Welcome to Week Three of the Dash Kitten Fun Photo Projects for Cats.
After last week’s amazing and epic exploration of apps and their potential, I thought you might like to try something more relaxing this week. One idea, bokeh for beginners, one non-challenging project, one lovely result. Interested?
Let me introduce you to the magic of ‘bokeh‘.
You don’t need any expensive new equipment only the camera you have, and the ability to transfer images to your computer either by cable or wi-fi. Compacts, smartphones and DSLRs are all welcome. There is a Table of Contents to help you navigate your way through the post.
This Week’s Challenge is to take a photo using bokeh, or a bokeh filter (compact/smartphone)
Table of contents
- What is Bokeh?
- Bokeh Photography for Beginners
- Bokeh settings for DSLR Cameras
- Bokeh Effects with a Compact Camera
- Bokeh For Beginners with a Smartphone
- How Do I Pronounce Bokeh Anyway?
- The Other Challenges in This Series
What is Bokeh?
Bokeh is the lovely softness or blur that you can create, or add with a filter, to allow your cat’s face and figure to stand out from the background. The effect is different from ‘soft focus’ which gives the whole photo a hazy blur. Wikipedia describes Bokeh as “the quality of the blur produced in out-of-focus parts of an image”. The effect can be created with a DSLR camera, and replicated by a compact or smartphone camera.
Bokeh Photography for Beginners
How To Get The Best Bokeh Results
I will set out brief details of how to try this technique for compact cameras, DSLR cameras and Smartphones. While taking a photo with a DSLR for nice bokeh is easier, there are workarounds, and alternatives for other camera users to try.
Bokeh settings for DSLR Cameras
If you look online you might be overwhelmed by the amount of information about the best lens for bokeh, and the best how-to’s, and the best information. It might seem scary and technical. What I did on my photos was take it one step at a time and work out a few basic settings before I started.
Shoot your photos in Aperture Priority or Manual (if you are confident in manual mode). Manual lets you choose both your aperture and shutter speed. Aperture Priority lets you choose your f/stop letting your camera choose the right shutter speed for the photograph.
IYou do not need fancy lenses. I have taken some lovely cat photos with my favourite (and inexpensive) 50mm ‘nifty fifty’ Canon lens. All major brands have a similar option.
The photograph of Dot below is a personal favourite. The bokeh effect diffuses the foliage and distant cat into a soft abstract while Dot looks nice and sharp. I have added the settings below the image.
An alternative suggestion for Lenses
If you have a telephoto/zoom lens use that and zoom in close. The first image in this post, of Toulouse the tabby was taken with a telephoto lens from some distance away. The bokeh came out amazingly well as a result. I am thrilled and will use this method again.
Some people insist on a very fast lens. But read this from Nikon first. “Don’t worry if you don’t own a very fast lens. By increasing the distance between the background and your subject, you can see bokeh in images that are shot at smaller apertures like f/8.Nikon
This photo of a cat at the Neko Ngeru Cat Adoption Cafe shows one of my first attempts at bokeh. The background is slightly blurry but not very successful. This happens!
- NOTE: For DSLR users, I set too deep a depth of field so a lot of the background is more noticeable. A shallow depth of field (F5.6) would have been better. For non DSLR users, I would have got closer to Peanut and hoped that the background was far enough away.
Bokeh Effects with a Compact Camera
Before you get frustrated with your compact, remember that it was created for people to take pictures where everything will be in focus. These cameras are brilliant for pointing and focusing and being worry-free for holidays and family parties. But, having said that…….
Most digital compacts will be able to produce out of focus areas. The thing to remember is that your model needs to be very close to you and the background far away so set up your shot with as much care as you can. Your camera will focus on your cat and not focus on anything in the distance. This arrangement will allow you to fool your camera to achieve a soft bokeh.
- Make sure your cat is isolated from the background and focus on the cat. Anything else close by will be on focus too so make sure you remove these from the shot.
- Use a very well lit area or go outside. Good light is a photographer’s best friend.
- If your camera has an optical zoom – try zooming in fully with this and try shooting with this. The longer focal length can add more blur.
Your compact may have either Aperture Priority/Macro/Portrait modes and you can experiment with these too.
Bokeh For Beginners with a Smartphone
Smartphones fall into two categories. Single-lens or dual lens. There are triples too but if you have three it’s the same as two lenses so don’t worry. I cover each separately to void confusion.
Smartphones with two+ lenses
If you have a recent up-to-date Apple iPhone, Samsung or a Google ‘phone, there will be at least two lenses on your phone. These allow you to choose what you focus on, and what you leave blurry. and creates the cool bokeh effect on any of the photos you take. Look for ‘Portrait’ mode on your ‘phone or check your manual.
- Check your settings before you start taking photos. If you need to set it to ‘portrait’ then do so.
- Keep your cat front and centre.
- Work with good light as much as you can and no flash.
Smartphones with a Single Lens
My iPhone 6S only has one lens, and your ‘phone might too. For us there is one great answer that guarantees success.
‘There’s an app for that!’ With one lens you need the help of an app as your camera can’t create bokeh on its own. I have some cool recommendations to get you started. As you read about an app and its reviews you will begin to form your own opinions.
Bokeh apps do one of two different things to your photographs. They either blur the background of your photo or overlay a layer of soft blurry bubbles. I am recommending several here. One or two may mean paying to get something that does create a good bokeh effect. Check out the App Store (Apple) or the Google Store and look for anything with a four or five-star rating.
Here are a few well-regarded apps for your smartphone, and there are new ones being developed all the time. Check your favourite app to see if it has the option which could be called ‘portrait mode’.
- Auto Blur Background (iOS or Android). Recommended by many smartphone camera fans. Adjustable and easy to use.
- AfterFocus (iOS or Android) You can select the foreground and background, apply a shallow depth of field and add a bokeh effect. How-To use AfterFocus.
- Photoshop Camera (iOS/Android)
How Do I Pronounce Bokeh Anyway?
The word Bokeh is Japanese and many people find it difficult to pronounce (??). (/?bo?k?/ BOH-k? or /?bo?ke?/ BOH-kay Japanese: [boke]), so, if you are unsure, check out the video on this page. Fast forward to 1.20 in, you will hear the guy introduce a Japanese expert who pronounces the word correctly so you can use the word with confidence.
Beginners are welcome and I am happy to answer questions either in the comments OR thecrew AT dashkitten DOT com.
The Other Challenges in This Series
You can do any or all of the weekly challenges. This is a fun holiday project to lift our spirits in these tough times. A cat photo adds a touch of magic to every single day.
- Week One – A Portrait of Your Cat
- Week Two – Feline Fantasy Filters
- Week Four – Create a Cat Photo Collage
Marjorie is a motorbike riding blogger and award winning cat photographer who believes that everyone can create impressive cat photographs and fun movies with the camera they carry.
She is a Professional Member of the Cat Writers Association, Kuykendall Image Award winner and published photographer at the Guardian newspaper.