Bokeh

Bokeh

noun

  1. A Japanese term meaning “blur” or “haze,” referring to the aesthetic quality of the out-of-focus areas in a photograph.
  2. In mobile photography, it commonly refers to the intentionally blurred background behind the subject, designed to isolate the subject and create a pleasing aesthetic effect.
  3. Created either optically through lens settings, particularly a wide aperture, or digitally via software algorithms that simulate the effect based on depth mapping and other data.

Introduction

Bokeh is a term originating from Japanese, which has found its way into the lexicon of photographers around the world. It is descriptive of an aesthetic aspect of photographs taken by a particular type of lens (telephoto lenses), or aperture range (wide apertures).

While bokeh is typically a feature created by optical lenses, its role in mobile photography is noteworthy due to the advances in technology that have allowed smartphones to simulate this effect, which was once the exclusive domain of high-end cameras with specialty lenses.

Characteristics of Bokeh

Quality

The quality of bokeh is often subjective and is described in terms like “creamy,” “smooth,” or “harsh.” The goal is generally to have a smooth transition from the in-focus to the out-of-focus areas, and for the out-of-focus elements to be pleasingly soft and indistinct.

Shape

Bokeh can manifest in different shapes based on the shape of the lens aperture. It can be circular, hexagonal, or even take custom shapes through the use of lens attachments.

Color

While bokeh itself is about blur, the colors that appear in the blurred areas can also affect the overall aesthetic of the image. Bright lights or colorful objects in the background can create appealing bokeh “balls.”

How Bokeh is Achieved in Mobile Photography

Lens and Aperture

In mobile photography, a wide aperture setting would theoretically create a shallower depth of field, resulting in natural bokeh. However, due to physical constraints, most smartphones have fixed and relatively narrow apertures. Therefore, bokeh in mobile devices with small cameras must be simulated.

Computational Photography

To overcome hardware limitations, modern smartphones use computational photography techniques to simulate bokeh. This often involves using depth sensors or dual-camera setups to capture depth information, which is then used to blur the background artificially.

Software Algorithms

Machine learning and AI algorithms may also be employed to identify the subject and create a more accurate depth map.

These algorithms can even differentiate between different types of subjects, such as people, animals, or objects, and adjust the bokeh effect accordingly.

With new tools, the depth can be adjusted even after the photograph is captured.

Advantages and Limitations

Advantages

  1. Subject Isolation: Bokeh helps to isolate the subject, drawing the viewer’s attention to it.
  2. Aesthetic Appeal: When executed well, bokeh can add an artistic and aesthetically pleasing quality to photographs.
  3. Ease of Use: On smartphones, achieving a bokeh effect is often as simple as selecting “Portrait Mode.”

Limitations

  1. Artificial Look: Software-generated bokeh can sometimes look unnatural or overly processed.
  2. Edge Detection Errors: Algorithms may incorrectly identify the edges of a subject, leading to unnatural blurring.
  3. Limited Control: Unlike DSLRs where the aperture can be manually controlled, most smartphones offer limited adjustability over the degree of bokeh.

Future Trends

As computational photography evolves and depth sensors become more sophisticated, we can expect more accurate and adjustable bokeh effects in mobile photography. Features like dynamic bokeh, where the amount and quality of blur can be adjusted post-capture, are likely to become standard.

Summary

Bokeh in mobile photography refers to the aesthetic blurring of the background to emphasize the subject. While traditionally achieved through wide apertures in DSLR cameras, the limitations of mobile hardware have led to the development of software algorithms that can simulate this effect. Advances in computational photography and AI algorithms are making this feature increasingly sophisticated, bringing a professional photography technique into the pockets of everyday users.

Sebastian Chase
Sebastian Chase

Sebasitan Chase is a mobile digital photographer who enjoys trying out new mobile technologies, and figuring out how to get them to deliver high-quality images with minimal effort.Join him on his mission to help mobile photographers create incredible images and videos with their new-age digital cameras, no matter the form that they may take.

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