Create a Double Bokeh Effect for Portrait Photos
In this post we will look at how to create a double bokeh effect for portrait photos with a simple technique. The term “bokeh” is used to refer to the soft, blurry parts of a photo. This isn’t an accidental out of focus but a deliberate way to soften the scene and draw more attention to your subject. It is easier to get a smoother bokeh using a wide aperture and a longer (telephoto) lens. I call this a double bokeh effect because we will create both foreground bokeh and background bokeh. Our subject will be sandwiched between a soft, blurred foreground and background.
First of all, you need to create background bokeh. To do this, use a wide aperture on a telephoto lens with your subject a good distance from the background. For more detail on how to blur your backgrounds successfully you might like to read our post on how to take great portraits outdoors. To create foreground bokeh you need something between yourself and the subject. It needs to be very close to the lens so that the camera sees it as fully blurred when you are focussed on your subject. Normally this is easier to achieve with bunches of flowers rather than trying to use a large block of colour like a large leaf or a single flower.
Make sure that you leave a gap in between the foreground bokeh so that your subject is clearly visible. A little overlap is fine, but you don’t want their face obscured. You may also like to think about which colours work well. Bright green, especially on a face, risks making someone look less than healthy! Choose colours that will complement your subject and their clothing if at all possible. Good candidates can be flowers such as lavender, rapeseed, bluebells, rhododendrons, etc.
You may wish to alter your angle for shooting in order to make the most of low level flowers. For example, bluebells can provide a lovely colour but a clearly very short plants. To make the technique work with this type of flower you often need to lay down on the ground to get a different type of angle.
To make the angle towards your subject more flattering, it is often a good idea to get them to come down to ground level as well. If you are shooting upwards at too steep an angle it often won’t look right. Instead, get them to sit or lay down. You may need to bring something to sit or lie on for you and your subject.
If you are struggling to find nice flowers to use then there are other things that can work well with this double bokeh technique. For example, try shooting portraits along a wall. This can also be an easier prop to help subjects to pose. Think creatively and I’m sure you can find all sorts of scenarios where this technique will help you create more interesting portraits. It doesn’t have to be limited to portrait photography either. You might like to try photographing different subjects with a double bokeh.
Here’s a summary of tips to help you get the best out of this technique:
- Use a long lens (ideally 100-200mm)
- Use a wide aperture (f/2.8 or wider if using a mid-range telephoto)
- Get your subject a good distance from the background for the background bokeh
- Have your lens almost touching the flowers for the foreground bokeh
- Leave a gap between the flowers to get your subject clear and sharp
- Using clusters of smaller flowers can be easier than one large one
- Don’t forget to experiment with angles – especially low angles for short plants
So, that is how to create a double bokeh effect for portrait photos. It tends to work best on images of girls and ladies as it gives a soft, dreamy quality to the image. Enjoy!
© Joe Lenton, June 2017