Bokeh at Small Apertures

Maybe it’s just a cactus in the sun.  Maybe it’s not a cactus – a succulent?  I’m not a botanist and I’m too lazy to use the google.  In any case, I like it.   But technically there is something else going on.  Photo nerds, follow me down.

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What you’ve got is an out-of-focus background.  Bokeh is what people like to call it.  This one was shot with my 24-105 f/4 IS L.  Most of the time when you think of bokeh, it’s fast lenses with huge apertures, and that certainly makes it easy.  When we talked about shaped bokeh, you need an aperture that is physically larger than the shape you put in front of it, so yeah – it helps.  At the same time, you can get this blurred background with slower lenses.  Remember that the lens I used above only goes down to f/4.  If you check out the EXIF info under the picture, you’ll see that this shot was at f/7.1 – what gives, right?

A few tips.  If you can’t drop the aperture, you can do two things.  First, get close to the subject – as close as you can.  This is the part that matters the most.  Even if you have a zoom lens, use your feet.  Second tip is that you want the background to be as far back as possible.  Those are the two elements that are going to help your depth of field here, and that’s all we’re talking about, right?  Bokeh comes from having an in-focus subject with an out-of-focus background.  Smaller apertures (higher numbers) give you a greater depth of field, and it increases with the subject’s distance from the lens so keep the subject close (where your DoF is relatively smaller) and keep your background far (where you have a greater chance of pushing it out of your DoF).

Makes sense?  Good.

The Best Camera Is The One You Use

After all the talk about how much I love my DSLR and such, I went out and bought myself a Canon S90.  Yes.  A point and shoot.  Most P&S’s are, in short, horrible pieces of crap – the S90 is kind of an exception – kinda.  In a minute, the problems, but for now, the one undeniable quality: they fit in your pocket, which means you have them with you when you’re say, at work.  That means you take pictures, like this:

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Not too bad, eh?  If you want to hear my thoughts on why you’d want a Point and Shoot vs. a DSLR and all about the S90, hit the jump for more…

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You Best Protect Your Neck

A ways back, I posted a picture of the Fire Fighter Memorial sculpture in Occidental Park.  I just found another one I liked too, so here you go.

Seattle Fire Fighter Memorial Sculpture

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One thing this shares with the earlier one from the same series is they both have that creamy smooth bokeh going on, thanks to the 50mm lens.  It might be the cheapest lens I have but it’s also the only one that lets you blur the background just so.  I’m not sure this one has the punch that the other does, but I like the highlights around the SFD helmet and how when things are sharp, they’re sharp.

Dandelion: Full Of Possibilities

Dandelions have got to be the most taboo (and therefore alluring) weed… well… maybe second most.  Other than their abilities to be turned into wine, and to sell specialized gardening implements, what other plant tempts you so much to just go over there and send all of its little seeds airborne?  If other weeds were so fun to spread, they’d do much better.


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I shot this one portrait style – maximum aperture for minimum depth of field.  It’s not the most original picture.  Lots of people have seen a dandelion before, but I really like how the grass just dissolves into a sheet of green.  As one reader with much better skills than I have said, the rule for wildlife photography is to nail the focus on the eyes.  I guess my correlary is when shooting weeds, nail the part that would be the eye if this thing came to life.  And then watch your back – you never know when the anthropomorphic dandelion zombies might get you.

When You Should Worry

Capitol Hill Barbed Wire

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Just strolling the hill the other day and noticed this house. Since the crappy rowhouses just down the way (and right across the street from a hospital and a 7-11) are going for 600k (good luck with that), this place must be “worth” even more. When you need to put barbed wire around it, maybe you need to start thinking about why your neighbors hate you.  Anyway, I just like the picture.   Love that dreamy bokeh – without it, you could never make the barbed wire stand out in front of a subject like this.

DIY Bokeh or “how to make pretty stars”

Everyone has seen pictures like this with points of light in the background. The technique where shallow depth of field allows you to throw everything but the subject out of focus is known as Bokeh.  What I’ve always noticed is the way points of light look in the out of focus area.   I also learned that you can shape them, and when I finally got around to it I made my own:


For more info on how it works and all the nerdly stuff, hit the jump.

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Snow Fountain

Snow Fountain

Here’s another one from a snowy night at Volunteer Park. Generally I’m a fan of regular objects – one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken is of a fire hydrant. For some reason the city saw fit to endow this particular part with extra nice fittings and fixtures, perhaps to match the great Deco look of the Seattle Asian Art Museum. I love the octagonal rim, standing silently at attention, waiting at the ready. I love the glow of the ambient yellow street light (way better than what happens if you use a flash), and I love the bokeh from the f/1.8 lens.
  • ApertureValue: f/1.8
  • DateTimeOriginal: 2008:12:13 22:03:31
  • ExposureTime: 1/4 sec
  • Flash: No Flash
  • FocalLength: 50 mm
  • ISOSpeedRatings: 800

More macro, minus the tools

So this morning I thought it would be a great idea to upgrade to the newest version of WordPress.  While it works great, my fancy photo plugin is now broken, so consider this one freestyle.

My friend Charlie has these neighbors.  It’s not so much that they’re crazy, in a medically-diagnosed kinda way, but they sure don’t like throwing things out.  The yard is full of tarp-covered “finds” – it’s all very great depression.  In any case, they also have a great little chain-link fence out front, which they decided to decorate.  With bread tags.  To each his own, right?  Back to the photography.


This one is shot with the same macro lens, but for a different reason.  I really like the blurry look – there is a lot going on in the frame and blurring out most of it makes me happy, which this lens is great at.  The photo snobs call that “bokeh”, which loosely translates from it’s Japanese origins to “some stuff is blurry and some stuff isn’t”.  Anyway, here it is.

  • ApertureValue: f/5.6
  • DateTimedigitized: 2008:06:28 13:15:00
  • Flash: No Flash
  • FocalLength: 100 mm
  • ShutterSpeedValue: 1/500 sec
  • WhiteBalance: 0