One Photo Three Ways – An ACTUAL Tutorial

When I say “An Actual Tutorial,” I believe this guarantees to a degree that would make bookies drool that there is no chance that this post will then ever be linked by anyone with any actual motives to TEACH SOMETHING.

So you get me all to yourself.

I think we’re alone now…there doesn’t seem to be anyone aro-ound…

I grew up in the 80’s. Singing random pieces of contextually relevant pop music is an affliction that many other 80’s survivors also cope with on a daily basis.

A few people asked, in response to my massively showy-offy Christmas Photography Extravaganza, how to get bokeh like I did.

C’est tres facile.

That’s French for “It’s very easy.” Or, “I’d like more cauliflower.” French was a long time ago.

The trick to bokeh is aperture.

Aperture is how wide open the shutter goes on your camera when it snaps.

To make this confusing, because professional photographers are secretly trying to make sure that your photos look like cereal box cartoons, a WIDE OPEN aperture is represented by a LITTLE number.

This number is called the f-stop.

I do not know why. I could make something up, but we have legitimate information to get to.

When you look at a lens on an SLR/DSLR camera, there are two numbers. One is represented in millimeters (35 mm, 50mm, 50-80mm) which refers to how long a focal length a lens has (or, how much magnification it has), and the other is a smallish number with a decimal point (1.8, 3.5) which refers to how low an f-stop a lens has.

For bokeh, small is good.

A small f-stop means that the camera is focusing on a very shallow slice of your scene. (Note that in this photograph, one earring is in focus, the other is not. VERY shallow slice of this scene.)

All SLR and DSLR cameras, as well as some higher quality digital point and shoots, have a way to set aperture as the priority for picture taking mode. This means “Camera! Listen up! I am going to tell you how open I want the aperture! You then deal with everything else!”

And in general, I find that the more authority I give my camera the happier I am and the less I yell at my cats.

On my Nikon D3000, I turn the little decision maker dial to “A.” On a Canon, you turn the decision maker dial to “AV.” (Aperture Vente? Aperture Veritas? WHY CANON, WHY??)

I then turn the setting dial so that I see that my aperture has the lowest number possible. (3.5 on the lens the camera came with, 1.8 on my shiny new lens.) This tells the camera to open the shutter up as wide as is physically possible when it takes the picture.

So here is one identical photo taken three different ways. (Or, as close as I could get to identical seeing as how I was standing on the fireplace in my slippers.)

On the lens my camera came with (called the kit lens), my lowest f-stop is 3.5 When I take pictures, I can focus on the foreground and then the background is soft. Not radically soft, but soft. When I do closeup shots like flowers, the background is even softer than this.

Here’s roughly the same picture taken with my new lens, but with the f-stop as HIGH as it will go (which is 22). See how the entire shot is in focus? Great for landscapes, boring for artsy photographs of Christmas decorations. Note for people who want extra info: When the aperture is wide open, the camera – if allowed to think for itself – will snap a very quick picture. The open aperture lets in lots of light, so the shutter release will be fast. If the aperture is very small, the shutter stays open for a longer time to gather more light. This shot required a shutter speed of four seconds – longer than I can hold still. (Shut up.) I had to move the camera to a shelf for stability, hence the change in the angle of the picture.

Now let’s contrast those with this picture, with the spiffy new lens, with the aperture full-throttle open at 1.8:
Notice two things about this photo: first, the bokeh is incredibly pronounced. The background is very soft. Second, the photo is much brighter. The difference between a 3.5 and a 1.8 is lots of light. This also allows for really fast shutter speeds and less opportunity for a stray husband or cat to cause you to jostle and make your photos blurry.

I shoot on A priority most of the time. I also dislike flash. I do want to learn how to use the flash for fill light, so I’ll get to that eventually. But the thing I really wanted a nice camera for in the first place was to take pretty pictures like these. Even with the kit lens, I was thrilled with many of my photographs, so now I’m just working my way toward insufferably spoiled.

So you all get ready for that. Cause I know how to do insufferable right.

Feel free to ask questions. If I can’t answer them or make up something interesting, I’ll ask Himself who is an optical engineer and has lots of smarts about these things (in fact, he corrected a couple of my mistakes here already. Which means he is sleeping on the couch tonight but don’t tell him).

22 comments

  1. It sounds like we got the same lens for Christmas! I got the 50mm f/1.8 and I am IN LOVE. I only had the kit lens before. I’ve been getting some amazing shots of food.

    We sound like camera twinsies (except I have a D70). I like to shoot in A and HATE flash. Some point I’d like an external flash, because those don’t do that blinding glaring thing. Or a puffer diffuser might do the trick. They aren’t very expensive.

  2. For now I don’t have any questions…but me and my sad, non-settable (that is too a word!) little point and shoot will come by and drool at all your pretty bokeh and fancy schmancy aperture settings.

  3. My iPhone doesn’t have any of that fancy schmancy f stop stuff. But the pictures come out fine. As long as I’m not going for long-close ups lol.

    This was actually pretty cool. And I’m jealous of your fancy camera. My old SLR uses film. Slow. And not so shareable. :(

    Someday. :)

    1. Tracie…
      Have you downloaded the Camera+ app for your iPhone? It’s amazing. It will make those iPhone photos look even better. You can also do some cool stuff with the TiltShiftGen app. :)

  4. Lori,
    You’ve been holding out on us. With Eldest recovering and then trying to pull off Christmas while having not left the house for eight days I haven’t been around. And what a wonderful surprise to stop by and find all of these beautiful photos. I even recognized the sock photo from PW’s bokeh contest. It stood out in the thumbnails. Little did I know it was my very own Lori. I can’t wait to catch up, as I see you also have my favourite, an illustrated diagram post. Enjoy your camera. I am looking forward to seeing many more of your words accompanied by some amazing bokeh : )
    Dana

  5. Oh, Lori, how I adore you.
    I’ve not picked up my camera much lately. I’ve felt that I took more horrible shots than good ones.

    Now I’m feeling all smart and inspired.

    Please keep these tutorials coming!

  6. ooo! I love this! I got my canon rebel in March for my birthday and I LOVE it, but I am so impatient about learning how to REALLY use it. These lessons are GREAT! I use P (portrait?) setting a lot and get frustrated when the camera won’t snap the picture. There is probably an easy fix to this but I am L.A.Z.Y. remember? So now that I know about aperture? I am about to slap on my new 50mm and practice! woo woo!!!

  7. I’m sorry but what the hell is a bokeh?
    It sounds like a Hebrew treat.
    If I can ever locate the Canon camera that I want at Costco, which I was dismayed to learn today is sold out, I will be coming to this tutorial becuase I love fuzzy backgrounds.

    And apparently I will need to learn what bokeh is.

  8. i really love this, and you explain it so well.

    and i don’t have a dslr, but i have a very nice step down from that, and i do know that i have an AV setting.

    i want to play with it tomorrow!

  9. This is amazing! And an actual tutorial, too!
    I had never even heard of this until a few weeks back; now it’s like I hear it all the time!

    I love that you make me smarter…

  10. I have a Canon with a little round thingy on top with diagrams of what you are trying to get, which can get really hilarious sometimes, because the one for indoors lookes like the eiffel tower throwing up, and the potrait one has this profile with a huge schnozz. I think it takes films too, because there are film-y looking pictures up there. Someday I’ll find the book that went with it again, and maybe I’ll figure out how to do more than point and shoot like a twit (I did learn how to turn the flash off!).

  11. So here’s what I learned…I have no idea what you are talking about because I just have one of those little point and click cameras. You explained it all very well, but it’s all Chinese to me. But what I really learned is that Jason needs to buy me one of those cool cameras so that I can learn how to do this!

  12. Ditto to almost all of these comments (though, my fave is Cheryl’s). What it comes down to is, you rock, my friend! (And I love, LOVE that we share the 80’s heritage of needing to sing/talk. Not sure what kind of books you like to read, but if your a mystery fan, check out David Rosenfelt. His books are suspenseful and funny. He has a character who sing/talks.)

  13. Thanks for the info!! We just got a new camera – that I think is a semi-SLR (maybe??) – so I need all the help I can get in understanding it. I know it’s got aperture and stuff that I’ve never had to screw with before. So thanks!

  14. Argh. I have only a digital point & shoot (and I’ve lost the cable to it). I feel so inadequate.

    I have several old-school film SLRs…but no one uses film anymore. *sigh*

    I am in lust with you camera and lens package. Just so you know. I miss taking swanky pictures.

  15. I don’t even know what my apertures are. I would love to play around with them. Which means I need to get the LCD screen on my fancy camera fixed. Right now it’s a $600 point and shoot that takes horrible photos because I can’t adjust anything or see what I took! Bah!

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