Bokeh, the high cost of portraiture



SDOF = shallow depth of field

The images above have a kind of swirling bokeh. While these are more easily found in older fast lens, summilux 35 f1.4 and voightlander 50 f1.1, i was surprised it turns up in a modern autofocus 55 1.8 FE lens. I am not going to define bokeh and its relationship with SDOF here, sufficient to say, they are related but not the same thing.

In portraiture, bokeh and SDOF are expensive. Literally. The ability to separate the noisy background or to convert a background into a creamy paste of beauty surrounding a portrait, is a much sought after attribute. When i practiced on the Xvario, i learn that without SDOF, there are some very interesting way to shoot so as to merge the background as a 2D image.

Example if non-SDOF way of shooting portrait

But more than often, SDOF and bokeh is the key to any portraiture. SDOF will first separate the subject, and BOKEH determines how background lights or even patterns will be formed. These are very artistic kind of attributes which are unfortunately overused often in portraiture. Take Keda.Z for example, his main wedding photos does not utilize SDOF nor bokeh. Why? I believe its because there is just too much SDOF/Bokeh used as a cheap way to produce nice portraiture that the pros that don’t use them immediately produces unique works of art.

Here is another one that i did, without SDOF/bokeh.


So the key really is simple. If you going to capture the scenery and put the subject as part of it, whereby the bg’s use is to accomodate the subject, then don’t use SDOF/Bokeh at all. But if you are in a close up or situation where there the scenery has no interesting/dramatic light or not interesting, SDOF/Bokeh makes all the diff.

Here is one i did, the bg are just leaves lighted by the sun, would be just end up as noisy bg, but utilizing the 85 mm 1.4 on FF, the sdof/bokeh transforms the image into a beautiful portrait.


Some lens produces technically flawed bokeh, like the earlier images, swirling background, these are easily produced by cheap Russian lens too. But these flaws because of its bokeh characteristics that are missing much from new modern lens, are now considered as advantages instead of flaws. One such lens is the Leica F1.0 lens. Good luck finding one of these “discontinued lens”.

I have now in my hands the A7R with 55 1.8 FE lens. Follow my post as i try my best to use this gear on my next project in a few days.

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