• Posted on
  • By Ben Stephens

We Love BOKEH!

Photography is our passion – the pursuit of the best image is our motivation. At Leica, this includes everything from camera designers to Leica Store employees, from amateur to professional photographers. Often, the quest for the best image focuses on the technology of the products. However, emotions are triggered especially by fantastic photographs.

Leica Stores around the globe are becoming places to experience our passion – each for a period of three months – with selected topics from the world of photography. The first topic is bokeh. Find true inspiration when you visit a Leica Akademie course or visit one of our Leica Stores to directly experience our passion.


What is bokeh?

Sharp, unsharp, bokeh – the intentional unsharpness in an image is called bokeh. A bokeh may appear creamy, or may express itself in the form of soft rings or delicate highlights.


What characterises a good picture?

Bokeh-lovers would answer: a depth of focus as shallow as possible and background details as if seen through a mist. Photos with bokeh reveal the invisible – the air, the night, poetry.

The term bokeh originates from the Japanese word for ‘unsharp’ or ‘diffused’, and describes the parts of a picture that are not sharply rendered.


This unsharpness is by no means due to any form of aberration caused by the lens, it is much more the unsharpness in front of and behind the plane of focus that results from the chosen parameters – focal length, aperture and the distance from the main subject. In terms of the desired visual effect, background-bokeh is often more important than foreground-bokeh.

Bokeh pictures always have something magical, surreal or fanciful about them. The bokeh-technique is particularly suitable for the communication of moods. The intensity of bokeh varies from lens to lens. A useful rule-of-thumb says: the faster the lens, the more pronounced the bokeh.


What is the effect of bokeh in that picture?

It frames the woman’s face and upper body, establishing direct eye-contact with the subject. It sharpens the view of the model and creates space for the story told by the atmosphere of the portrait. Context. Mood. Composition. Atmosphere.


© Christoph Gellert


The face has a special plasticity. Soft, creamy and flowing bokeh on clothes and background create a perfect frame. Creative freedom for the story behind the portrait. A picture like this is the result of choosing a background with rich contrasts with sufficient light, ensuring a short distance to the main subject and using a large maximum aperture.


What is the effect of bokeh in that picture?

Due to the bokeh, the focus in this picture is on the yellow rose, while the pink flower in the foreground melts into the background. Both flowers are isolated by extremely smooth transitions. The picture achieves its gentle subtlety and beauty through the use of bokeh. In addition to concentration and focus, this also creates a connection between the different planes of the picture.


In its own special way, this photograph displays the fragility of beauty and shows a fleeting moment of perfection in perfect harmony. A picture like this is the result of choosing a background with rich contrasts with sufficient light, ensuring a short distance to the main subject, a long distance from the background and using a large maximum aperture.


What is the effect of bokeh in that picture?

In this picture, the photographer has captured a fleeting moment. Here, the artistic excitement of an everyday situation is create to some extent by the bokeh mistily veiling such details as the gender, age and attractiveness of the person in the background. For viewers of this picture, the bokeh generates curiosity, despite – or as a direct result of – an anonymity that creates an motional bond between the viewer and the subject.

The photograph is emotive, but without intimacy, the upright structures and elements in the foreground stand in stark contrast to the emotions expressed by the background-bokeh. The result is an emotional snapshot that consciously withholds the details.

In this photograph, the focus was set tightly on the window shade. The decisive moment is the central theme. Nevertheless, it is still important that ensure that careful composition is not left out of the equation. A sufficiently bright background and the use of the lens wide open are obligatory.


What is the effect of bokeh in that picture?

In this hectic urban scene, the bokeh creates an extraordinary sense of peace and leads the eye of the viewer to the woman’s glance. The sensuality of this portrait is emphasised by the soft background. Mood, vitality, ambience and peacefulness are the aspects bokeh adds to this picture.

The atmosphere of the night and the loud, vibrant city are positively tangible – the sensual portrait stands in contrast to the turbulent setting. The bokeh lends this photograph plenty of room for fantasising.

For this picture, a model was photographed in a sensual pose in an urban setting unusual for such poses. What is essential here is the precise reading of the light in this setting. The background with its multitude of different highlights is what makes this picture unique. Once again, shooting wide open is obligatory.