Learn About Bokeh (a simple hands on experiment for any age)

posted in: Learning | 2

Learn About Bokeh - a simple hands on experiment for any ageI’m excited to talk about another photography concept today, as part of my ABCs of Photography series!

Last week we learned about aperture with a DIY simplified model camera.  This week we are talking about bokeh!  Now, what is bokeh?  No, not the boca burger.  I’m talking about the photography term.  Dictionary.com defines bokeh as follows:

bokeh: a Japanese term for the subjective aesthetic quality of out-of-focus areas of a photographic image.

You probably are familiar with the bokeh effect, even if you’ve never heard it called by name.  Usually bokeh shapes are somewhat circular in nature, though they often have flat sides (i.e. hexagonal).  This is because these shapes are created by the lens you are using. The aperture of the lens will affect the bokeh in an image.

When we learned about aperture, we talked briefly about how the lens can open up or close down to change the amount of light getting into the camera.  We even made a simple conceptual camera to model this effect.  In a real camera lens, there are many moving parts that help the lens change aperture.  When “wide open”, the more expensive lenses tend to have more circular bokeh because they have more aperture blades (independent pieces that, together, spiral closed or open to open/close the lens).  In contrast, the less expensive lenses will have hexagonal or angled bokeh shapes because they don’t have as many moving parts… or because their “wide open” aperture isn’t as fully open.

But bokeh doesn’t just have to be circular.  There are filters for making bokeh of all shapes: square, heart, you name it, you probaly could make it.  These are usually added for special effects, purposefully.  In its simplest form, the filter is a silhouette cut out of the shape — and you take the picture through that cut out.

You can google “make your own bokeh filter” for some detailed instructions if you like… here are some tutorials I found:

Those activities would be great for older kids, teens, or adults.  And, let me note that those neat filters will need a camera with “good glass.”  So your point and shoot probably won’t work.  Since I wanted this experiment to be hands on for all ages, I decided to come up with another simplified activity that could demonstrate the concept of Bokeh.

And, as a bonus, this one involves destruction, so Toby was very excited!

We got a piece of styrofoam meat tray out of the recycle bin, stole a golf tee from my golf bag, and headed for the work bench in the boys’ playroom.  Toby got his camera out of his science kit, and gleefully started photographing things while I set up (meat tray upside down so the tee could poke through).  Then it was time to let my toddler loose.  He had fun hammering the golf tee into the tray and then pulling it back out again.

For demonstration purposes, we also made some shapes.  Toby chose a letter “T” and a circle, triangle, and square.  Then it was time to bring out my camera.  I created these pictures with my point and shoot, to give you an idea of what your camera might do.  I took a picture of the meat tray in focus, then as the out of focus background.  Notice how the shapes become more circular.

Click on any image below to enter gallery view mode.


And then, finally, I decided to share some stock images (used with permission from Pixabay.com) where the photographer did use a special Bokeh filter (well, in two of the three images).  See the difference?  The image on the left has hearts instead of circular light points, the one in the middle has the standard hexagonal light points, and the one on the right has squares.

Well, that about wraps up Bokeh.  If you want, you could cut out some shapes and put them in the aperture card holder of the cardboard camera we made last week. Next week the topic is “Camera Obscura” …so check back to see what I come up with for that!

The ABCs of Photography - An Educational Series for KidsJoin Betsy as she works through the alphabet in this educational series for kids… The ABCs of Photography!  We’ll cover topics from A to Z, with activity ideas for both younger and older kids

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2 Responses

  1. Tanya @ Mom's Small Victories

    This is so cool. I always wondered how photographers created a bokeh effect! Thanks for sharing with Small Victories Sunday Linkup and hope you join us again this weekend! Pinning to our linkup board.

  2. Betsy Finn

    Glad to have been helpful 😀