If you’ve ever heard this from a client or a friend or in a review, you know it! They’d go “Can you add more bokeh in this photo?”. The answer is easy! No! You can not.
And it’s not because you can not make the background more blurred. It’s because it just does not make sense. Bokeh and shallow depth-of-field (DoF) aren’t equivalent. Yes, Depth of field has some impact on bokeh, but it’s not the same thing, and you can not use those phrases interchangeably. Phrases like “give it more bokeh” hurt our sensibilities because it is nonsensical.
Bokeh is not a quantitative descriptor, it’s about quality. Yes, the amount of blurriness is part of what defines bokeh, but so are smoothness, shape, transitions, and a slew of other things that involve the lens optics. You’ve probably heard about swirly bokeh or bubble bokeh as well. Three is just no way to measure Bokeh, it has not quantity, hence you can’t give more or less bokeh.
I shot the photo above with a Nikon 50mm f/1.4 lens at its widest aperture – f/1.4 … You can easily see that it has a pretty shallow depth of field. F/1.4 shallow …. But still, the background looks “busy”. There is a pattern and a jitter to it. That busy pattern to the background distracts attention. It is intrusive. (Click on the image to see the full-size version.)
This is bad bokeh. Certainly of lower quality. Hey, you can add whatever negative adjective you want to it. However, no matter how much O opened the lens, I didn’t give the photo “more bokeh”. In fact, I can’t even give it “more bokeh” by using a different 50mm lens.
What I can do, is improve the look of the photo by using a lens with great bokeh that has smoother and more pleasing look.
So, for the love of all that is good on this planet, please stop using the word “bokeh” like this. You can have Good bokeh. You can have bad bokeh. You can have interesting, swirly bokeh when you use certain vintage lenses. But you most certainly can not have “more bokeh” or “less bokeh”.
About the Author
Neil van Niekerk is a photographer and an Emmy-awarded time-lapse videographer based in New Jersey, USA. He runs a photography studio in Fairfield, NJ. You can see more of his work on his website, YouTube, and the top-selling books he has written.