By Annie Tao

Want to take portraits that have nice bokeh?  First, what is it?

BOKEH = noun.  a Japanese term for the subjective aesthetic quality of out-of-focus areas of a photographic image.

Below is a photo I took just the other day.  It is an example of an image with nice bokeh and how to use it effectively.

Annie Tao Photography bokeh Ex1

By blurring out the background, the entire image looks visually pleasing. You can’t even see she is standing on a sidewalk next to a parking lot!

HOW TO ACHIEVE NICE BOKEH (in plain English!)

1.  Use the right lens.

All lenses can create some kind of bokeh, but the REALLY nice, drool-worthy bokeh is from prime lenses with large apertures, like f/1.4 and f/1.8.

2.  Select a large aperture.

The larger the aperture (the smaller the aperture number) = a greater depth of field and more bokeh!  Usually f/2.8, 1.8 and 1.4 create the best results.

3.  Get close to your subject.

4.  Focus on what you want to have sharp.

I know, I know…. duh.  But there may be someone out there who isn’t sure!  

5.  Put your subject far from the background you want blurred out.

In the image above, there is beautiful green bokeh because there were bushes on the far side of the parking lot.  I took the shot from a lower angle (shooting upwards) to intentionally miss the cars in the parking lot, which were directly behind her. 

The result is a deliciously smooth wash of color in the background, which made it look more like the little girl was standing in a meadow than a parking lot.


Annie Tao Photography bokeh Ex2

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Sometimes I create bokeh in the FOREGROUND because it tells a different story…

Annie Tao Photography foreground bokeh

And sometimes I don’t want any bokeh at all. I want to see all the details, like the textures of these walls, so I place my subjects close to the background and have my camera set at a smaller aperture.

Annie Tao Photography No Bokeh Ex2

Annie Tao Photography No Bokeh Ex1

Annie Tao is a lifestyle, commercial and event photographer in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can get more tips or inspiration at and stay connected with Annie at