You probably know that stopping down (i.e. increasing your f-stop number) can increase the sharpness of your subject, but how much should you stop down to boost resolution without losing that nice, creamy bokeh? Roger Cicala did some research on this question and writes:
For those lenses that do benefit, stopping down just to f/2.0 provides the majority of resolution improvement. The difference between wide open and f/2.0 is generally much greater than the difference between f/2.0 and the maximum resolution.
Getting the edges and corners sharp requires stopping down to at least f/4 for most wide-aperture primes, and some really need f/5.6. Stopping down to f/2.8 may maximize center sharpness but often makes only a slight difference in the corners, at least on a full-frame camera.
None of the lenses performed any better after f/5.6 (for the center) or f/8 for the corners. Most were clearly getting softer at f/11.
If you’re using a wide-aperture lens, stopping down to just f/2.0 will reap big gains in sharpness while still keeping the depth-of-field narrow. Furthermore, for some lenses you don’t really even need to worry about stopping down for sharpness, since it hasn’t a relatively negligible effect on the outcome.
Claus Thiim captured this beautiful image of fireworks showing both in-focus and out-of-focus burst of light. The trick is to capture most of the photograph while focused on the fireworks, and then throw the lens out of focus shortly before the shutter closes.
On a slightly related note, check out this crazy video of an entire fireworks display released in just one minute (something went wrong).
Here’s another video tutorial teaching how to give your bokeh custom shapes.
When a point of light in a photograph is out of focus, it turns into a shape defined by the lens’s aperture. We can create a second, smaller, aperture to attach to the front of our lens in order to customize that shape. The result is a charming effect in the background of your photographs, as long as there points of light such as streetlights, candles, or Christmas lights in frame. [#]
You can also find a text version of this tutorial here.
Kaleb Wentzel-Fisher had the brilliant idea of using custom bokeh to spell out words in his videos, and spent a good amount of time developing and perfecting the idea. The above video, titled “Light Works”, is a demonstration of this technique in action. The results are pretty awesome. Read more…
Barcodes can be found everywhere, but using existing barcode systems with ordinary cameras require that the barodes be printed large or that the camera be placed close to the code. MIT’s Bokode project is a new system that magically stuffs barcodes into bokeh, allowing ordinary cameras to be used as barcode readers from a distance. The codes are contained in little points of light that only turn into codes when viewed through an out-of-focus camera lens. You’ve probably seen how little bright points of light grow into larger and fainter points of light when you defocus. Read more…
Here’s an easy to follow video tutorial by photographer Lucas Ridley teaching you how to create custom bokeh shapes using a construction paper cap placed over your lens. Ridley’s design is flexible, allowing you to swap shapes easily by sliding them in and out of the cap.
Next time you’re attend a fireworks display, try shooting your photographs or video out of focus. This video by Danny Cooke is a pretty beautiful look at what you can achieve by doing this. What’s more, if you focus on the spectators in the foreground, it looks like they’re watching bokeh fireworks as well!
It’s not just photography enthusiasts that like to play with bokeh — check out this short clip from the new movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Pay careful attention to the bokeh whizzing by in the background outside the bus. The look is so subtle that most people probably wouldn’t even notice it.
Here’s yet another interesting camera accessory that might make a good present this Christmas season.
Back in April of 2007, Udi Tirosh over at DIYPhotography wrote an article describing how to customize your bokeh using a paper cutout in front of your lens. That do-it-yourself project was so successful that Udi has now turned it into a camera accessory you can purchase. Behold, the Bokeh Masters Kit:
Using the “Bokehtinator” in the kit, you can change the way light enters the lens, giving your bokeh (out of focus light points) creative shapes. Here are some example photographs with custom bokeh:
The full kit costs $25, and comes with both pre-cut and uncut disks that you can place in the disk holder. The uncut disks allow you to create truly custom shapes by cutting them out yourself using an exacto-knife.
We’ll be giving away two of these kits in early January 2010, see stay tuned for that. We wish Udi the best of luck on this new venture!