Beginner Cat Photo Skills

How to Capture Stunning Bokeh

Welcome to Week Three of the Dash Kitten Fun Photo Projects for Cats.

After last week’s amazing 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)

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.

Cat Gazing out of a window. Soft focus background.
Bokeh – Toulouse with distant foliage background. ISO 200 178 mm F5.6 1/40 ©

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.

You 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.

Cat portrait. Cat sat on a seat.
ISO 2500 55 mm F 5.6 1/800 © Dash Kitten

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.

Cat posed on the floor looking at the camera
Not my best early bokeh © ISO 800 55 mm F 16 1/250

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.

Versatile compacts can try bokeh 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.
closeup of a smartphone's camera
iPhone 11 showing 3 lenses

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.

portrait of a senior cat.
Harvey – Bokeh effect – Photo Lab ©

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 or,
  • 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.

11 thoughts on “How to Capture Stunning Bokeh”

  1. I need to try this setting on my smart phone. The only problem I usually have is there is very little natural light in my home

  2. First Merry Christmas and thank you for the blog hop.

    I love this idea and a new idea for me which I am going to try. My friend gave me a camera which I am learning and hopefully it will have that setting. The photos are amazing.

  3. I love this! Thank you for taking the time to not only break down the concept of bokeh but also sharing your early attempts. It’s always nice to see how someone else has progressed to inspire us to continue working at improving. I have been playing with bokeh on my DSLR for a while now, but never taken it too seriously or actually focused on improving it as a technique. That being said, I think this is going to be something I will focus on throughout the holiday season while on lockdown!

  4. I love soft effects like that. Usually, I use Camera Raw Photoshop filter for similar effects on photos of my dog.

  5. This is a neat app. Aww sweet Harvey! I usually only test out apps that are necessary however, this is a great one to share. I’ll have to pin this post. Good luck to the participants!

  6. I love the photo examples you posted. I’ve seen Bokeh photos before and have even edited my own photos to look similar, but I never even knew there was a name for that type of effect.

  7. I always love seeing photos with great Bokeh. I use it a lot when taking photos out in nature. 🙂

  8. That was really interesting, we didn’t really know much beyond what Bokeh is generally. Wonderful photos!


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