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Understanding Focal Length

Focal length, usually represented in millimeters (mm), is the basic description of a…

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Photograph Family and Friends During the Holidays

The holidays are prime picture-taking time. Get some great tips on…

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Understanding Maximum Aperture

Learn how aperture affects the end-result image.

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Want Better Landscape Photos? First Check Your Definition of "Landscape"

Tony Sweet offers tips for better landscape…

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Tips For Making Tempting Food Photos

Alison Lyons offers simple tips for taking great photos of food & drink

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Live Image Control

Live Image Control lets you preview how certain settings will affect your final image

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How to Choose Your Next Nikon 1 Lens

Go beyond your Nikon 1 camera's kit lens

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Composing Photographs

Tips for making better compositions when photographing in the field

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When to Use Graduated Neutral Density Filters

How to use a graduated neutral density filter to decrease extreme light to…

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Jim Richardson: Why Fast Lenses Make All the Difference

When You’re Constantly on the Move, Fast Glass Makes Tough Shots…

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How-To Take Great Photos at the Aquarium

Tips for photographing the fish and creatures that live under water

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Taking Pictures at Dusk and at Night

How do I take pictures at dusk and at night?

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Exposure Choices for Moody Images

Moose Peterson explains how exposure can add to the mood of an image

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Tips for Photographing Birds

Birds make great subjects for photographs; tips for capturing them with your camera.

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Which NIKKOR Lens Type is Right for Your DSLR?

Learn what the different types of NIKKOR lenses are and which ones will…

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Take Control of Color using Picture Controls

Diana Robinson gets the color she wants with Picture Controls in-camera and…

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Moose Peterson: How to Photograph Winter Landscapes

Exposing so the Snow’s White and Six Other Tips for Great Winter…

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Quick Tips for Taking Better Portraits

Suggested Lens choices, exposure settings and focus modes

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Route 66 Road Trip

Tom Bol travels Route 66 with a Df D-SLR

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10 Tips for Shooting Autumn Foliage

Nature photographer Rod Planck offers tips for shooting colorful fall foliage

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Shooting Spectacular Sunrises and Sunsets

Jim Harmer’s tips for photographing at dawn and dusk

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Shooting a Rock Concert

Whether you're taking photos at a major rock concert or at your child's school performance, these…

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Exposure Compensation When Using i-TTL Gets Easier with the D4/D4s

Exposure compensation and flash compensation can be…

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ISO Control

For digital photography, ISO refers to the sensitivity of the camera's sensor. The ISO setting is one of…

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Cat Photography: Capturing Cats in Pictures

With a little patience you too can make great pictures of your pet cat or…

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Partner Up for Better Pictures

Learn how you can benefit from taking photos with a friend

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Extra Added Attraction: How to Boost the Reach of Your Nikon 1

Mark Alberhasky on using the FT-1 and NIKKOR lenses on…

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Shooting with Remote Cameras

Andrew Hancock discusses the art of shooting sports with remote cameras

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Marketplace: A #1

Shooting with the COOLPIX A

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Polarizing Filters Add POW to Pictures

An Easy to Use Accessory, Polarizing Filters Bring out the Color and Definition in…

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Balancing Photo Exposures with Nikon's Active D-Lighting

Bring light to the shadows with Nikon's Active D-Lighting

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The convenience of Using Save/load Settings—Smart!

Moose Peterson on the convenience of using Nikon's save/load settings…

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How to Choose Your Next DSLR Lens

What to look for when choosing your next lens for your DSLR

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The Challenge of Bird Photography

Moose Peterson tells why photographing birds in the field is well worth the challenge.

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Marketplace: One and Only

Nikon 1 AW1 waterproof, shockproof interchangeable lens camera

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The Versatile Appeal of the D600

See what makes the D600 an appealing camera

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Bokeh for Beginners

Bokeh comes from the Japanese word boke (ボケ), which means "blur" or "haze", or boke-aji, the "blur quality." Bokeh is pronounced BOH-Kə or BOH-kay.

Visit any photography website or forum and you’ll find plenty of folks debating the pleasing bokeh that their favorite fast lenses allow. Adjectives that describe bokeh include: smooth, incredible, superb, good, beautiful, sweet, silky, and excellent… but what exactly is it?

Bokeh is defined as “the effect of a soft out-of-focus background that you get when shooting a subject, using a fast lens, at the widest aperture, such as f/2.8 or wider.” Simply put, bokeh is the pleasing or aesthetic quality of out-of-focus blur in a photograph.

Although bokeh is actually a characteristic of a photograph, the lens used determines the shape and size of the visible bokeh. Usually seen more in highlights, bokeh is affected by the shape of the diaphragm blades (the aperture) of the lens. A lens with more circular shaped blades will have rounder, softer orbs of out-of-focus highlights, whereas a lens with an aperture that is more hexagonal in shape will reflect that shape in the highlights.


Achieving Bokeh in Your Images

To achieve bokeh in an image, you need to use a fast lens—the faster the better. You’ll want to use a lens with at least an f/2.8 aperture, with faster apertures of f/2, f/1.8 or f/1.4 being ideal. Many photographers like to use fast prime lenses when shooting photographs that they want visible bokeh in.

You’ll want to shoot with the lens wide open, so you’ll want to use a shooting mode of Aperture Priority or Manual. Manual gives you the ability to choose both your aperture and shutter speed, whereas Aperture Priority allows you to choose the f/stop while the camera chooses the appropriate shutter speed for the exposure. You could also use the Flexible Program mode, choosing the widest possible aperture/shutter speed combination.

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.

To increase the likelihood of visible bokeh in your photographs, increase the distance between your subject and the background. You can do this by decreasing the distance between the camera and subject. The more shallow the depth-of-field, or further the background is, the more out-of-focus it will be. Highlights hitting the background will show more visible bokeh too, so if you’re using a backlight, side light or a hair light, the bokeh may be more pleasing to the eye.

The most photographed subjects showing nice examples of bokeh are portraits. Close-up portraits show bokeh very well. Close-up and macro images of flowers and other objects in nature are also popular subjects to photograph that shows off bokeh in the image. An often-photographed subject that is an extreme example of bokeh is photographing a grouping of holiday lights or other highly reflective objects. When purposely photographed out-of-focus, these normally harsh or bright objects become soft, pastel, diffused orbs of glowing light.

Bokeh can add softness to an otherwise brightly lit photograph. Using this technique to separate your subject from the background can also allow you to utilize a not-so-photogenic background in your image—but because of its diffused blur, it helps to “highlight” the subject, not detract from it.

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