Very shallow portrait of Kuiper with giant Bokeh balls in background.


Kuiper casts Dancing Lights, an evocation cantrip. Make a perception check. ?

In previous photography posts, we discussed DOF and the CIRCLE of CONFUSION. Now let’s talk about bokeh! I created this picture by stringing up some Christmas lights? on a wall, sitting Kuiper about as far away as we could get from them in our small spare room, and shining a small LED light on him.

Photographer Mike Johnston introduced the word “bokeh” to English in 1997 through an article in the magazine Photo Techniques. The term comes from the phrase “boke aji” in Japanese, which means “flavor of the blur” or “blur quality.” (Boke on its own in Japanese can also refer to a blurred mind due to aging, in the “old man yells at cloud” sense.) Mike stuck an “h” on the end to help people know how to pronounce it.

As discussed in a previous post, when you focus a lens, you’re condensing a cone of light down to a point on your (flat) camera sensor. If that point ends up slightly behind or in front of our sensor, we end up with a circle on our sensor instead. If that circle is small enough, it’s “good enough” to consider “in focus.” The further something is from where we’re focusing, the larger that circle will be.

If we’re shooting with our lens “wide open” (i.e. we’re not reducing the size of the hole by stopping down the aperature) and the lens is physically big enough to let in a ton of light, those circles become really big really quickly. In fact, behind Kuiper we don’t even really have “cones” of light anymore. They’re effectly big chunks that take the shape of the opening to our camera (i.e. round.)

Bokeh “balls” don’t have to be round, though. If the light enters in through a different shape, you can get different bokeh shapes in the background. If you own a fast lens, one way to try this is to take a piece of dark construction paper, cut out a heart or a star in it, and tape the paper with heart-shaped hole to the front of your camera.

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