This photo was accidentally captured by me. Can it be considered to have bokeh? I am confused, because it does not have any foreground in focus.


  • Just looks out of focus to me. Mar 20, 2012 at 23:26

5 Answers 5


The Japanese word Boke (ボケ) or the American spelling Bokeh, refers to the out of focus areas of a photograph. It does not necessarily mean only the background blur, it refers to foreground blur as well. Bokeh is often used to refer to the quality of out of focus blur more so than its presence. In Japanese, Boke Aji (ボケ味) is used to specifically refer to the quality of bokeh. Aji literally means "flavor", so it would be referring to the kind of bokeh...good or bad, clean or dirty, etc.

Bokeh ranges in quality from poor, where blur circles are rough and polygonal with poor uniformity to very high, where blur circles are smooth and perfectly round, with clean uniformity or a slight spheric grade from center to edge. Circular apertures with rounded diaphragm blades generally create more pleasing bokeh, and a slight amount of spherical aberration in a lens tends to create the most pleasing bokeh.

In your specific shot, you do indeed have bokeh. The quality of your bokeh appears to be lower than one would really look for in a photograph. Its a bit rough and the blur circles are not entirely uniform. Your shot is also only slightly out of focus...you might notice better results if you put it out of focus even more, however without a useful foreground subject...bokeh is largely useless.

  • Is the word from the Japanese language? Is that why you reference it? That isn't clear from your description.
    – dpollitt
    Mar 20, 2012 at 21:11
  • 1
    Yes, it originated in Japanese. Boke in Japanese means blurry or hazy, at least in its modern usage. It also means funny man or comedian in in other contexts, and I think thats the older usage, so I'm not exactly sure how it came to refer to out of focus blur in Japanese. The American form of the word includes an h on the end simply to enforce pronunciation (unlike good old English, Japanese is very phonetic, and syllables/letters can only be pronounced a single way.)
    – jrista
    Mar 20, 2012 at 21:57
  • Thanks, @jrista. I was trying to capture this scene, and since its an S95, I do not have easy control the focus. I did read about good quality bokeh, and it seems circles that fade outward without hard borders are the best. I will try to achieve that. Atm, by popular demand, I will just consider this an out-of-focus image! Mar 21, 2012 at 2:09
  • Generally speaking, although maybe more from a cinematic standpoint than still photography standpoint, spherical boke, where there the blur circle is lightest in the center and softly grades to the outer edge, where there may be a faint ring, is actually very desirable. This also often creates soft focus, which is preferred for portraiture as it keeps fine skin features and blemishes hidden. Second to that would be "normal" boke, where the blur circles are largely uniform center to edge, and fade out just at the edge. The latter is better for creamy backdrops behind birds, wildlife, etc.
    – jrista
    Mar 21, 2012 at 2:58
  • See this diagram on how bokeh relates to blur overall.
    – mattdm
    Mar 7, 2014 at 16:09

It looks to me like bokeh, and nothing but bokeh. I'm actually interested by the little colored lights in the middle. With some cropping, this might become an appealing -- if abstract -- composition.

  • Hey, good idea. Thanks! I will try something like that. Mar 21, 2012 at 2:09

Every picture has some level of bokeh - as its the quality of the out of focus blur and there's always some out of focus blur since lenses focus a single plane and we live in a 3D world.

This looks like just a totally out of focus picture to me.

  • Thats the problem with my camera, its an S95. I cannot set focus. It focuses on the entire scene, or as the above picture shows, focuses away from the entire scene. That was like my 10th or so picture :D Mar 21, 2012 at 2:13

Technically, yes, this is bokeh. Bokeh really only refers to the blurring that occurs in the out of focus area of a picture. But I personally wouldn't think of this as bokeh but just an out of focus picture. Most times bokeh is referred to it is always that which is not in focus.

This site has a good discussion on bokeh and why some people think that bokeh is more than just an out of focus area of a picture.

  • Glad to help! The way I learned how to work with bokeh is the old school aperture test. Starting with a wide aperture and going narrower and narrower on the same subject.
    – nwcs
    Mar 21, 2012 at 13:19

Yes, this is, in fact Bokeh. Bokeh refers to the part of a picture that is out-of-focus. It doesn't matter whether it is in the background or foreground. The picture is very interesting, and with certain adjustments though, could look nice.

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