Rumination: bokeh is not the purpose of photography

WT21

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This is sort of a recrimination on my own part, but I was looking at the image sample gallery on DPR for the new Nikon Z 28mm 2.8 (the retro skinned lens that comes with the Zfc) and my first thought on the first image was "foreground bokeh is distracting" and then later even thinking about the background bokeh, when it occurred to me - the point of photography is not bokeh. (please leave aside that this is a 28mm lens - I know, I know)

But one might think bokeh is the point, if you visit enough photo sites and lens reviews (or today, you might think it's all about AF-C for video and wide angle lenses for vlogging).

I am as guilty (or more) than the next person -- but I need to stop thinking about lens quality (bokeh, bokeh balls, DOF, etc), and think far more about my subject and story!
 

PakkyT

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Yes, same for DoF concerns. When a lot of people say FF is better because you can get even more shallow DoF I often wonder why do you want more most of the time? Some blurring of the background is nice in that is can help accentuate your subject & story, giving it a little bit of a 3D effect, but it really does not need to be much to be effective. But the way some of these people talk about it, if you are not completely obliterating your background then you are not doing it right. I almost never purposely take a photo that way and so to your point, I am often not all that concerned about the quality of that background (the bokeh) because I am usually not taking it to the extreme where it really matters.
 

DeeJayK

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I agree that "bokeh" and extreme shallow depth of field are over-fetishized in the photography community (or at a minimum, among those who are active online). For some (particularly "full frame" and medium format devotees), this is a way for them to justify the cost, size and weight penalties that their equipment choices extract. For others (and I may be included in this group) it's a way to rationalize that f/0.95 lens.

OTOH, shallow DOF when used well to isolate the subject of an image is a very effective tool to have in one's arsenal.

But it's a good idea to take a step back and understand that the subject's ears don't need to be out of focus on every portrait shot. In fact, I would say that I see just as many or more photographs that would be improved with a deeper DOF as those where I crave shallower DOF.

- K
 

DAEMANO

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This is sort of a recrimination on my own part, but I was looking at the image sample gallery on DPR for the new Nikon Z 28mm 2.8 (the retro skinned lens that comes with the Zfc) and my first thought on the first image was "foreground bokeh is distracting" and then later even thinking about the background bokeh, when it occurred to me - the point of photography is not bokeh. (please leave aside that this is a 28mm lens - I know, I know)

But one might think bokeh is the point, if you visit enough photo sites and lens reviews (or today, you might think it's all about AF-C for video and wide angle lenses for vlogging).

I am as guilty (or more) than the next person -- but I need to stop thinking about lens quality (bokeh, bokeh balls, DOF, etc), and think far more about my subject and story!

Yes indeed, thanks because seriously, we need to blow off steam now and then.

True, Bokehlicious everything sucks.
Most photos I see these days with the background blown out are generally uncreative and definitely uninspiring. Especially for weddings. It seems like every wedding photographer in the world stopped shooting the actual wedding in favor of trying to make studio backgrounds out of the whole event. It's derivative aesthetics masturbation. Where's the story?

And why continuous AF in talking head vlogs. Why!?
Insufferable YouTuber doing yet another poorly contrived review of a clearly sponsored product shot at f/0.0009 to get the aforementioned cartoon background while using AF-C. Same vlogger unceasingly whinges about "contrast hunting AF!" Look dummy, if the subject isn't moving on the x-axis, you don't need the camera to try and continuously adjust the focus. Especially if it's against a solid color background. Also, don't get upset if your camera fails at pulling focus to the product you just thrust at the lens if you're using Face detect AF-C while your face is still in the frame. What did you think Face-detect meant? Obscure your eyes and mouth from the camera with the product and watch how your sorry pathetic CDAF magically transforms into the PDAF of your dreams.

Cut with the "I quit M43" or "I'm leaving to FF" posts or vlogs. Just go.
Nobody cares about why you think your new gear has warranted the switch from the gear we all actually like. We all know the pros and cons of M43 by now. If you're headed out to a new sensor size, please skip the monologue about how superior you think your new gear is for you and just go. Same goes for vloggers who built an audience of M43 supporters only to decide to "go FF". Don't get your panties in a wad when you get backlash from people that want M43 content. We don't want to hear about how many people un-subbed you and how unreasonable that is. Just go.
 
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ralf-11

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I quit M43 today and I'm leaving to FF
 
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Funny, one of the hardest things for me to realize and work through/around with my FF Pentax K1 is the thin DOF. I shot with mft for so long and never had any real issue getting what I want in the focal plane. Now I have to really think and calculate to get equivalent results on the bigger sensor.
 

melanieylang

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I am as much of a sucker for beautiful background blur as the next bokehphile, but I've noticed more often lately, while watching high grade films, that I find it annoying when "too many" scenes are shot with "too much" background blur. It seems...I don't know, lazy? It would often look more interesting with more recognisable background objects.
 

L0n3Gr3yW0lf

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I have been wanting to make a post on the same subject with one of the most recent and disappointing example: Army of The Dead.
I can respect the vision and intent of a director/artist/photographer but there is such a thing as too much. That movie was shot (and admitted publicly by Zack Snyder) about 2/3 with ultra-fast lens: Canon 50mm f 1.2. To the point that most of the movie, I was trying to see and understand what the hell is happening. With a DoF so thin it was a lot of color smearing with little to no reason for it outside of trying to be "artsy". It's easy to enjoy something over the top for entertainment but the way it was shot makes me question what's going on and why it has to be so fuzzy. Even action moments are being lost in the damn bokelishousness. At one point all I could see on the screen was the very tip of the pistol and nothing but dark shapes from the person carrying it.

It would have been better with a smaller aperture where you can see the amount of effort and money put into the backdrops, sets, costumes, makeup, VFX. And I think this one is squarely on Zack Snyder because Netflix, the studio that funded the movie, gave him 100% freedom in everything to make the movie so all the decisions were his to make.
 

Vermont3133

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As someone who predominantly shoots city/landscapes bokeh is actually not my friend and it could be lumped together in a basket with CAs, distortion and flare etc.
Ansell Adams and some mates showed what they thought of blurred backgrounds when they created the F/64 club! :laugh:
But I do like the idea of 'contextual bokeh' where there can be subject separation but where the out of focus background still provides something more than a mono chromatic blur or pretty balls of light.
 

John M Flores

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{something} {something} forest {something} {something} trees

Bokeh is little more than a creative tool. When people start conflating it with creativity or artistry, they've lost the plot.

{something} {something} hammer {something} {something} nail
 

Darmok N Jalad

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Coincidentally, in another forum I frequent, a member shoots both M43 and MF. He likes both, and commented about how some FF shooters say MF just doesn't offer enough of an improvement and the DOF is too thin!
 

L0n3Gr3yW0lf

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Coincidentally, in another forum I frequent, a member shoots both M43 and MF. He likes both, and commented about how some FF shooters say MF just doesn't offer enough of an improvement and the DOF is too thin!
The delusion of self-bias is strong with most people and education with self-reflection of variety is the only solution ... though for photography that can be a very expensive exercise: to own even just one of each format set, while cheaper on smaller formats it will be a way too expensive for the larger ones. Maybe that is one of the elements I missed/never had in photography-oriented schools (I never went to one).
 

WT21

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Is bokeh today sort of like historical preferences for body types? What I mean is (and as I understand it) - in the past, plumpness was considered beauty. Presumably because only the rich could eat well enough to be plump. In the modern age a while back it was thinness and now it's fitness. Presumably because the richer you are (and/or the more driven you are) the more you can be thin and fit.

Is bokeh just a fashion -- now that everyone has a camera in their phone, the one thing they cannot do well (yet) is convincing background blur, and f/1.2 (and faster) lenses cost a lot, so theoretically it's a display of wealth and/or sophistication to have thin DOF.

Of course, this kind of signaling tends to be bourgeois more than true wealth. But this signaling becomes more important in some circles (especially the kind of circles desperate for large amounts of clicks and eyeballs) than the harder work of narrative and story telling. (said the guy who posted this pic a few days back)
 

Darmok N Jalad

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John M Flores

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I noticed some nice shots in the Tour de France coverage this year, where the riders are in sharp focus and the background is there but blurred just a hair. This isn't the best example but when done right it really places the viewer's focus on the subject while still providing important context:

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Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


Combined with motion blur and you've got some nice shots.


I have no idea what cameras are used and what sensor sizes, but it's nice.
 

doady

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Bokeh, the quality of the blur, rather than the amount of blur, is certainly something we should pay attention to in lens reviews, even as m4/3 users. And yes, it depends mostly on the lens, not the sensor size. Same aperture and same sensor doesn't necessarily mean the same bokeh. Hard edges around highlights, or "onion rings", is something to pay attention to in reviews, for example. I find the background blur not only easier to achieve and control with my new 12-100mm F4 compared to my old point-and-shoot, but also less "busy", certainly an improvement, which I did not expect from a superzoom lens.

Yes, it is true, some people obsess too much about increasing the amount of blur, without considering at all the potential detrimental impacts of blur, but I think they are not wrong to worry about bokeh. The real problem is when they associate good bokeh with certain sensors instead of certain lenses.
 

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