What is bokeh?

Sharp, unsharp, bokeh – the intentional unsharpness in an image is called bokeh. A bokeh may appear creamy, or may express itself in the form of soft rings or delicate highlights.


What characterises a good picture?

Bokeh-lovers would answer: a depth of focus as shallow as possible and background details as if seen through a mist. Photos with bokeh reveal the invisible – the air, the night, poetry.

The term bokeh originates from the Japanese word for ‘unsharp’ or ‘diffused’, and describes the parts of a picture that are not sharply rendered.

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This unsharpness is by no means due to any form of aberration caused by the lens, it is much more the unsharpness in front of and behind the plane of focus that results from the chosen parameters – focal length, aperture and the distance from the main subject. In terms of the desired visual effect, background-bokeh is often more important than foreground-bokeh.

Bokeh pictures always have something magical, surreal or fanciful about them. The bokeh-technique is particularly suitable for the communication of moods. The intensity of bokeh varies from lens to lens. A useful rule-of-thumb says: the faster the lens, the more pronounced the bokeh.

With the bokeh of a Leica lens, I add a tangible dream to the background of every subject or portrait.
Ivo von Renner

To illustrate wonderful bokeh, you need a foreground that is not so far away and a background with contrasts, small elements and highlights to enable you to see very beautiful, soft and flowing light.


The well-proportioned gentleness of the light relegates what goes on in the background to secondary importance. In this way, the photographer decides on the message to be transported by the picture.

  • What is the effect of bokeh in that picture?

    In this hectic urban scene, the bokeh creates an extraordinary sense of peace and leads the eye of the viewer to the woman’s glance. The sensuality of this portrait is emphasised by the soft background. Mood, vitality, ambience and peacefulness are the aspects bokeh adds to this picture.

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    The atmosphere of the night and the loud, vibrant city are positively tangible – the sensual portrait stands in contrast to the turbulent setting. The bokeh lends this photograph plenty of room for fantasising.

    For this picture, a model was photographed in a sensual pose in an urban setting unusual for such poses. What is essential here is the precise reading of the light in this setting. The background with its multitude of different highlights is what makes this picture unique. Once again, shooting wide open is obligatory.

  • What is the effect of bokeh in that picture?

    In this picture, the photographer has captured a fleeting moment. Here, the artistic excitement of an everyday situation is create to some extent by the bokeh mistily veiling such details as the gender, age and attractiveness of the person in the background. For viewers of this picture, the bokeh generates curiosity, despite – or as a direct result of – an anonymity that creates an motional bond between the viewer and the subject.

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    The photograph is emotive, but without intimacy, the upright structures and elements in the foreground stand in stark contrast to the emotions expressed by the background-bokeh. The result is an emotional snapshot that consciously withholds the details.

    In this photograph, the focus was set tightly on the window shade. The decisive moment is the central theme. Nevertheless, it is still important that ensure that careful composition is not left out of the equation. A sufficiently bright background and the use of the lens wide open are obligatory.

  • What is the effect of bokeh in that picture?

    Due to the bokeh, the focus in this picture is on the yellow rose, while the pink flower in the foreground melts into the background. Both flowers are isolated by extremely smooth transitions. The picture achieves its gentle subtlety and beauty through the use of bokeh. In addition to concentration and focus, this also creates a connection between the different planes of the picture.

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    In its own special way, this photograph displays the fragility of beauty and shows a fleeting moment of perfection in perfect harmony. A picture like this is the result of choosing a background with rich contrasts with sufficient light, ensuring a short distance to the main subject, a long distance from the background and using a large maximum aperture.

  • What is the effect of bokeh in that picture?

    It frames the woman’s face and upper body, establishing direct eye-contact with the subject. It sharpens the view of the model and creates space for the story told by the atmosphere of the portrait. Context. Mood. Composition. Atmosphere.

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    The face has a special plasticity. Soft, creamy and flowing bokeh on clothes and background create a perfect frame. Creative freedom for the story behind the portrait. A picture like this is the result of choosing a background with rich contrasts with sufficient light, ensuring a short distance to the main subject and using a large maximum aperture.

Insider tips
at first hand in Leica Stores

Experience the magic of beautiful bokeh in our Leica Stores around the world. Our Leica Stores are meeting places that offer dialogue and opportunities to experience the world of photography.

Here is where you can find insider-tips, fascinating facts and inspiration for your creative photography.

Leica Stores worldwide

More about Bokeh
find out in our photographic workshops

In its extensive programme of photographic workshops, the Leica Akademie offers you the opportunity to enjoy an intensive experience of the broad spectrum of photographic creativity.

One example of what is offered by the Leica Akademie is, for instance the use of bokeh for the creation of imaginative pictures. Enrich your creative photography, and let us guide you to the best possible picture.

Portrait-Akademie 1512 x 1008

Leica lenses
with that certain bokeh

A particularly appealing bokeh speaks for the excellence of the lens with which it is captured.

Different lenses produce different bokeh effects, depending on their optical construction. Many Leica lenses are known for their especially creamy bokeh – if used creatively, this enables photographers to achieve incomparable visual effects in their pictures.

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A sharply focused portrait that appears out of a misty background, a person against a backdrop of dancing, brightly coloured rings or a blossom that first reveals its magical nature when it emerges from the surrounding unsharpness.

Who can capture the most beautiful bokeh?

See if you can make the invisible visible, and find inspiration for your own bokeh pictures in the LFI Gallery.


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