Creating great bokeh is all about relationships! (Seriously, stick with me here. 😁)
In order to create bokeh at all (or to increase the amount you already have in an image) the relationship from your camera to your subject, and your subject to the background, matters more than just about anything.
You can have a crazy f/1.2 or even f/0.95 aperture in your lens, but if you're far away from your subject or they are right up against the background you'll never get the smooth, blurry bokeh you're going for. That's not to say aperture doesn't matter, the relationship between aperture and bokeh is merely second place.
Aperture determines the amount of light coming into the lens, like the pupil in your eye, by opening large ("wide-open") or closing down. 👀 Wide open not only lets in a lot of light, but also limits and narrows down the amount of things that end up sharp and in focus (the "depth of field"). That's why a tiny little flower or mushroom can be sharp and the background is blurry at one moment, and then an entire valley full of flowers can be sharp the next moment. 🏞️
Changing the aperture (and distance to your subject) can make or break your bokeh. So next time you're shooting and want to maximize the blurry background of your portraits, or minimize it to shoot the entire Grand Canyon all at once, remember the relationship between distances and apertures. 🤔
I still remember the day it clicked for me, almost 8 years ago! I was shooting with my first DSLR, macro lens, and tripod (Canon 5d Mark II and 100mm f/2.8 USM) propped up against a small white daisy. 🌼
It was a warm Saturday afternoon in June and I'd walked into the restricted section of a local state park. 🤐😉
Shooting in Manual, before I fully understood why, I took a couple of shots between slight breezes that sent the daisy gently swaying side to side. For some reason, I distinctly remember switching my aperture drastically just to see what would happen. I knew the aperture brightened and darkened my images most of the time, but as the next shot was taken and appeared on the screen, a light bulb went off.
I finally grasped the effects of a shallow "depth of field" (DOF)! I saw it happen right before my eyes and switched from one shot to the other on the back of my camera, peering into the background of the little image to see how it came and went at different apertures. It is one of my favorite lessons in photography, let alone life, and is one of the most vivid examples of learning a new concept that I have. 😊
Do you remember when you learned how the relationship between aperture and depth of field works?
Did you ever have a moment of clarity and realization like it did? What caused it?
Let us know in a comment below and share your story with the community!