Introduction to Bokeh and Circle of Confusion

By on May 22, 2013 — Updated on August 16, 2013

Once you own a camera, you should not only know its purpose but also learn how to properly make use of it – generally true but often taken for granted.

Today, I hope that you are prepared to learn another basic yet helpful idea which you can use to manipulate you camera.

Remember this: To capture impressive pictures with beautiful effects, such as enhancing your main subject and making its background a little blurred, learn and fully understand the Bokeh effect. It is one of the popular techniques in creative photography which aims to create a blurred background image, and thereby making the main subject stand out.

Bokeh is pronounced as “bouquet” by professional photographers.

Bokeh from Christmas Light

What is Bokeh?

Bokeh has a Japanese origin which means “blur” or having a “blur quality” – use to producing photos with circles of blurred and translucent light. It is often associated with the aesthetic quality of blur; which means that the blurred areas of the picture are intentionally and artistically captured with certain purpose.

Basically, it is a result of shallow Depth of Field. Experts say that though it difficult to quantify Bokeh, it could be calculated by examining the Circles of Confusion of an image.

The most common shape of Bokeh is circle but, it may be varied depending on the quality of the Aperture. Some may have polygon shape like those being captured by a lens with an 8-blade aperture diaphragm.

The shape can also be artificially created by putting an artificial opening with special shape like heart, star or flower silhouette stuck in front of the lens.

How to Capture Bokeh

Macro and telephoto lenses can greatly help you achieve a stunning quality of Bokeh. Lenses with lower f/number like f/1.4 and f/1.2 are also very good to achieve more artistic blur.

Let me remind you this few things when capturing Bokeh:

  • Bokeh appear on the area of the image that is out-of-focus.
  • Colorful tiny lights like Christmas lights produces great aesthetic blur.
  • Depth of Field is your best partner on capturing Bokeh.

In other words, you need to achieve a shallow Depth of Field to produce more bigger Circles of Confusion and shoot against tiny lights so that the Bokeh will appear beautifully in the resulting picture.

Depth of Field in Photography

This photo has shallow DoF

What is Depth of Field?

On my previous post, I already talk about Depth of Field or DoF but let me mention it over here.

Depth of Field is the areas of sharp focus within an image. It is controlled by the focal length of lens, the aperture, and the subject-to-camera distance. Short focal length lenses, small apertures (such as f/22) and greater distance between the camera and the subject produce the largest Depth of Field. Long focal length, wide apertures (such as f/2.8) and closer subjects produces shallower Depth of Field. (Chris Rutter, 2007)

It is the reason why we have the term ‘focus’ and ‘out-of-focus’ in Photography.

What is Circle of Confusion?

It is quite complicated if I will show you mathematical calculations and formulas to figure out the why there is such circles, so let us make it simpler.

Circle of Confusion of CoC is an informal term for maximum permissible circle of confusion, the circle of confusion diameter limit, or the circle of confusion criterion.

[It refers to] the light that arrives in front of and behind the imaging chip of the camera. Visualize as a cone that narrows to a point at the chip. The point is where the image is in focus. Any slice off the cone on either side of the chip will look like circle. (Bob Brandon, 2005)

It is almost equivalent to Bokeh. In fact, it is also known as Bokeh Effect. While the term ‘bokeh’ is often associated with Aesthetics, CoC is associated with Science. However, in an informal conversation of photographer, these two terms are and can be interchangeably use.

Images: Blurred Lights by Petr Kratochvil | Woman By Alan Antiporda (Illusive Photography) (“Laughter – Explored!!!” at Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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  1. metalpig

    May 30, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    Hi Jyppe, great info about bokeh on photography! 🙂
    Btw, what”s your preferred camera brand – Nikon or Canon? 🙂
    I invite you to read: Unbelievable Lollipop Street ArtistMy Profile

    • Jyppe A. Quidores

      May 31, 2013 at 11:30 am

      I use Canon, so I preferred Canon. ^_^ I had ask about this many times and I always answer, “Canon”, but actually it depends on you, the user; If you find it comfortable the use Nikon then go for it.

      It is the photographs that people view on your gallery, not he equipment or the brand name of the camera you are using.

      Sometimes, it also depends on your budget and the specification of camera that you need.

      Personally, I like Canon because of the quality of lenses that this brand have, especially the white lenses which I am dreaming to have.
      I invite you to read: 4/2 Street Photography Tips You Need To Keep In MindMy Profile

  2. kasimir

    July 20, 2013 at 12:57 am

    How do you make your own circles of confusion? can you direct me to some links as to how to make this? I’d like to try this.

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