Go Deep

About five or six years ago, the term "bokeh" started getting batted around a lot in the photography community. Bokeh became one of the most overused buzzwords of the decade, and now just about every online discussion or review of a lens discusses the phenomena of bokeh at length.

Bokeh is a word that seems to have materialized out of nowhere although Wikipedia claims it was first used somewhere around 1997. It’s also one of the most misunderstood and misused terms in the whole discipline of photography.

The deep depth of field allows you to see all of the details of this rather expansive architectural shot of the Texas State Capitol. Nikon D700, Zenitar 16mm ƒ/2.8 fisheye at ƒ/11

Bokeh is an adaptation of the Japanese word boke, which is loosely translated as blur. The term is used to describe the quality or characteristics of the out-of-focus areas that occur when a shallow depth of field is used in an image. Many people commonly use the term bokeh when they actually mean shallow depth of field, and there are many discussions on whether the bokeh of certain lenses is good or bad—although, technically, there’s no good or bad bokeh. What some people refer to as "bad bokeh" others refer to as "character."

Indeed, one of the most important aspects in photography is the ability to control depth of field by selecting the proper aperture. This is how professional photographers have been isolating the subject from the background, resulting in the subject in sharp focus and the background fading into a nice indistinct blur. Since the term bokeh has become so commonplace, many photographers, even the newest beginners, quickly figure out that to make your images more professional-looking and artistic, you use a fast prime lens with a wide aperture to create a shallow depth of field.

The bokeh craze has gotten to the point where many photographers are buying up every fast prime they can get their hands on and shooting everything wide open, all the time. This has led to a proliferation of photographs where there’s a tiny subject in focus and an inordinate amount of the photograph is left as a blurry mess or becomes overwhelmed with circular blobs of light that distract the viewer from the actual subject. There even has become a propensity for some photographers to focus on nothing, making the bokeh the de facto subject, which to be quite honest, doesn’t usually make for a compelling photograph. Some photographers are getting so caught up in the out-of-focus areas that they’re forgetting to look at the areas that are in focus.

Now that we’ve talked about the bokeh culture, we can concentrate on breaking the cycle of "bokeh abuse." The fact is that you don’t always need to shoot wide open to create a photographic work of art. More to the point is that many subjects actually benefit from increased depth of field.

Let’s take a look at some subjects where deeper depth of field helps to create a more interesting image.

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