Take Amazing Photos with Beautiful Bokeh with an Inexpensive 50mm Lens
You Need A Fast Lens
How To Shoot Beautiful Soft Focus Backgrounds And Get Beautiful Bokeh Too
Years ago most photographers would purchase a 35mm SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera that came with what they called a normal 50mm f1.8 or F1.4 lens.
Zoom lenses were usually very heavy, expensive and not that sharp, so we learned to use our Normal lenses on our cameras to produce some pretty amazing results. One other reason was the film available for our cameras were usually pretty slow and that meant you would shoot with 100-200 ASA film that required a very fast lens.
When we say a lens is Fast it means the lens, due to lens design, optics and mechanics, has the ability to accept a great deal of light when the lens is wide open.
You will want to shoot at 125 to 250 of a second to prevent camera shake you need these fast lenses that won't need as much light to give you a good exposure.
We have digital cameras that can shoot at 3200 ASA or higher and even though the results might be noisy (we use to call that grain with film), we deal with it.
Manufacturers of cameras and lenses figured out they could sell you a more expensive zoom lens, even it it was slow (F4.5-5.6) and you would be fine.
The problem is not only zooms are much heavier then a fixed focal length lens but they require more light and higher speeds to record the images properly. They won't give you those same beautifully soft backgrounds in the images you shoot as the F1.8, 1.4 or 1.2 lenses will.
What is Bokeh?
The beautiful out of focus patterns in the background of a photo is known as Bokeh. Those out of focus patterns have different patterns based on the shutter in your lens or added filters used to achieve various patterns. It is the out of focus patterns of light that is called Bokeh.
So if you want to take photos that have nice Bokeh you might want to purchase an inexpensive 50mm, f2.8 lens or faster f1.8 lens, both guaranteed to give you those razor sharp images with the beautiful soft out of focus backgrounds.
I am going to tell you the steps to take amazing shots like my samples with these inexpensive lenses and save your back from carrying around a heavy camera with a large zoom lens.
If you don't have a decent Digtial SLR that will allow you to change your lens, you need to get one.
There are many excellent cameras available today and if you are just upgrading from a point and shoot digital camera you can purchase a great new DSLR from about $400 for the body up to thousands. I would say spending about $600-$800 will give you a really nice camera.
How To Select Your Lens
If you are purchasing the camera, I would suggest purchasing the body only so you can decide which lenses you really need. Generally the zoom lens they pack with cameras today are not the best, but they are inexpensive so you want to know what lenses you will need for the type of shooting you will be doing.
Manufacturers usually pack a modest zoom lens in their kits. The most common is the 18mm to 55mm lens. If you buy a small, lightweight fixed focal length 50mm lens it just might be more useful depending on what you shoot. Some kits also include a modest telephoto zoom as well, usually a 55mm-200mm focal length zoom. This is a decision you will have to make based on your photographic needs and wallet.
To achieve the great soft focus and Bokeh you see here, you will want to purchase your camera manufacturers 50mm or similar F1.8 lens ($130). If money is not a consideration I would suggest buying the new Tamron SP35 or 45mm F1.8 Prime lens. These very fast lenses are called Prime Lenses as opposed to Zoom Lenses because they are a fixed focal length lens. The cost of the lens is $600 so if you are on a budget, get the manufacturer's 50mm F1.8, it will be fine.
Today I shoot with a Nikon D7200 DSLR camera and the Tamron SP35mm F1.8 Prime Lens. Of course this lens cost $600 but it is wonderful and I do shoot professionally.
I have shot with my Nikons with the Nikkor F1.8 Lens for years and the lens works great. I love to shoot available light shots. A glass of ice tea can look like a work of art shot with this lens.
Soft Focus Images
Soft Focus Photos
Now assuming you have your DSLR and your fast 50mm lens you want to start to shoot some portraits or other subjects where you intentionally want the background to go soft and out of focus.
This is great for shooting portraits, product shots, food, any shot where you want sharp detail going to a soft background.
Bokeh - How To
Shooting To Get Bokeh
We also like to get shots with nice Bokeh in our photos like the samples above.
You will be setting your camera to shoot in the A mode with is aperture priority mode. The reason to shoot in this mode is we want to have the lens opened wide either all the way to F1.8. By opening wide you will have the smallest depth of field.
Set The Camera For Manual
Now Set the focus to manual now instead of leaving it at automatic.
The reason for this is that your Depth of Field, the distance beyond or in front of the sharpest focus point that will still be in focus will be quite shallow. If the lens is open all the way to F1.8, and you are focused on your subjects eyes (an example) then you may start to see the photo get soft in a couple of inches to the front of his eyes to the back.
Look at this sample of Levi a beautiful Great Dane and you will see I focused on his left eye which is sharp and if you beyond that eye, you will see everything else goes soft and out of focus.
Manual Setting Lets You Control Depth of Focus
Adjust Lens Opening For Best Effect
Practice with you lens and be sure to keep the focus sharp on the point in the photo you want to be sharp. If you are shooting a scene and need a little more depth of field, then close the lens down from F1.8 to either F2.8, F4 or F5.6 and see if those lens openings work better for you.
The higher the F number the less light is getting into the camera and the larger the depth of field, so if you need a longer DOF, then simply adjust the lens opening of the camera.
If you really want to impress other photographers with your knowledge of photography, when you see a nice photo with good Bokeh, tell them that. They will look at you like you are speaking another language, unless they are pros too :-)
You can read an extensive article I wrote on this subject using software to produce Bokeh. You will see samples of my work and how I took these shots that now look like they were shot with a 50mm lens.
Other Camera Settings
Your camera will set the proper shutter speed for the correct exposure in the A mode, so you won't have to worry about getting the proper exposures.
You can determine where you want the photo to start to go out of focus using your lens openings to change the DOF (Depth of Field)
When you review your images on your DSLR, enlarge them to see what is in and what is out of focus. It is hard to do on some of these small screens, so just click on the button that allows you to enlarge the images in the review mode.
You should be fine with an F1.8 lens which should cost about $125-$150. If you are a pro then you could do as I did and spend $500 or more for a Prime Lens like my Tamron SP35mm or 45mm F1.8 lens. Unless you are a pro where cost is not an issue, I would advise you to stay with the F1.8 lens.
Note: You can also get Bokeh from a zoom lens, but you will need have to shoot where the background that you want to go soft will have to be quite a long way in the distance.
Remember the smaller your aperture on your lens the wider the Depth of Field is. So on a lens shooting at f5.6 or f8, you may have to be a block away to have that background go soft. On a 50mm F1.8 lens, you could go to a soft background that is literally inches away from the point of sharpest focus.
Remember that a fixed focal length lens (50mm vs. a zoom like an 18-135 or similar) means you will have to move in and out to frame your shots, a zoom will do that for you in the lens. So expect to do this with your 50mm Lenses.