Some thoughts on bokeh for this week’s Lens-Artists Photo Challenge. This is not a tutorial on bokeh.

I once thought “bokeh” referred to the circles, sometimes sparkly, that you often see in the background of a photo taken with a macro or telephoto lens. I’ve moved on from that and I now like to think of bokeh as the aura surrounding the subject of the photo, the bokeh being that little bit of voodoo magic performed by the camera to blur out the background so that the subject has centre stage. That is purely my artistic view and not a technical definition. I prefer my bokeh soft and calm and not swishy/choppy, but this is easier said than done. The exception to that is when the bokeh is being used for creative effect. If for any reason it is not possible to achieve the effect desired, I would rather take the photo “as is”, and enjoy what I’ve seen. Hence, you will see less than perfect bokeh on my site. Hopefully, the photos will still be interesting.

A messy background, my position and camera shake affected the quality of the bokeh/aura in my photo of this kookaburra below. The bokeh is not to my taste but how could you not love a face like that?

Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae), Australian National Botanic Gardens

Now for my photography partner’s photo. He was further up the hill than I was and his extra height meant that he was able to access a much nicer background, and hence, lovely bokeh.

Kookaburra – Australian National Botanic Gardens

Look! Even with my little camera, I can still achieve a lovely blurred background if I am lucky to find myself close to my subject and there is a reasonable amount of separation between it and the background.

Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis) in the Canberra suburbs

It is difficult to capture that lovely blurred background effect with fast moving little birds. A really fancy camera or lots of patience is required. I therefore like to see what my little camera can make of plants. Trees in sheltered spots are great for this. The filtered light provides a beautiful tonal calm backdrop to the bark of this Pinus canarienis at Canberra’s Lyndsay Pryor Arboretum. The dark colour of the bark is a result of being burnt in the 2003 bushfires.

Canary Island Pine (Pinus canariensis), Lyndsay Pryor Arboretum, Canberra)

And below, I couldn’t resist the combination of the young eucalyptus leaves against the muted yellow plants in the background (probably paper daisies like those in the foreground), which were themselves set against the darker green of the heavily shaded area in the far back. I wouldn’t classify this as bokeh or an aura, but without my camera to see this stunning plant against the blurred background, it might not have caught my eye so. My botanist son’s best guess is that the tree is a native of Western Australia, Eucalyptus macrocarpa. WA plants are always show stoppers. What do you think, WA readers? Did my son guess right?

Mottlecah (Eucalyptus macrocarpa) tbc – Australian National Botanic Gardens

And, finally, this creamy milk chocolate background is a perfect complement to the fungi growing in fallen timber. Photography can be such a time waster but there are worse things we could be doing.

Thanks for reading this far, everyone. I have a couple more photos of the kookaburra that I will share soon. In the meantime, take care and take photos.

Kind Regards.

46 thoughts on “Aura – It’s All A Blur

    1. Many thanks, Ann. I know what you mean when you say you don’t aim for it. I often take photos in low light or deep shadow (or on windy dats) so I get it whether i like it or not due to my camera settings for those other requirements.
      My TL is home now with a new and permanent diet. It has been a bit of a nightmare and he is distraught about the everything he has to give up. I doubt we’ll ever eat out again. 😥 Exploratory surgery is the next option. It will take a year on the public waiting list.

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  1. Tracy, your effects are lovely.
    But I have to admit to being a bit burnt out on bokeh in videography.We went through a phase of everything being bohed to death. There were special bokeh filters, LUTs, you name it. Everything that was shot shouted, “look it’s been done in bokeh!’
    This was so much so that In video now I strive to avoid it if possible because, for video, it got so overused.
    Sorry, just my rant. In your nature photography it perfectly appropriate! I just got “triggered.”

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    1. Thanks, Lou.
      I can relate to your comment on bokeh over-use. While it can be used for creative effect, it is not so good if it is used instead of being creative. Aren’t I opinionated, lol. Still, that’s quite different from people having fun learning a technique. I don’t have much choice because I often take wildlife photos in low light so I need to stop up my aperture.


  2. Ditto regarding your images are fabulous. Love the kookaburra ones, some have likened my laugh to a kookaburras maybe a reason why I enjoy them 😉


    1. Thanks, Punam. The ANBG photos were taken on his last day of sick leave. We were testing out whether he could manage a leisurely walk. He did okay. Two days of work and he was back in hospital. He’s feeling pretty sore and not greatly enthused with the world.

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  3. “Bokeh … that little bit of voodoo magic” … Love it! as I love the effect, even the ones you don’t care for as much – I think they highlight the subject beautifully! And that kookaburra is a cutie!

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