Bokeh of Roses

Bokeh refers to the parts of a photo that are out of focus. It is a technique commonly used to isolate a subject from the background, especially in portrait photography. My blog today is partially about achieving this with some photographs of buds on my rosebush and how I accomplished this.

I have some large rose bushes outside of my kitchen windows. A few weeks ago they were barren stems of almost no life. I had trimmed them back as they had gotten too tall. I waited and hoped for the rose bushes to come back to life and turn beautiful colors again.

I was not disappointed as in the last week or so the roses have been furiously putting out new leaves and new buds. I went out Sunday morning with the sun on the roses to take a few pictures of the new buds and blooms.

spring rosebuds bokeh

spring rosebuds bokeh

I wanted shallow depth of focus so that the background, which is not very pretty, would be a blur of colors. To do this I extended the lens to the longest focal length, selected the widest aperture and got as close to the subject as I could and still focus. The shorter the focus distance, the shallower the depth of focus will be and the blurrier the background will be. A wider aperture will also decrease the depth of focus, but distance from camera to subject has the greater effect.

So, in the above photos I used a Nikon Nikkor 24-120mm, f/4 zoom lens and I had it set to 120mm focal length and f/4 aperture. I then peered around through the leaves with the camera to get a background that didn’t include the house. You don’t need a lens that goes down to something like f/1.8 to get good bokeh, you really just need to control the distance between your camera, your subject and your background. In the above photos, rosebuds are very close and the background is a more distant live oak tree on the right.

Another thing I tried was getting some blurry foreground elements to frame and isolate my subject against the blurred background so that I would have plenty of bokeh for my bouquet. In the below photo, a rosebud that is about to bloom (to the right) is the focus point. The bloom directly behind it is a bit out of focus, which I like. There are several leaves in the foreground close to the camera lens and surrounding the subject that are completely out of focus.

spring rosebuds bokeh

To achieve this affect, I basically put the camera in the midst of some close branches so that there were a few leaves and buds so close to the lens that they would be well out of focus and add a bit of a blurry frame around the subject. The lens will have a minimum focus distance inside of which anything will be out of focus. The subject is very close to the minimum focus distance of the lens, which is 0.45m for this lens.

In the below photo, the focus point is the smaller bud on the right third of the image. With the blurred foreground around the corners and the blurred background, your eye can’t help but go to the opening bud against the bright pink flower. And you would not really know it, but the background is a live oak tree and an ugly old fence.

spring rosebuds bokeh

Using these techniques, it really doesn’t matter what your aperture is, up to a reasonable point. An expensive f/1.8 bokeh-master lens probably would not have produced much better results. It is about keeping your subject close and your background far.

Thanks for reading and I hope that this was informative. Please leave a comment below.

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