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Business / Philosophy of Photography Taking pics is one thing, but understanding why we take them, what they mean, what they are best used for, how they effect our reality -- all of these and more are important issues of the Philosophy of Photography. One of the best authors on the subject is Susan Sontag in her book "On Photography."

View Poll Results: Bokeh: Do you like it or loathe it?
I like bokeh when it is used properly and not too frequently 60 57.14%
I loathe photographs that utilize bokeh 3 2.86%
I think bokeh is a waste of space in a photograph 3 2.86%
I think the current anti-bokeh trend is a load of crap 14 13.33%
Other (please elaborate) 25 23.81%
Voters: 105. You may not vote on this poll

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Bokeh: Do you like it or loathe it?
Old 07-14-2015   #1
noisycheese
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Bokeh: Do you like it or loathe it?

In some quarters, there seems to be a backlash against bokeh these days. At one time, bokeh was in style; now it seems that bashing bokeh is trendy. I am at a loss to understand this phenomenon, but it seems to be growing.

So my questions about bokeh are:
1 - Do you like it or loathe it?
2 - Why?
3 - Is bokeh a waste of space in the image?
4 - Is the current anti-bokeh trend a load of crap??
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Old 07-14-2015   #2
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Using bokeh as a technique is like cooking with any spice--a little bit enhances the flavor; too much ruins it.
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Old 07-14-2015   #3
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i cannot get excited about bokeh...i also can't tell the difference between 'good' and 'bad' bokeh...maybe that's why i can't get excited over it.
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Old 07-14-2015   #4
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if i see somebody photograph backlit foliage, bushes, tall grass, or the ground covered with gravel and leaves with the lens wide open, resulting in tons of harsh bokeh, i just might lose it.
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Old 07-14-2015   #5
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It's got it's purpose, same as any other technique, but I guess there was a period when it seemed that nobody shot anything above f/0.95 and it was used as a crutch to prop up bad photos, same as over-sharpening did, HDR, lo-fi, and many other trends.

Bokeh is/was a trend, but it also has it's uses, same as street food, it's big fad, and that gets annoying, but that's not to say it's not tasty sometimes.
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Old 07-14-2015   #6
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Honestly, I don't understand the question. If "bokeh" is, to pick one definition,
Quote:
the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image produced by a lens
...then I don't understand how you can be either for or against "bokeh" per se. It seems to me that any lens is capable of producing in-focus and out-of-focus parts of an image. The aesthetic qualities of the out-of-focus parts of an image can be, I guess, assessed or ignored, but I don't see how you can be "for" or "against" them.

If you're trying to ask about sensor sizes, wide or narrow apertures etc. and whether one likes images with larger or smaller areas that appear out-of-focus then that seems like a different question to me Perhaps something about the virtues, or otherwise, of using selective focus when constructing an image

...Mike
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Old 07-14-2015   #7
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It's definitely been a recent trend. I guess these things go in cycles. I remember tilt-shift being very popular in the early 90s, as in reverse tilt to minimize the plane of focus, along with cross processing E-6, Polaroid transfers and doing studio/commercial type work with light painting....

Bokeh is one result of the popularity of photography through DSLRs and now mirrorless cameras at relatively affordable prices. Digital got a lot of people hooked on photography. A significant number of enthusiasts love gear as much as the images they produce. in the realm of gear chasing, fast lenses are significantly desirable. I'm definitely guilty to some extent, having collected a number of rangefinder 50s spanning the 50s to present, solely for their 'rendering character'. Interestingly, the one I use most is probably the most neutral - the 50 Lux ASPH. But it can do the well blurred background look very nicely.

The shallow depth of field look serves a purpose. Obviously it's great for subject isolation. But that's just one aspect, since a boring but beautifully isolated subject is still boring. I use it a lot during weddings as one element combined with composition and timing. At least that's the intent...
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Old 07-14-2015   #8
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I agree with mfunnell in that the question could mean a couple different things.

In the sense of, do I like (or like to create) images with prominent use of out-of-focus areas, it depends on the image. Catchy? Yes. Easy to use? Yes. Easy to use in a appropriately and with strong vision, is more difficult and less-seldom seen. Shallow DOF does seem to have been a bit of a fad for awhile with the resurgence in 135-format cameras and lenses and the sudden mass availability of inexpensive medium format to hobbyists, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy the technique when it's well-used.

In my own photography I certainly use it when appropriate to help subject isolation; either with large lens aperture or tilt/swing movements (and of course the selective focus thing is a whole discussion :P ). At least 2/3rds of my images use deep DOF, but I like using shallow focus with close-up and some medium-distance photos. When I shot with Fuji 6x9, I used a shallow depth of field in most of my images as the larger format allowed a more subtle look. Certain images are absolutely improved with shallow DOF, some not. Depends on the subject and elements in the scene, and geometric/color composition used by the photographer.


As for, do I think the discussion of and experimentation with the character of the out-of-focus areas (what I usually think of when I hear "bokeh"), I think that too is something that can maybe be faddish but I personally find it interesting. As something that can strongly affect the look of an image I believe the look of OOF areas is certainly worth discussing! I also think it's perfectly fine that some/many photographers couldn't care less about the discussion, or don't have a preference in the "look" that different lenses provide in that sense.

To each their own! Art, by it's definition is largely subjective
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Old 07-14-2015   #9
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I love the creamy transition from post to post. Nice thread.
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Old 07-14-2015   #10
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I love it. Very useful. I don't understand the backlash. Overused by some who photograph nothing. Used purposefully and to great effect by most when the moment calls. It's a great tool DOF control.
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Old 07-14-2015   #11
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I love the OOF areas of photos.It's the in focus areas which I dislike.
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Old 07-15-2015   #12
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I guess being an old guy influences the way I see the whole "bokeh" thing. Back in the day, we didn't talk about bokeh. We used fast lenses and put up with out of focus backgrounds because ASA 400 film was super high speed for us. Shooting with available light (which was a "look" back then) in anything but good daylight resulted in "bokeh."

I sometimes use it for effect; but, I tend to shoot most things at middle apertures to keep everything in focus these days. Looking back at my old photos, I've decided that the environment surrounding the subjects I was shooting is far more interesting, now, then the subjects (often forgotten) that I was shooting.

Different strokes, I guess.
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Old 07-15-2015   #13
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Up until fairly recently large sensor cameras were not affordable to casual consumers, so bokeh signified commercial photography or the cinematic. Now that it's new norm to treat social media as a personal PR outlet and how the internet more than anything is now a personal marketing tool, it makes sense that consumer photographers will try and adopt some of the visual language of advertorial photography and cinema, even if it is just to take pictures of their lunch. The backlash (if there is any) is probably more against the hubris turn kitsch that constant shallow DOF represents than a reaction against actual technique. In other words maybe the backlash against the faux pas of bokeh is even more trendy than the bokeh obsession in the first place.
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Old 07-15-2015   #14
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When you don't want the background to distract from the subject, then bokeh is important, but it is not intrinsically important. It is a tool, not something to be admired, except perhaps by fellow photographers who are interested in technique.

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Old 07-15-2015   #15
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two items:

Graflex Pacemaker Speed Graphic, and Kodak Aero Ektar 2.5/178mm.

You do the math


I think it's hilarious when people start to chime of 'Aye' or 'Nay' when it comes to this. After all, why limit oneself in photography by adapting either camp as a religion?
In short, when I like bokeh, I'll use it, and when I don't, I won't. And I don't bloody need to justify any of that to anyone either. Folk who size me up as a photographer by looking at a few shots are welcome to do so, I don't give a hoot anyway, I'm out shooting

Luckily, Ned only occasionally finds me 'untalented and in need of a crutch', that's a relief



Test shot from the meta-sequioa tree in my front yard, contrast corrected but no scan clean-up done
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Old 07-15-2015   #16
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This is a really interesting thread! I love the discussions that go on here


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Old 07-15-2015   #17
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Bokeh is not an aim, it's a result.
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Old 07-15-2015   #18
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Bokeh is not defined as "out of focus" but as "out of focus rendering". While there is nothing wrong with out of focus space in a picture (it often can't be avoided, or is desirable for better subject isolation) I have issues with qualifying the latter, as I frequently disagree about supposedly good or bad bokeh, where I can see it at all (more often, I don't notice or don't care - most pictures of a partially in focus cat or coffee cup are tedious regardless of bokeh). Indeed, even pronounced bokeh nuts usually are very inconsistent regarding their likes and dislikes.
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Old 07-15-2015   #19
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Quote:
I like bokeh when it is used properly and not too frequently

Define properly! .... And who decides whether a particular use of bokeh is proper .... the bokeh police?

Suggesting that there is a correct and incorrect way of using bokeh is ridiculous .... it's a choice to be made by the individual just like shutter speed, aperture or ISO.
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Old 07-15-2015   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thirtyfivefifty View Post
Bokeh is not an aim, it's a result.
For you and others maybe, but bokeh can just as easy be an aim and frankly, what's the fuss when it is...


Half the time these threads feel like a kindergarten conversation where one says 'I like green' and others start telling what their favorite color is.
It's all very sweet etc when kids do that, but that's about all it is, really!
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Old 07-15-2015   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Keith View Post
Define properly! .... And who decides whether a particular use of bokeh is proper .... the bokeh police?

Suggesting that there is a correct and incorrect way of using bokeh is ridiculous .... it's a choice to be made by the individual just like shutter speed, aperture or ISO.
I agree that shallow DOF and character of bokeh is a choice- but shutter speed and ISO are objective settings in that there are "correct" values that must be set.

As you say, there is no correct and incorrect way of using bokeh / shallow depth of field, so I would say in that sense it is more similar to composition and post-processing in that it's a subjective choice.

I am 100% in agreement with your sentiment, just discussing semantics because I find discourse of artistic technique interesting
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Old 07-15-2015   #22
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I can't be concerned with debating it... it either works for a photo or it doesn't. It's always been there and always will be as long as we use lenses for photography. However, I can't get into photos where the only subject is bokeh though.
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Old 07-15-2015   #23
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I love bokeh.
If it helps the subject stand out from the background.
Or, if it helps to create a sense of distance and depth within the scene.

To me, it's harder to create a compelling photograph when everything is in focus.
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Old 07-15-2015   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JP Owens View Post
I guess being an old guy influences the way I see the whole "bokeh" thing. Back in the day, we didn't talk about bokeh. We used fast lenses and put up with out of focus backgrounds because ASA 400 film was super high speed for us. Shooting with available light (which was a "look" back then) in anything but good daylight resulted in "bokeh."
Quote:
Originally Posted by nongfuspring View Post
Up until fairly recently large sensor cameras were not affordable to casual consumers, so bokeh signified commercial photography or the cinematic. Now that it's new norm to treat social media as a personal PR outlet and how the internet more than anything is now a personal marketing tool, it makes sense that consumer photographers will try and adopt some of the visual language of advertorial photography and cinema, even if it is just to take pictures of their lunch. The backlash (if there is any) is probably more against the hubris turn kitsch that constant shallow DOF represents than a reaction against actual technique. In other words maybe the backlash against the faux pas of bokeh is even more trendy than the bokeh obsession in the first place.
For me it's kind of a combination of these two posts.... In the past, having to manage shallow depth of field was always just a given in photography. The further back you go the more compromises you had to make (slow aperture lenses and film on 8x10 cameras!). As film sizes shrank, ISOs improved and lenses got faster it started offering much more flexibility in composition and spontaneity -- but you still had to be cognizant of DOF. Treating it artfully just meant you were a good photographer dealing with the technical limitations of the medium. With the advent of APS and then digital, film/sensor sizes shrunk still further, especially for consumer level cameras... Eventually we got to the point where you COULDN'T have shallow DOF even if you wanted it.

I feel like the resurgence of purposefully shooting shallow DOF was kind of a collective response to people realizing their photographs no longer looked like photographs from days gone by... Like most of you I'm sure, I field many requests from family/friends inquiring about moving up from an iPhone to a dedicated camera. I ask them to rank their priorities and more often than not these are the top two requests:

1) When I push the shutter I want it to take the picture (i.e. speed/responsiveness)
2) I want professional looking pictures (i.e. shallow DOF).
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Old 07-15-2015   #25
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By definition, bokeh is NOT shallow DOF, but the rendering of out-of-focus areas! Surprisingly few of the contributors to this thread seem to have any opinion on the latter...
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Old 07-15-2015   #26
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OK, so let's get down to cases (some old photos):

#1


#2


#3


In #1 I quite deliberately wanted selective focus to isolate the subject. The quality of the OOF background is, to my mind, somewhat nervous and I might, in the grand scheme of things, have preferred a different rendering. But my Elmar-M 50mm/f2.8 just plain wouldn't fit on my Contax G2...

In #2 I wanted some 3D-ish effect, produced with a degree of subject isolation, but wanted less foreground to background separation. I actually like the way the background is rendered here, but without anything standing out as being hugely out of focus...

In #3 I wanted things to look mostly sharp foreground through background.

Were my choices wrong in any of these? Perhaps. Different folks have different tastes. But only in #1 and #2 is there any point in even discussing "bokeh". And both can be discussed equally. Discussions of how out of focus the background is are not about bokeh, while discussions of the quality of the out-of-focus areas are.

Technical details

#1) Contax G2 w 45mm/f2 Planar @f2
#2) Leica M3 w Elmar-M 50mm/f2.8 @ f4
#3) Canon 30D w 17-55mm/f2.8 @ 17mm/f9


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Old 07-15-2015   #27
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Bokeh?

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Old 07-15-2015   #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BLKRCAT View Post
Bokeh?
OK, so we're talking about things such as point light-sources tending more elliptical than circular, the colour-shift in the rim around those point light-sources, the fact there is a rim - that kind of thing? Or are we just talking about how much of the photo is out of focus, and how out of focus those OOF areas are? Different things...

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Expensive remnant
Old 07-15-2015   #29
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Talking Expensive remnant

Hi, very interesting question.

Bokeh is a remnant of lens characteristics and its been a trend in these years. DEcadent pictures of luxs shooting hydrants at night with comments like "breathtaking" have been a trend in many places.
Bkeh has been upgraded mechanically to a type of punctum that as its nature has nothing but blurrness.

Id say bokeh is not only a waste of money and field its also a naive and lazy reason to make photographs interesting. Naive cos many give for granted that this blur will make a picture meaningful and lazy because the lens gets the whole responsibility of this pretended interest...using barthes concepts id say bokeh puts studium and punctum into retreat. Operator exists no more, Spectator knows nothing.

As i said before being a remnant of the lens output it should be kept that way, the divisory line may be fuzzy but is there and everyone must work hard intelectually to determine how to use it. Expensive remnants cant be put in a pedestal and cant lead the play.

After all photography is a demanding activity no matter if you are a pro or amateur.
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Old 07-15-2015   #30
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Is where really such crap as anti-bokeh?
What those bunch of guffs do?
Taking it at 28mm and wider with f16?
It is like anti DOF and anti aperture.
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Old 07-15-2015   #31
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ko.Fe. View Post
Is where really such crap as anti-bokeh?
What those bunch of guffs do?
Taking it at 28mm and wider with f16?
It is like anti DOF and anti aperture.
Well, f64 was a thing...

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Old 07-15-2015   #32
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Quote:
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Honestly, I don't understand the question. If "bokeh" is, to pick one definition, ...then I don't understand how you can be either for or against "bokeh" per se.
...Mike
I agree totally.

The OP's questionaire implies a lack of understanding as the the real original definition of "bokeh", which is unfortunately becoming more and more common in posts. The term is mutating into being a trendy nose-in-the-air replacement for longer phrases that require effort to type into a post (e.g. "shallow depth of field", ...).

I wish newbies would stop using "bokeh" except when discussing the guality of the blur. It should be used to refer to the quantity of blur.
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Old 07-15-2015   #33
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mfunnell View Post
Well, f64 was a thing...

...Mike
Ive never seen F64 so I'm going to assume thats a LF thing or rare MF thing. Ive seen F32 on MF.

How much diffraction would you be getting at F64? Sounds like it could be a useless aperture anyways.
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Old 07-15-2015   #34
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BLKRCAT View Post
Ive never seen F64 so I'm going to assume thats a LF thing or rare MF thing. Ive seen F32 on MF.

How much diffraction would you be getting at F64? Sounds like it could be a useless aperture anyways.
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Old 07-15-2015   #35
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"anti-bokeh" LOL. I'm anti-potato.
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Old 07-15-2015   #36
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dwig View Post
I agree totally.

The OP's questionaire implies a lack of understanding as the the real original definition of "bokeh", which is unfortunately becoming more and more common in posts. The term is mutating into being a trendy nose-in-the-air replacement for longer phrases that require effort to type into a post (e.g. "shallow depth of field", ...).

I wish newbies would stop using "bokeh" except when discussing the guality of the blur. It should be used to refer to the quantity of blur.
Agreed. My response was about the trend towards shallow DOF as that is what I think the OP was really trying to ask...
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Old 07-15-2015   #37
rbsinto
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I use depth of field as a creative device usually to emphasize or isolate subject matter and "drive" the viewer's eyes to where I want them to go in a photo.
I don't think I've ever spent even one pico-second worrying about the quality of the out of focus areas in any of my pictures that have them, and frankly never understood the preoccupation that many photographers have with this Bokeh business.
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Old 07-15-2015   #38
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I like the OOF rendering from some of my lenses, and I don't particularly care for it from some of my other lenses.

Not real sure how I vote to properly isolate that preference?
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Old 07-15-2015   #39
f16sunshine
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Harry Caul View Post
Agreed. My response was about the trend towards shallow DOF as that is what I think the OP was really trying to ask...
Quote:
Originally Posted by sevo View Post
By definition, bokeh is NOT shallow DOF, but the rendering of out-of-focus areas! Surprisingly few of the contributors to this thread seem to have any opinion on the latter...

Although that is true, like with other things that emerge from obscurity into popular use,.... the more general use of the word bokeh now refers to out of focus blur.
Less often it refers to the quality or character of the oof character of a lens.

The word has been stolen away in a way.

For it's "new" meaning this discussion seems pretty much on course.

The opinion on it's original meaning could only aply to one lens or another.
Since the OP did not mention a lens we can only assume he was not refering to one but rather, use of shallow dof in images.
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Old 07-15-2015   #40
codester80
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I think the focus is on the wrong thing. In the blurred background of the OP's question is the real question: what are all those people going to do now that boring pictures of isolated objects against a blurred background are uncool? There is an entire generation of photographers with bags full of 1.1, 1.2, and 1.4 lenses that will now have to be CLA'd so the aperture rotates after being stuck at maximum. Soon these photographers will realize a lens at 5.6 or 8, no matter the price, produces some wonderfully sharp images. They will have an existential crisis over why they possess a bag full over overpriced glass and wonder what might have been if they had spent their money on something else. Instead of hunting for the elusive buttery smooth "bokeh" these photographers will seek the aesthetics of the f/64 group alluded to in an earlier post. Tripods and lenses suffering the least from diffraction at minimum apertures will be the rage. Photographers will suffer the agony of selecting a plane of focus to maximize depth of field in an image. Hyperfocal focusing and the techniques associated with it will be argued ad nauseam.
Personally, I would like see everyone get on the slow sync flash bandwagon. There is nothing like taking a boring object and adding the illusion of motion to it through softly blurred edges. Any scene can be turned into a glowing neon universe.
Meanwhile the rest of us will continue to use all the techniques of photography, picking what works best for a particular situation or image based on years of experience and actual knowledge of photography.
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