What is “bokeh,” why would I want it, and how can I get it?

Feb 16, 2021 | Ask Alfred

Dear Alfred,
What is “bokeh,” why would I want it, and how can I get it?
– Fred Harris, Lake Oswego, Oregon

Dear Fred,
While it may sound like an exotic dish, bokeh is a photography term that refers to the soft, out-of-focus backgrounds that you see in photographs and movies. The key feature is that the subject of the
image is in sharp focus, and the blurred background helps accentuate that.

The reason that you’d want to have an image with bokeh is that it keeps the background from distracting the viewer. Be honest now; have you ever been watching some TV pundit in front of a
bookshelf, and you spent more time trying to read the book titles than listening to what the person had to say?

Bokeh for your background in a virtual conference or other event can help make your presentation more effective. The image will be more attractive overall and you won’t be competing with your backdrop for attention.

So how do you get bokeh? It is created naturally when your camera lens is used wide open. Without getting into the physics of it, this creates a narrow range of focus. Objects closer or further from that
point will be out of focus. The problem with webcams is that their tiny little lenses put just about everything in focus all the time. So one way to get bokeh is to upgrade to a digital camera or video
camera and set the lens to the widest aperture (lowest f-stop) possible.

If you want to stick with your webcam, then set up an image as your virtual background. Use a photo  editor such as Photoshop to blur the image so that it looks out of focus. It will make your online
presence more engaging.

Alfred Poor, Technology Editor

Got questions about virtual events? We’ve got the answers (and if we don’t have them, we’ve got access to the experts who do). Send them to [email protected] and we’ll answer the best questions here in future newsletter issues.