Rumination: bokeh is not the purpose of photography

DeeJayK

Mu-43 Hall of Famer
Joined
Feb 8, 2011
Messages
4,025
Location
Pacific Northwest, USA
Real Name
Keith
Joined
Jun 26, 2013
Messages
5,137
Location
Oregon USA
Real Name
Andrew L
I decided to look at the OP referenced image before commenting, and I don't really get any feelings form that image. I wouldn't say it's gratuitous out-of-focus blur, it's probably just the kind of thing you'd get from shooting wide open at that distance. A good indicator of how the lens performs.

But I totally get the sentiment, and have decided that maybe the OP was teetering on the edge, and this shot was just the one that finally sent them over. Photography among enthusiasts as well as pros who shoot for non-photographer audiences has been overly weighted on lots of blur for a while now. My theory is that novice and enthusiast, but non-educated photographers like blur because over the digital revolution of the past twenty years, digital cameras started off with small sensors and/or slow lenses, and a large sensor or aperture was a higher-priced item, paired with higher quality, and more desirable. So now, all the photo buffs who are posting on photo sharing sites like to show off the "higher quality" blur and/or bokeh because it signifies "better" or "more pro" or whatever, while in fact they're really just signifying their lack of knowledge of what aperture and DoF is most appropriate for the shot. This is my working theory.
 
Joined
Jun 26, 2013
Messages
5,137
Location
Oregon USA
Real Name
Andrew L
You guys will probably hate me for this series of gratuitous bokeh shots, there's plenty of foreground bokeh to boot. The reason for this, however, was that I wanted to explore L Monochrome D on the GX9 along with the grain effect, using the Sigma 30/1.4 at maximum aperture when I could do so, to try and see how much I could evoke the feeling of B&W film from days gone when emulsions were slower and larger apertures were necessary to counteract motion blur and camera shake. The point was to see how close I could get with a M4/3 camera.

49725682271_ba64231058_b.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
P1000153 by Andrew Lossing, on Flickr

49740118143_bc8617b8f5_b.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
P1000200 by Andrew Lossing, on Flickr

49804347917_4e45278719_b.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
P1000514 (2) by Andrew Lossing, on Flickr

49840437772_9ea7be6a5d_b.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
P1000848 by Andrew Lossing, on Flickr

50726706898_56eb5df9d5_b.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
P1000464 by Andrew Lossing, on Flickr
 

DeeJayK

Mu-43 Hall of Famer
Joined
Feb 8, 2011
Messages
4,025
Location
Pacific Northwest, USA
Real Name
Keith
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)
I think this is a pretty good analogy. It's just a trend. I assume at some point it will turn around.

The terrible and obvious fake shallow DOF photos produced by modern smart phones make scrolling through Facebook a painful experience sometimes.

And that dew on a leaf shot of yours, WT, may be the ne plus ultra example of needlessly shallow DOF that doesn't really serve the image or the viewer. :cool:

- K
 

Darmok N Jalad

Temba, his aperture wide
Joined
Sep 6, 2019
Messages
2,080
Location
Tanagra (not really)
I decided to look at the OP referenced image before commenting, and I don't really get any feelings form that image. I wouldn't say it's gratuitous out-of-focus blur, it's probably just the kind of thing you'd get from shooting wide open at that distance. A good indicator of how the lens performs.

But I totally get the sentiment, and have decided that maybe the OP was teetering on the edge, and this shot was just the one that finally sent them over. Photography among enthusiasts as well as pros who shoot for non-photographer audiences has been overly weighted on lots of blur for a while now. My theory is that novice and enthusiast, but non-educated photographers like blur because over the digital revolution of the past twenty years, digital cameras started off with small sensors and/or slow lenses, and a large sensor or aperture was a higher-priced item, paired with higher quality, and more desirable. So now, all the photo buffs who are posting on photo sharing sites like to show off the "higher quality" blur and/or bokeh because it signifies "better" or "more pro" or whatever, while in fact they're really just signifying their lack of knowledge of what aperture and DoF is most appropriate for the shot. This is my working theory.
I think you're on to something. Modern smartphones take really good pictures, but one thing they lack--due to the reasons you mention--is shallow DOF. Manufacturers know this, so they have gone as far as artificially producing bokeh through software (side note, it's an utter failure if you have kids with curly hair). Bokeh has become a means of distinguishing one's photo from a million smartphone photos--the shallow DOF ones simply stand out.

It's the same with some 108MP sensor they have on an Android phone. Yes, it retrieves distant details, and you might even be able to take a picture of a bird on a post from 75 feet away and crop it down like you had a 300mm lens, but the surroundings are probably going to be just as in-focus as the bird, like a Where's Waldo poster.
 

oldracer

Mu-43 Hall of Famer
Joined
Oct 1, 2010
Messages
2,751
Location
USA
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.
To me, this concern is a close cousin to pixel-peeping. Interesting, but not really photography. Subject, light, and composition so dominate what is needed to make a good photograph that everything else is left in the dust. A lens with perfect DOF and perfect bokeh (whatever that might be) cannot make a good photograph out of a bad one. We have, what, 70-90 years of wonderful 35mm images where no one even knew or cared about what bokeh was.
 

RAH

Mu-43 Hall of Famer
Joined
Dec 1, 2013
Messages
2,065
Location
New Hampshire
Real Name
Rich
We have, what, 70-90 years of wonderful 35mm images where no one even knew or cared about what bokeh was.
Why is that? I mean, this isn't a digital photography artifact, is it? I think it is an optical thing (aperture, etc). If so, during those 70-90 years, didn't folks notice that sometimes their photos had blurry backgrounds? I mean, whether you want it or not, I think it is hard not to see it and not to think about it.
 

RAH

Mu-43 Hall of Famer
Joined
Dec 1, 2013
Messages
2,065
Location
New Hampshire
Real Name
Rich
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.
Speaking of movies with bad bokeh, a few years ago I saw a movie called "12 Years A Slave" (I think it may have gotten some big awards, maybe Oscar), but what struck me was the 8-sided bokeh. It may not have been more prevalent than a typical movie, but it was so in-your-face not round and smooth, that it made me wonder why they used such a lens. It must have been deliberate (I guess), but it seems odd. Here is a snapshot
12_years_a_slave_bad_bokeh1.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


Actually, looking at it now, it is pretty smooth bokeh, but that shape is hard to miss (at least for me, and I don't usually notice such things in movies).
 

doady

Mu-43 Top Veteran
Joined
May 18, 2020
Messages
637
Location
Canada
To me, this concern is a close cousin to pixel-peeping. Interesting, but not really photography. Subject, light, and composition so dominate what is needed to make a good photograph that everything else is left in the dust. A lens with perfect DOF and perfect bokeh (whatever that might be) cannot make a good photograph out of a bad one. We have, what, 70-90 years of wonderful 35mm images where no one even knew or cared about what bokeh was.

I'm just saying, if you are shopping for a lens, evaluating a quality of a lens based on sample images, why not pay attention to the bokeh? From a purely artistic POV, maybe it's not so important for me, but if someone wants to do portraits, shouldn't they worry about bokeh? It does affect the aesthetics of an image to some degree.

Of course, as an audience member, I don't care about portraits, so bokeh is probably not going to affect how much I like or dislike other people's photographs. Maybe for macro I might notice it a little bit, but even then it is probably not a big deal.

As a photographer, I didn't buy a new camera for 15 years. From 2004 to 2019, I used the same camera. So obviously "pixel peeping" isn't really my thing. But when I am about to spend thousands of dollars on my new first camera and lens in 15 years, is it really wrong to do some pixel peeping?

The OP isn't talking about looking at images in exhibition at an art gallery, he's talking about looking at sample images for a particular prime lens, that were created solely to showcase the abilities of the lens, on a gear review website. I think to pay attention to bokeh in such images is not wrong at all. That's exactly what he should do.
 

DeeJayK

Mu-43 Hall of Famer
Joined
Feb 8, 2011
Messages
4,025
Location
Pacific Northwest, USA
Real Name
Keith
Why is that? I mean, this isn't a digital photography artifact, is it? I think it is an optical thing (aperture, etc). If so, during those 70-90 years, didn't folks notice that sometimes their photos had blurry backgrounds? I mean, whether you want it or not, I think it is hard not to see it and not to think about it.
It seems as though the term "Bokeh" was only introduced (or at least popularized) in the late 1990s.

However, I agree with you that it stands to reason that ever since photographers started to build an understanding of depth of field (which, I presume would have been very early on) that some likely would have noticed the various qualities of the out of focus areas, even if they didn't use the term bokeh to describe such. The fetishization may have come about only in the past twenty or so years since the term was defined, but I wouldn't say that no one cared about the concept prior to that.

- K
 

DeeJayK

Mu-43 Hall of Famer
Joined
Feb 8, 2011
Messages
4,025
Location
Pacific Northwest, USA
Real Name
Keith
Speaking of movies with bad bokeh, a few years ago I saw a movie called "12 Years A Slave" (I think it may have gotten some big awards, maybe Oscar), but what struck me was the 8-sided bokeh. It may not have been more prevalent than a typical movie, but it was so in-your-face not round and smooth, that it made me wonder why they used such a lens. It must have been deliberate (I guess), but it seems odd. Here is a snapshot
View attachment 897480

Actually, looking at it now, it is pretty smooth bokeh, but that shape is hard to miss (at least for me, and I don't usually notice such things in movies).
That octagonal bokeh is attributable to the Cooke S4 primes that this film was shot with which have 8 aperture blades. It's not an uncommon look.

- K
 
Last edited:

demiro

Mu-43 Hall of Famer
Joined
Nov 7, 2010
Messages
3,376
Location
northeast US
This makes me think of the long-standing balancing act between artistic and technically superior photos. That first really caught my attention maybe 15 years ago on POTN, where folks with their brand new L lenses were hell-bent om taking photos so sharp they could cut you. And while the capability to capture tack-sharp images is a good thing, sharpness is not an absolute quality that we must strive for at all costs. Bokeh and shallow DOF seem more-or-less like that to me. They should be choices we make around gear and settings.

So I certainly would want to know the 'character of the blur' for any lens I buy, especially an expensive one. But it's just one of many things. And while it may be trending a little too hard for a while now, I'd certainly prefer that lens manufacturers prioritize at least having decently 'non-harsh' bokeh over having lenses so clinically sharp that I can get a dermatological view of the pores on some poor model's nose.
 

ralf-11

Mu-43 All-Pro
Joined
Jan 16, 2017
Messages
1,771
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)

we need really phaat bokeh
 

DeeJayK

Mu-43 Hall of Famer
Joined
Feb 8, 2011
Messages
4,025
Location
Pacific Northwest, USA
Real Name
Keith
I decided to look at the OP referenced image before commenting, and I don't really get any feelings form that image. I wouldn't say it's gratuitous out-of-focus blur, it's probably just the kind of thing you'd get from shooting wide open at that distance. A good indicator of how the lens performs.
I also didn't see any examples in DPReview's Nikon Z 28mm gallery that stood out to me as egregious examples.

The most jarring thing (for me) in these images is the reminder, based on the images of the foliage shot inside Uncle Jeff's Balls, that DPReview is a subsidiary of Amazon. ;)

- K
 

DeeJayK

Mu-43 Hall of Famer
Joined
Feb 8, 2011
Messages
4,025
Location
Pacific Northwest, USA
Real Name
Keith
You guys will probably hate me for this series of gratuitous bokeh shots, there's plenty of foreground bokeh to boot. The reason for this, however, was that I wanted to explore L Monochrome D on the GX9 along with the grain effect, using the Sigma 30/1.4 at maximum aperture when I could do so, to try and see how much I could evoke the feeling of B&W film from days gone when emulsions were slower and larger apertures were necessary to counteract motion blur and camera shake. The point was to see how close I could get with a M4/3 camera.

View attachment 897455 P1000153 by Andrew Lossing, on Flickr

View attachment 897456 P1000200 by Andrew Lossing, on Flickr

View attachment 897457 P1000514 (2) by Andrew Lossing, on Flickr

View attachment 897458 P1000848 by Andrew Lossing, on Flickr

View attachment 897459 P1000464 by Andrew Lossing, on Flickr
None of these images really strikes me as gratuitous use of shallow DOF, Andrew.

In the image of the sign a bit more DOF might be nice to keep all of the text in focus (or closer). The shot of the train could do with a bit less foreground (IMO), but the out-of-focusness of the foreground doesn't really bother me. The shallow DOF is almost necessary in the case of the "A.D. 1939" shot and the flag image — those images would be weaker at f/22. The sea stack image is the only one of these that's crying out (IMO) for more DOF.

- K
 

ac12

Mu-43 Hall of Famer
Joined
Apr 24, 2018
Messages
3,675
Location
SF Bay Area, California, USA
Paying attention to bokeh or not depends,
  • If you do portraits, then maybe the bokeh quality is more important to you, than to me.
Then what can you do about it?
  • Do you have a choice?
    • If there is only ONE lens available, then you are stuck with it, like the bokeh or not.
      • Often a manufacturer will only have ONE lens of a particular focal length or type.
        • With Olympus you have the pro and non-pro lines which duplicate. But within the pro line, you only have that ONE lens.
      • If there is only ONE macro lens, for your mount, again you are stuck with whatever it has.
      • If you want a SMALL 500mm lens, the only option is a mirror, with the infamous donut bokeh.
    • Your alternative to Olympus lenses are Panasonic and a few other lenses from other companies.
      • m4/3 does not have the big support of the 3rd party lens manufacturers that APS-C and FF guys do.
 
Joined
Jun 26, 2013
Messages
5,137
Location
Oregon USA
Real Name
Andrew L
None of these images really strikes me as gratuitous use of shallow DOF, Andrew.

In the image of the sign a bit more DOF might be nice to keep all of the text in focus (or closer). The shot of the train could do with a bit less foreground (IMO), but the out-of-focusness of the foreground doesn't really bother me. The shallow DOF is almost necessary in the case of the "A.D. 1939" shot and the flag image — those images would be weaker at f/22. The sea stack image is the only one of these that's crying out (IMO) for more DOF.

- K
And, see, the sea stack is probably my favorite of the lot, because I feel like I accomplished what I was setting out to do best with that image. Which was to emulate old, slow B&W film in an older, larger film format. It's harder to get that look than you'd think with a M4/3 camera! I would also crop off some of the train shot foreground, but wanted to stick with the same aspect ratio. The only alternative was to get more sky, and empty sky seems as bad to me as OOF foreground.

However, when one is setting out for a more modern look, then the extremely shallow DoF is not as good an idea.
 

DeeJayK

Mu-43 Hall of Famer
Joined
Feb 8, 2011
Messages
4,025
Location
Pacific Northwest, USA
Real Name
Keith
And, see, the sea stack is probably my favorite of the lot, because I feel like I accomplished what I was setting out to do best with that image. Which was to emulate old, slow B&W film in an older, larger film format. It's harder to get that look than you'd think with a M4/3 camera! I would also crop off some of the train shot foreground, but wanted to stick with the same aspect ratio. The only alternative was to get more sky, and empty sky seems as bad to me as OOF foreground.

However, when one is setting out for a more modern look, then the extremely shallow DoF is not as good an idea.
On re-reading my characterization that the sea stack image is "crying out for" more DoF was a bit harsher sounding than I meant it. It's certainly not a bad image; I was limiting my critique to DoF on all of these. I guess that my reaction to that particular shot is based more on my expectation that landscape images should be in focus front to back. That expectation is likely the result of internalizing thousands of landscape images from the likes of Ansel Adams and his f/64 club. But if you hadn't presented the seastack image as being an example of shallow DoF, I may not have really noticed the OoF foreground.

- K
 

Latest threads

Links on this page may be to our affiliates. Sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
Mu-43 is a fan site and not associated with Olympus, Panasonic, or other manufacturers mentioned on this site.
Forum post reactions by Twemoji: https://github.com/twitter/twemoji
Forum GIFs powered by GIPHY: https://giphy.com/
Copyright © Amin Forums, LLC
Top Bottom