Create a Double Bokeh Effect for Portrait Photos

Create a Double Bokeh Effect for Portrait Photos

Create a double bokeh effect for portrait photos - sample image-1

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.

Sharelle with double bokeh effect

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Easy Portrait Photography – Use Walls

Easy Portrait Photography – Use Walls

“Easy portrait photography” – is there such a thing? For many it can seem endlessly complicated, especially when it comes to posing. How should you direct someone to pose? It may be easy enough if you are working with a professional model, but what about “normal” (!) people?! One of my favourite easy portrait photography tips to teach on workshops is how to get great images using walls. You can use a wall in various ways and it normally isn’t too hard to find one. If you simply stand someone in front of one then it can give you a reasonable background:

Easy Portrait Photography - Use Walls-5

Some walls have interesting textures and colours so can look ok as background for portraits. However, if you stand someone in front of a wall like this then it is hard to get a blurred background. They would need to come away from the wall quite a bit. This too can work, of course. But, I’d like to suggest you try using the wall to help with your posing. If your subject is a long way from the wall then you will often find they don’t know how to stand. They can also struggle to know what to do with their hands. This can result in images that look unnatural and uncomfortable.

Instead, I ask subjects to lean against the wall in a way that is comfortable. This may be with their back to the wall or leaning with a hand against the wall, for example.

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Easy Portrait Photography - Use Walls-1

If the person feels they are standing comfortably then the pose will look more natural instead of forced. It will make your job easier and take away some of their anxiety over what to do with their limbs. You can look for opportunities such as archways or the end corner of a wall and have them lean against that too:

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It can even work for couple shots. Posing couples is a whole other ballgame to just single person portraiture. However, you can still use a wall for them to lean on. You could have one leaning on the wall and the other holding them or holding hands with them, for example. It is also an interesting environment for creating more fashion based images such as this one:

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If you move round so that you are facing along the wall then it is much easier to create a lovely bokeh (blurred background) effect. Use a wide aperture (e.g. f/2.8 or 1.8) with a lens in the region of 50-200mm to get a softer background. To get the best blur you normally need the wall to carry on a fair way behind your subject to give some distance.

Easy Portrait Photography - Use Walls-2

Or, you can try blurring the wall nearest to you to give a slightly different effect. To do this, you need the subject far enough away that when they are in focus the wall right near you is out of focus. This gives foreground bokeh. You might be able to create both foreground and background bokeh with this technique. For example:

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Do take care over what is sticking out of an old wall. You should check that your subject won’t injure themselves on old nails or screws, for example. Also, they may be less keen to lean on a dirty old wall if they are wearing their best clothes. Maybe ask them to lean on it with their hand rather than their back. With a little bit of experimentation, you can easily create a variety of good shots. If you would like to learn more then do read our articles on outdoor portraits and taking portraits outdoors using flash. Or, consider coming on one of our photography workshops or perhaps book a one to one photography lesson.

© Joe Lenton, June 2017

Focal Length for Portrait Photography

Focal Length for Portrait Photography

With so much lens choice available, which is the right focal length for portrait photography? This is something I often get asked by students at workshops and by those looking to upgrade their kit. There are certain focal lengths that are more widely used for particular types of photography. They can give you quite predictable, reliable results. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t use other lenses. You can use any focal length that you like provided that you are aware of what results it will produce. Sometimes you may want the exaggerated perspective created by a wideangle. The important thing is that you have creative control and know which tool to use for which job. As a general rule, for headshots a wideangle lens is not a great idea – see below.

Focal length for portrait photography-1

As you can see, an ultrawide lens distorts the facial features, especially making the nose look bigger. This was taken using a focal length of 15mm on a full-frame camera. The equivalent for crop sensor would be about 10mm. This is not the kind of lens to use if you want a flattering portrait. There are other applications for wideangles that do work. So don’t assume that you can’t ever use one for portrait photography. Just don’t go too close unless you are after a very odd effect. It might be ok for Halloween portraits perhaps!

This next image was taken at 24mm (again full-frame – crop equivalent about 35mm):

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Here is a version at 30mm full-frame (approx. 50mm crop sensor):

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The face is starting to look more normal as we increase the focal length. The distortion disappears and we see our model roughly as we would with our own eyes. The aperture remains constant through all the images (f/2.8). So, you can also see the effect that the focal length has on blurring the background (bokeh). Each length has a different field of view – the longer the lens, the narrower the field of view. As we choose a longer lens, watch how the background changes and less of the environment is included.

This is 45mm:

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This is 70mm:

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The longer focal lengths flatten the facial features a bit more. They produce an effect that is quite flattering and good for beauty photography. It is slightly different to how we perceive people with our own eyes. The effect tends to be a positive one. You begin to lose the background so it is less of an environmental portrait. I had to move backwards as I used higher focal lengths in order to keep our model about the same size in the frame. There are also a few slight differences in the crop as she and I moved slightly. Hopefully you can still get the idea.

Here is one taken at 135mm:

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Finally, this was taken at 200mm:

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Our final image is very different from our starting one! If you want to achieve maximum separation of your subject from the background then a long lens helps as well as a wide aperture. Different focal lengths produce images with different character. Sometimes all you want to get from the background is a bit of colour and a soft texture. If so, use a long focal length (70-200mm). If you wish to get more of a feel of the surroundings then try using a mid-range to wider focal length. None of them is really more “correct” than the others. It all depends on what you are trying to create. Learn how focal length affects your images and then you can have even more creative control for your portrait photography. These principles apply to other types of photography too. For example, have you ever tried taking nature or garden images using a wideangle lens?!

© Joe Lenton, August 2016

Creative Photography Ideas – Dew Drops

Creative Photography Ideas – Dew Drops

As we move into autumn and winter, morning dew and frosts become quite common. If you aren’t a very early riser then you can often still catch morning dew after the frosts begin to melt! The tiny water droplets on blades of grass and leaves can make fascinating subjects for creative photography. Later in the morning after sunrise, the sunlight often makes the dew sparkle, making grassy fields look like they are shimmering. It can be well worth photographing them from a distance, using the dew to add to a landscape image, for example. In this post, however, I want to explore getting up close and seeing what inspiration we can find.

Close up photography or macro photography can be a great way of freshening up your photography. We can get so used to seeing grand vistas and images taken at eye level that when we see something bigger than it normally is to our naked eye it can be quite effective. Macro photography enables us to explore the world of small things. We can look at details, find patterns and colours, for example. It can help us to appreciate our world in a whole new way. Sometimes it can be a good idea to try both wide views and macro photography in the same place. We can then get a sense of the place from the very large to the very small – really immersing ourselves in what is around us.

Have you ever noticed the furry or hairy textures on many insects, for example? Macro images help us to learn more and see more. Dew drops can sometimes end up revealing what look like mini worlds – a bit like snow-globe scenes. If you can get the right light, angle and go close enough, you can find a scene inside the little bubble of water. You may find it sparkles as the sunlight catches the edges, creating a little upside down world that looks like it has its own mini sun!

Dew drop on blade of grass

Dew drop macro shot

Dew drop “world” and sparkle on grass


These images were taken hand-held using a 105mm macro lens. Ideally, this sort of thing should be done using a tripod, but I didn’t have one with me. Also, it would have helped a lot if I had something to put in the way of the wind to stop the grass getting blown around…. but I didn’t! This just goes to show that you don’t always have to have the “perfect” gear to get a reasonable image. Yes, ideally you want a good macro lens, a tripod, a wind-shield of some kind (maybe another person!) and maybe even a flashgun. But you can manage to get something you can enjoy with less kit. If you don’t have a macro lens, there are a few cheaper options that cost much less than buying a dedicated macro lens. You could buy an extension tube, which you use with a normal lens to enable you to focus closer to your subject. Or, cheaper still, you could buy a macro filter – essentially a piece of glass that goes on the front of your lens to enable you to focus more closely (there are different strengths available). Extension tubes and filters have the downside of not allowing you to focus further away any more, but if you have had enough of close-ups, just take them off and you’re back to normal.

Dew drops also can make interesting bokeh patterns. This refers to the out of focus areas in an image. With dew drops, you can get bright circles in the out of focus areas when using a wide aperture (small f number). This can be done by focussing on something further away to get bokeh at the front of the image or by focussing on something very close and causing things further away to blur. Here are a few examples of using dew drops to create bokeh patterns:

Most of these images weren’t created using “ideal” kit. Some I like more than others, but they were all fun to create. I hope this inspires you to try and make use of the morning dew and come up with your own interpretations. Some of the images here weren’t taken until around 10am, so you don’t have to be up ridiculously early either! Happy shooting!

© Joe Lenton, November, 2014