Tuesday, August 13, 2019


Despite all the chatter on the web, great Bokeh is not about shooting at your lenses' widest aperture. Moreover, it’s definitely not necessary to buy those super—fast—and expensive—f1.2, f1.4 or f1.8 prime lenses everyone gushes about!  

As a professional photographer for over 35 years I’ve owned dozens of camera systems and hundreds of lenses and one of the lenses I most regret buying was the Canon, 85mm, f1.2, prime that everybody said I MUST own!  After less than a year I found it to be creatively limiting; 85mm was not enough telephoto for individual portraits and at the same time too much telephoto for anything else. In addition I rarely used it at f1.2 because it just had no useful depth-of-field there; I sold it.  All of my professional work in the last 20 years has been with a variety of zoom lenses with their widest apertures being f2.8, which I rarely use—because most lenses are not at their sharpest wide open.

Good Bokeh is more about focal length and distance….
8.0 @ 1/1000 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
I discovered decades ago that the more telephoto I used when doing portraits the better I liked them—and the sales were better too!  That style carried over into my fine art photography as well. I learned that the bokeh was always better when I backed-up and used MORE telephoto at ANY aperture. This was great because I usually want lots of depth-of-field in my fine art.

In the above image, the aperture of f8.0 merely gave me just enough depth-of-field and really nice bokeh too.

TECH NOTE:  For the best bokeh your background must be as far from the subject as is possible. In addition for the bokeh to really pop, I want those specular highlights back there, too.  

My portraits are built on this premise as well…
f4.5 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 280mm
For this portrait I placed her about 30 feet from this outdoor, sunset, background. Because she was closer than usual I put my 1.4X extender on my zoom lens—giving me 280mm—and opened up my aperture to f4.5 and this created a very dramatic background.

To give her parents a different look we moved her….
f4.5 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 250mm
To soften the bokeh in the background I moved her farther from the background; about 60 feet away in this image.

TECH NOTE:  The widest aperture I use for individual portraits is f4.0 even though my main portrait lens is a 70-200mm, f2.8 lens. I want the ability to place my subject in ANY POSE keeping Both Eyes SHARP.  The aperture of f4.0 will do that , while using f2.8 will make the subject’s far-eye soft in a two-thirds view of the face.

Back to some small aperture bokeh…
f11.0 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 105mm
Most photographers seem to think this is impossible: Really nice bokeh at f11.0 !  Again, it’s all about distance to the background. And in this image I’m only using a focal length of 105mm. What was very important to me for this image was getting the depth-of-field to make all those leaves really sharp. I wanted that beautiful back-lit detail clearly visible.

So, don’t waste you money on those super fast (f1.2, 1.4, 1.8 etc.) prime lenses!  You do’t need them; the path to creative and profitable photography is paved with modern zoom lenses at ANY aperture other than Wide Open.

As usual, should you have questions please don’t hesitate to ask…”Til next week…

Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman

No comments:

Post a Comment