I'm so glad you found me! I'm a San Francisco photographer, and this blog charts my journey in the ever-evolving world of photography. One of the things I love about photography is that it's a journey, not a destination. I'm constantly learning and meeting wonderful people. Please peruse the blog to your heart's content, then check out my website and feel free to contact me! (I love hearing from you.)

“Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow." – Imogen Cunningham

“A portrait is not made in the camera but on either side of it.” – Edward Steichen

Bird of Paradise (and Gratuitous Bokeh tutorial)

In the middle of Downtown San Francisco! People love bokeh. On Flickr, there are entire groups dedicated to shooting wide open, or taking totally unfocused shots of lights at night. While I don't go as crazy for it, I get why they love it. It can be really special.

Recipe for a photo like this, should you be interested in making one:

Step 1
- Wait for dusk. The light still needs to be decent out, but to get the bokeh like I have here (circles of blue and white lights) it needs to be dark enough that people are turning on their headlights, and other lights, so that you have light in the background. If you wait until later in the evening, the background lights will be brighter, and you'll need to light the subject, or find something that's already lit, and you'll probably need to use a tripod. I'm lazy, so I like to shoot a little earlier.

Step 2 - Find your subject. In my case, it's this flower. Choose something that captures your interest.

Step 3 - Use a low aperture number (wide aperture). In this case, I'm at f/3.5 on my 50mm f/1.8 lens. (If you're not comfortable in manual, use the Aperture Priority mode on your camera, usually marked Av. It will figure out the correct shutter speed for you.) I tried various f stops, and I like this one the best for not completely blurring out the background, but also not distracting too much from my subject.

Step 4 - Compose. Leave some negative space for those lights in the background. No pretty light bokeh without lights in the background!

Step 5 - Focus.

Step 6 - Shoot!

Play around with it some. If anyone tries this, I'd love to see your results. And if you're a bokeh master, feel free to leave some tips in the comments!


  1. Nice work and great tutorial. I think you left a Phun Phriday! post without even knowing it. Drop by and leave a link if you want, it's perfect for it. I love the colors and clarity on this.

  2. I tend to use the largest aperture (lowest number) possible to capture the subject. It tends to make the subject "pop". I imagine this is why if you ask photographers the most common mode they're in is aperture priority (Av on canons).

    My criticism of this is the bokeh is hexagonal instead of a smooth circle. This was caused by aperture stopping down lower than it's widest 1.8. I guess that's a benefit if you upgrade from the "nifty fifty" to one of the more expensive ones is the number of aperture blades increase and/or they're curved to eliminate the hex look.

    Another thing to use bokeh for beyond lights is to remove distractions from the background. Take this picture that I took last weekend. I wanted to take the picture at this angle but there was a car parked on the street. Using the max f/2.8 I have on my lens, and with the distance of me to subject much shorter than subject to parked car, I effectively made the car just a blob of blue that most people wouldn't notice. Although it's purely coincidence it appears she's looking right at the blob :)

  3. I hear you, Todd, about shooting wide open (widest aperture, f/1.8 in this case). I think that's generally the accepted norm because you do always get the circular bokeh. I tried this wide open, and I didn't like how diffuse the background became, so I stopped down a bit. I actually don't mind the pentagonal bokeh, but maybe that's because I've seen so many bokeh circles in my time. It's interesting that in films we see a lot of non-circular bokeh, and no one seems to mind, but much of the photography world thinks it's somehow 'wrong.'

    Anyway, thanks so much for your comment! I always appreciate a healthy debate.

  4. You'll get no debate from me here...this is way cool! I would have never thought of stopping it down a bit to get a different shape to the bokeh...you taught me something new and I love the results (also, I find birds of paradise fascinating)!

  5. I just realized I edited out a part of my comment. Wanted to somehow word it that people wouldn't consider this "good" bokeh because of the shape. but couldn't figure out how to word it but ended up making my post sound more critical than I planned.

    That said... ;) I think what is making me critical at all is the teal dot. If that wasn't there I'd probably not even notice but that one really makes [the bokeh] pop and distract from the actual subject But still good, especially coming from a $90 lens :)

    Chesney, see http://www.bokehmasterskit.com/. They sell a kit where you cover the lens with a holder and then insert a bunch of different shapes and will then create a bunch of different shaped bokeh like hearts and arrows and stuff. I haven't used it but a lot of people seem to like it.

  6. Jessica,

    I just love this shot. Really nice work.

  7. I think the fact that this is a very unusual flower and the light can be seen shining on the flower makes this image so much more interesting. I really like this process.

  8. Scott had me come and view your blog.I enjoyed going through the photos.Great pictures.

  9. Very interesting image. I love how the bird of paradise stands out from the background.
    Thanks for your tutorial.

  10. I like the shape of the bokeh in this picture. :)

    The bird of paradise is a very interesting flower to look at too. Well done!

  11. Great tutorial on Bokeh. since we have an open discussion here I find the brightness of the lights in the background more distracting vs the shape of the lights. My eyes kepp going from the flower to the lights and back and forth.

  12. The effect is great, I have to agree with Edmund on the eyes wandering thing.

  13. Interesting discussion. I like the geometric result in the bokeh and can think of a few shots of my own where I would like to get that result. It does draw me away from the intended subject though.


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