As with the distinction between a big boat and a small ship, at what point can an out of focus background be considered "Bokeh"?

Is it the point where the subject in the background (or foreground bokeh, of course) becomes unrecognisable?

Is it when the effect is purely intentional?

or is it down to the observer's perception?

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this question is - while interesting in a philosophical way - is non constructive, it's obviously subjective and I don't think this question actually has an answer (and even if it does has a definitive answer that information has no practical use what so ever) - but it is still interesting \$\endgroup\$
    – Nir
    Jul 27, 2012 at 18:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, specular highlights (bright spots of light) usually produce the bokeh which stands out. \$\endgroup\$
    – Abbafei
    Aug 27, 2013 at 20:32

2 Answers 2


Bokeh generally refers to the quality of the out of focus elements. So with that definition, it's not the amount of blur, rather the quality of it. A lens might exhibit good (or poor) bokeh across a wide range, from nearly sharp to completely out of focus.

If you are referring to the disks that are rendered from points of light, those would grow in size as the background gets more out of focus, so I guess it is somewhat subjective. But if you have no point sources, you won't really get the bokeh disks, no matter how much you blur.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the amount has to be part of the definition: especially when using a small aperture that "nearly sharp" area could be big. I don't think there's an easy answer, just pointing out the difficulty in assessing this. :) \$\endgroup\$ Jul 27, 2012 at 13:53
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Dan, there's clearly multiple meanings of the term in practical language, but by a strict reading, no. It means the visual quality of the blur even including the nearly sharp. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jul 27, 2012 at 14:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I wouldn't even say it's the quality of blur. Even though "bokeh" is subjective, I'd say it's the type of blur. You can have swirls, blobs, spheres... And it's a property of the lens construction and aperture blades. \$\endgroup\$
    – BBking
    Aug 27, 2013 at 7:23

This link helped me see the "light."

50 awesome examples of bokeh photography


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