Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #194 – Bokeh

Allium blossom

This week it’s Sofia’s turn to create the challenge, and she’s focused her challenge on bokeh (pun intended). As she points out, “…bokeh is the pleasing or aesthetic quality of out-of-focus blur in a photograph”. Backgrounds can add a lot of distraction to a subject, so composing your photo to blur the background really helps to make the subject stand out. You can read her entire challenge post here.


Some lenses are better at creating a pleasing background blur than others. If you read the tutorials, you will find that lenses that have a wide (read expensive) lens opening, like f/2.8 or better, will generally produce a pleasing background bokeh if you use those wide-open lens settings.

For us amateur photographers who cannot afford an f/1.2 lens, though, there are ways to generate a pleasingly blurred background. If you have a telephoto with a very long reach, you can stand well back from the subject and extend the zoom to the full maximum. Even though my Tamron 16-300 mm lens has at best an f/6.3 lens opening at full zoom, it still provides a nicely blurred background when fully extended. The above two images are examples.


You don’t need a high-range zoom, either, to create a pleasing bokeh. Though this image was captured with the same 16-300mm lens, it was captured at f/20, and 165mm. Both those numbers would imply a large depth of field and sharp background focus. Of course, it helped that the items in the background were quite some distance from the subject.

Desert Botanical Garden

Some of the most pleasing backgrounds feature strong, sharp points of light or color that provide a pleasing blur when defocused. In the example above, the subject is set to the right using the rule-of-thirds, and the background features bright orange mallow blossoms that create yellow and orange points of light nicely blurred. This image was shot with a Nikon 18-55mm lens at 55mm with an f/5.6 lens opening. Again, distance from the background helped to create the blur effect.

Great Green Macaw

Portraits really benefit from a blurred background, whether the subject is human or animal. One of my favorite animal images came from the Natuwa Wildlife Sanctuary in Costa Rica. The birds in this section of the sanctuary are caged because of injury or other reasons why they cannot live in the wild until they recover. The chain-link cage creates an interesting background when it is blurred and the blur masks the fact that the bird is caged.

Vietnam Women’s Memorial

You may remember this image of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial I posted in a recent challenge. The image I posted didn’t have a blurred background. Those trees were too close to the subject to blur with my Kodak f/5.6 lens. These days, software applications can help with background blur and Luminar Neo has a Portrait Bokeh tool that helps automate the process of providing a blurred background. For this challenge, I took the time to use the tool to create an artificial bokeh. As the background trees were pretty close to the subject, the tool had trouble masking the subject, especially in areas around the faces. You may notice in using the comparison slider that the conversion wasn’t perfect and I didn’t take the full care or time required to completely tweak the mask.

Zoolights Selfie-Bokeh
Holiday Selfie

This image of Lynn and myself was enhanced with the portrait bokeh tool in Luminar Neo. There was almost no tweaking that was needed to complete this image. The software masked the subjects almost perfectly. You’ll find the original image to compare on my Flickr site and I’ve added many more images featuring bokeh in that album. You can get to the album by clicking here, or by clicking on any of the images above to scroll through the gallery.

I would like to take a moment to thank everyone who submitted images they shared in last week’s “They Say It’s Your Birthday” challenge. I really enjoyed reviewing and reading about everyone’s take on the challenge. As I noted, I was on the road much of the week as we returned to our Fargo home from Arizona. I apologize for not responding quickly to some people’s challenges as I was driving 7-10 hours daily on the trip.

Next week, I am looking forward to Anne’s challenge, and I invite you to join in the fun each week. If you aren’t sure how to submit a post to the group, you can find the scoop here.

John Steiner


  1. Great examples John – I love the dragonfly and the shot from the botanical garden in particular. And i was interested to see your examples using the Luminar Neo Portrait Bokeh tool. I need to experiment with that some more myself 🙂

  2. Well done John – loved your examples and especially enjoyed your comparison of the statue after Neo as well as the image of you and your wife. Excellent results from post-processing. I don’t use Neo but maybe I should! BTW your images do not show up in the reader.

  3. These images are beautifully captured, John! I really like the dragonfly, and the first one. Beautiful smile of you and your wife.

  4. Lovely bokeh images John! And thanks for letting us know the details of the lenses, etc. I do enjoy using my macro lens, but find that most any lens can produce background blur.

    • This challenge theme is enticing me to purchase a macro, and I’ve also been thinking about the so-called “nifty-fifty”, 50mm lens.
      I might have to flip a coin… or buy both of them. 🙂

  5. I loved the comparison you made to show us the benefit of bokeh, and also how you did it. I loved the allium with the green in the back.

    it is amazing how profound the memorial becomes when you take out the busy trees as the background and just see the ladies. Always a pleasure. Hello to Lynn. Stay warm.

    • Thanks! I will pass along your greeting, Donna. Truth be told, that Portrait Bokeh tool in Neo worked better than I thought it would. I do need to go back in and really clean up the edges of the statue that show how “quick and dirty” my edit really was.

    • Thanks, Hammad! The dragonfly is one of my favorite shots. I was lucky it sat long enough for me to get the shot. An advantage of the telephoto in this case is that I was able to really keep my distance so that I wouldn’t “chase” it away while trying to focus and compose. 🙂

  6. Great shots. I especially like the Desert Botanical Garden photo. I have a bunch of butterfly photos from there—unfortunately from before I started playing with bokeh effect.

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