Better Bokeh in 5 Simple Steps

Once upon a time I had no clue what Bokeh was, let alone how the hell to pronounce it! Boh-kee. Bokay. Bo-keh. IMG_2618

According to a post I read recently, "bouquet" is most commonly agreed upon as correct.

So bokeh (bouquet) - I personally enjoy saying Boh-kee- is a technical term used for that nice blurry effect which you get in the out of focus areas of your photographs when you use a shallow depth of field.

Today I have 5 steps to practice for better bokeh.

1. Understand Depth of Field

Depth of field refers to the areas in your photograph which are in and out of focus. Shallow depth of field will create more out of focus areas and consequently more bokeh. A greater depth of field will ensure that more of your photograph is in focus. Remember a shallow depth of field means using a small f-stop value for a large aperture, and deep depth of field requires large f-stop numbers for narrow aperture.

To create beautiful bokeh use a shallow depth of field and a longer focal length (zoom in more).

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2. Different lenses create different Bokeh

While equipment doesn't always matter, all lenses are not equal, and this is especially evident when it comes to achieving beautiful bokeh. The circular or octagonal shape of a lens aperture is determined by how many blades are used to create the aperture opening and if they are curved or square edged.

Generally speaking a more expensive lens will use more aperture blades which are also rounded. This effectively creates a circular shaped aperture which is reflected in the bokeh.

IMG_28763. Get up close and personal

In the image above I had my aperture set at f/4.0 and you can see the reflected circles in the bokeh. Recreate this effect by zooming in close to your subject and by also making sure the background isn't too far away. You can see in the image below of the Kookaburra that although the background is still nicely blurred I haven't managed the same circular effect because the background is further away from the subject.

For absolutely stunning bokeh in images with a far away background choose a lens with a large aperture (f/1.4, f/1.8).

IMG_28584. Use the background effectively

When bokeh is your primary goal it can be easy to simply set your aperture to the lowest value and hope for the best, but this isn't going to get you the best results. Keep in mind that the background of your image is also important and offers perspective and valued details to your photograph as a whole.

Rather than simply trying to create a blurry background, focus instead on how you want your subject to be captured. Practice using DOF to find the right aperture to ensure what is and isn't in focus and what the eye is naturally drawn to. IMG_2885

5. Experiment

When you understand how depth of field and bokeh are related it's fun to experiment with different angle and perspectives to tell a different story. Instead of just focusing on having a blurry background, try blurry objects in the foreground.

Utilize your creativity and fun with it!

IMG_2887These photos were taken on a sunny winter afternoon in the Dandenong Ranges at SkyHigh.

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Photo of the Day: Prairie Dogs

I spent a hot afternoon at San Francisco Zoo today, and seeing these little Prairie Dogs was the best part of my day.  Due to the heat, most of the Zoo's animals were resting in the shade, but not these guys.

These two were hanging out sharing their bits of straw.

Well worth the visit in the heat!

This was shot at ISO 800, 80mm, f/5 at 1/800 sec on my 75-300mm lens.

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Hummingbird Photography

These tiny little hummingbirds are trying to make me go crazy! I think they are succeeding too, because despite all these shots I am still not entirely happy.IMG_2231

I have become kind of obsessed with photographing them, and my sole purpose at the moment is to get a perfect clear shot of one of these tiny speeding humming birds in flight with all their beautiful colour showing.

How amazing is the colour in this one!IMG_2428

I am starting to feel like capturing both flight and colour is impossible! I just spent 2 hours in the garden trying to achieve this with no luck.

I have been testing out my lenses and different settings and haven't quite got it right yet.

Most of these shots were taken with my 75-300mm lens on Shutter Priority at 1/1000 -1/1600, ISO 800 in full sun. Despite these tiny birds being the fastest I have ever seen, I think my long lens is the culprit. Its quite difficult to keep the lens still enough to get a shot of a moving object.

Anyway, I still have a week left here in Oakland, so I'm not giving up yet!

Wish me luck!IMG_2188

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While I was patiently sitting and waiting in the hot sun to get the perfect shot, Jasper was stealing my water.. IMG_2423

Photography at the Zoo

Photographing animals requires one thing above all else; Patience.

Whether you're photographing your own cat or dog at home, or if you're in an exotic location with wild animals, capturing them at the right moment when they are doing something amazing is difficult.

ISO 800, 100mm, f/4 at 1/40 Sec

You can't ask animals to change position or move to a new location. You have to wait for them to be in the right place and in the right light.

You can't ask them to do something interesting to make your photo better. You just have to wait until they do it, and be ready to capture it.

The only way you can get better at photographing animals is to observe and wait and practice.

A great place to do this is at your local Zoo. You get to practice photographing animals, and your entry fee goes to rare and endangered species conservation and research.

While I was in Portland a few weeks back I spent an afternoon at the Oregon Zoo to practice my skills. It was a rainy overcast day which is great for avoiding dark shadows and high contrast, but also meant there was less light to enable fast shutter speeds.

I had to go really high with my ISO settings (remember ISO increases/decreases your cameras sensitivity to light, but also increases noise at high ISO), and with my camera (which is a little old) this means an increase in grain. With full frame cameras you can set your ISO quite high without it affecting the quality of your photos, but not so much with cropped sensor, older cameras like mine.

I still have a long way to go when it comes to photographing animals/birds/any moving object, but I really enjoyed practicing at the Zoo.

Here's 5 quick tips for photography at the Zoo

1. Observe and learn

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Observe your subject and get to know some of it's habits, then find a position that works - no distracting wire or smudges on the glass- and stay there. You will notice certain patterns of behavior by simply observing them, and if you practice patience you can simply wait for your subject to come back into the frame you have set up. If you know you have a spot which works, it doesn't help to try chasing your subject around from outside the enclosure.

2. Minimize distraction

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Set up your shots with minimal distracting elements by getting in close and focusing on the eyes of your subject.

If you have to shoot through glass find a clean spot (or wipe it clean yourself) and get in close with a lens hood to avoid reflections.

If you have to shoot through wire get up close and use a high aperture (low f stop number) to ensure the camera doesn't focus on the wire.

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Either try to capture your subject so it seems like they're not enclosed, or use the enclosure as part of your image.

3. Get to know your camera

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While you are observing your subject take some practice shots to see whats going to work. There's nothing worse than missing an awesome shot because you haven't adjusted your settings.

If you want to freeze motion you need fast shutter speeds (1/500 sec or more), high ISO and wide open aperture. Use TV mode for action shots.

If you're shooting in low light you can increase aperture, and set the ISO quite high in order to decrease the shutter speed.

Practice with all three settings to find what works.

4. Be OK with imperfection

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Don't obsess over getting the perfect shot the first time. Think of each photograph as a lesson which you can learn more from.

Don't stress if you can't get a shot of a particular subject (the lion enclosure had huge sheets of filthy glass in front of it making it impossible to get a shot of them). It's ok if some of your shots don't work out.

Learn from each experience.

5. Enjoy the moment

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Don't forget to take time to actually appreciate where you are and what you are experiencing.

Consider the incredible animals you get to see and be respectful of the Zoo rules (don't try to climb on anything to get a better shot).

Conservation Zoo's conduct research and do what they can for endangered species.

If you are so inclined you can help out by purchasing a Zoo membership or even by volunteering.

If you are interested in photographing wildlife go to your local Zoo and practice your skills.

Here's a few extra shots from my afternoon at the Zoo.

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Photo of The Day: Smartphone Macro

30 Days Of Smartphone Photography Day 27

I can not even explain the amount of patience which was required for this shot! 

Flies are flittery, zipping, whizzing speedy little buggers and catching one while it's still is exceedingly difficult!

But I got him! It only took a few (many!) goes.

This is my photo of the day, taken with my Samsung Galaxy S II with my Photojojo Macro lens.

I am pretty impressed if I do say so myself!

Now you know what an American blowfly looks like. I did try to capture a wasp in action but it kinda got narky about (you need to be within an inch for macro shots) it so I left him alone.

Here's the obliging blowfly perched on a strawberry leaf. 20140709_171807

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