a look at how to create this so-called "bokeh."

Finding Bokeh With Your Camera

For shallow depth-of-field:

1. Consider Your Spacing

Put as much space between your subject and the background as possible.  15 feet is a great start.  It will throw the background out of focus and cause a nice smooth blur that gives the video a 3D feel.

2. Consider Your F-Stop

Grab a lens with a large maximum aperture, one that has a setting of f/2.8 or lower.  f/1.8 or lower is even better.  Your aperture settings will play a big factor in creating your depth-of-field.  The lower the f-stop, the more shallow the depth-of-field, and the more "bokeh" your image gets.  The higher the f-stop setting, the more everything will be in focus and therefore less "bokeh."

For example, try pointing your camera at a small light, such as a Christmas light, and go through all of your aperture settings from f/15 and "stop down" as low as your lens will allow.  As the f-stop gets lower you should see the light become a smooth, round circle as it goes out of focus.

3. Consider Your Focal Length

Somewhere on your lens is a measurement that shows the focal length in millimeters.  The higher the focal length (200 mm for example) the further away your lens will reach and the easier it will be to create shallow depth-of-field.  A shorter focal length (something like 24 mm) will require you to put more distance between the subject and the background in order to get the background out of focus.

For more about interchangeable lenses, look at this awesome article.

And if you don't want to learn more about focal length, definitely don't click on this link.

View The Full Video Transcript:

Hey, I’m Stephen Schweickart with this episode of the Reel Rebel and I’m here today to give you some more tips about how you can make your footage look awesome. Specifically, how to create shots with great shallow depth of field and "Bokeh"!

Having what we in the industry like to call "Bokeh" in your shots is a great way to make your footage look more film like. For you newbies who are having your mind blown with all this industry "slanguage" it simply means having a creamy, blurred background and a sharp in-focus subject in front of it. Using large sensor cameras like a Canon HDSLR combined with a fast lens is perfect for achieving this effect in your images and video.

So, if we're all on the same page and you want to start adding some SWEET shallow depth of field to your productions, there are three main things you're going to want to keep in mind… so listen up, while I break em down for you - here goes…

Number ONE: You should put as much space between your subject and the background as possible. Having your subject significantly separated from the background will throw the background out of focus and create that nice, smooth blur that we're looking for to give our image or video that three dimensional feel. But slow down turbo! it's not that simple - your camera needs to be set up correctly too; which brings me to my next point….

Number TWO: Grab a lens w/ a large maximum aperture. Once your subject is far enough from the background (usually 15' or so should do the trick) the next step will be to use a fast lens w/ a maximum aperture setting of f/ 2.8 or lower - f1.8 or lower is even better. As we'll see in number three, it's not the only factor, but in general, your aperture settings will play a huge role in determining your depth of field. The lower the f-stop, the more shallow the depth of field and the more "bokeh bits" in your image. The higher the f-stop setting, the more everything will be in focus - less bokeh. To exaggerate an example of this you can point your camera at small light (like a christmas light) and go through your aperture settings starting at f-15 and go down as low as your lens will allow. As your f-stop gets lower, you should see the light become a smooth round circle as it goes out of focus

Finally, number THREE: Pay attention to your focal length - this makes a big deal too… If you're not sure the focal length of a your lens, just pick it up and take a look - it should be expressed as millimeters somewhere on the body of the lens or right on the front. The higher the focal length - 200mm for example, the further away your lens will reach and the easier it will be to create shallow depth of field. A lens w/ a shorter focal length - like 24mm say, will require you to put more distance between your subject and background in order to throw that background out of focus and get some bokeh happening.

To wrap everything up, creating great beautiful Bokeh is as simple as managing the distance between your subject and background or foreground - works the same way, your aperture aka f-stop settings and the focal length of your camera's lens. Just get all three dialed in - or at least two and you'll be taking your playful pet videos up a notch and really increase you Youtube hits…meow!

As always, subscribe for more killer tips and throw us a comment or two if you have any questions or even if you disagree with anything we said today. After all, we are just makin this stuff up as we go along

About the Author -
Chris Atkinson joined ReelSEO in 2011. He is a longtime film and television reviewer, and has almost two decades of experience in the theater industry. He also writes on his personal blog - http://nymoviereviews.com. View All Posts By -

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