Fancy Japanese Word for Blur

Jed spoiled me for x-mas with a couple of new lenses for my camera, and as we tried out the 50-milimeter the other night, I don’t really know how I even survived without one for so long (seriously, with it I could probably find a way to fight back the Zombie apocalypse, it’s that frikkin’ great). It’s funny though, I was reading about it and what people used it for, and thought: “Hey, that sounds like something for me, I could really use that with the type of photos I’m taking”. At the same time Jed had already ordered me one, since HE observed was I was trying to accomplish and thought: “Hey, Jennie could really use one of these for the type of photos she’s taking”. Perceptive boyfriend is perceptive!

One great thing about it that I completely love is of course how much you can play with the depth of field. I find it a bit hard to trust the auto focus now though; with a low f-number like 1.8 you really have to make sure you get the focus exactly where you want it, and there is no trusting that tiny LCD-screen on the camera to see if you got it right (zoom in and make sure, valuable lesson…). F1.8 is so tight it’s even hard to get both eyes focused. I have to learn to balance it a bit; extremely narrow depth of field is fun, but on the other hand maybe you don’t want to make your subject look drunk:

The great effect you get is of course the blurry background. There is even a word for it: Bokeh (pronounced bo-keh). It’s Japanese, it seems photographers started using it in lack of a good translation. I guess “Look at that pretty blur!” doesn’t sound as fancy. But that is what it is about: The attractiveness of the blur, the aesthetics of the blur. It’s been suggested that, because it’s about aesthetic values, there is no point discussing “good bokeh” or “bad bokeh”, but rather speak of “pleasant” or “un-pleasant bokeh”. That said, also keep in mind it’s not about how far something is out-of-focus, but rather the character of it.

It’s a bit like when you were a kid and you made your eyes go all wonky and un-focused on a long and boring trip when you couldn’t fall asleep in the car. You’d sit there and watch the world go by with all the lights being smeared out of shape.

Just using the manual focus when aiming my camera at my old x-mas lights it’s easy to find different steps for different degrees of blur:

Of course you can use any light source and with different ones make loads of different cool effects depending on colour and mass. There is even a sort of prestige battle of the lenses going on. Expensive lenses have more leafs in their shutter, making the actual background blur rounder and prettier. Imagine that.

But here is the really nifty part:

What Jed suggested was that by locking the lens on the biggest aperture, and then punching a shape into a black cardstock and put that over the lens, we could force the bokeh into whatever shape we wanted. So we used one of my crafting punches to make a hole in a piece of paper, shaped like a dragonfly.

It’s cheap and ghetto, but it’s amazing how much you can do with some masking tape. Now, point your camera towards the light source and take a picture. The behold the awesomeness:

Put your subject far in front of the background lights. Try to focus (which might be hard when you live in a small shoe box apartment like mine) by doing a little footsy dance. I think we’d have done a bit better if we’d have used a tripod, but were a bit to excited to have time to set it up.

Of course, once we had done all this and there where paper and masking tape and stuff all over my apartment we found loads of ready-made kits you can by off the internet, but I think it’s sort of neat that it’s so easy to make yourself.

I can really recommend a Google picture search on bokeh, people do so many amazing and inspiring things with this method. My list of “Photos I’d like to take before I break my camera” grows longer.

2 Replies to “Fancy Japanese Word for Blur”

  1. Oh, you seem to be having so much fun – thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

    I am quite fond of my 50mm f/1.8, too, even though I’ve started dreaming about the f/1.4. Anyway, the 50mm is ideal for the day to day photographing we should all be doing. I wouldn’t take any of my other lenses since they’re all too big and heavy to carry around comfortably.

    Which other lenses do you have now?

    … just realised I haven’t checked today’s tulip (macro) photographs! *gone*

  2. @Mia* : I AM having so much fun, to think I had my camera for so many years and now the entire joy of it is just surfacing. I feel very content. I totally agree that the 50mm is awesome for day to day photography, it really makes a whole world of difference.

    I have my crappy kit lens (18-55), my 50mm and the zoom (55-200) (about which I had a horrible dream the other night that I broke it, buaaaah!)

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