Photography students embrace blur

Photos by students in MCOM 1316/News Photography

It’s a quality called “bokeh”.  (It’s not easy to pronounce by the way.)  The term bokeh comes from a Japanese word which has a number of translations.  Most photography websites explain “bokeh” translates into “blur” or “haze.”

In photography, bokeh refers to parts of a photograph that are deliberately (and hopefully pleasingly) out of focus.

And it’s not easy to achieve so it looks good.  Just ask the students in COMM 1316 News Photography.  They recently gave bokeh a try.

Students used the widest apertures they could on their cameras’ lenses.  One of the lenses opened to about f3.5.  But for the best bokeh effect, students tried using a Canon RF 50 mm f1.8 lens.  This allowed for a much wider aperture.  That’s one of the keys to bokeh.

Other important elements include having points of light in the distance, and low ISO camera settings.  Next, comes focus.  The photographer tries to focus on a subject or object close to the lens with the distant light behind the subject.

Students first tried heading outside and focusing on small leaves with sunlight twinkling behind them.  Some were able to achieve soft, pleasing circles of “blurred” light in the background. That’s what good bokeh looks like.   

Next students tried going to the darkened SPC TV studio with a giant water jug or clear plastic bucket, Christmas lights hanging on a ladder, and tripods.  It was difficult to find the right focus.  But here students achieved smallish circles with f3.5 aperture and larger ones at f1.8 aperture.  

There were actually gasps of surprise in the studio when students tried covering their lenses with different black cardboard circles.  Each circle had either a star or a heart cutout in the middle.  By holding a cutout over the lens, the bokeh circles take on different shapes.

It takes a lot of practice.  But judging by the resulting photos and student smiles it’s worth the effort.

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