« Friday Open Mike: O Dolor, O Woe | Main | Pictures of Farmland »

Monday, 24 April 2017


Two thoughts:

1. This article brought me some fond memories of my Shotokan Karate days. I used to be familiar with the words 'mae' and 'ushiro' and knew their respective meanings, so it was nice to read them here. (The simplest forward kick in Shotokan Karate is called 'mae-geri', while the rearward kick is known as 'ushiro-geri.')

2. This said I'm cancelling my TOP subscription, as a consequence of becoming aware it was Mr. M. C. Johnston who coined the most nerve-wrecking word in the photographic lexicon. So that's it. I'm out.

(Just kidding. What a great reading this was!)

I would have prefered to have the background in
focus, but the available light didn't allow it.

Regarding boke aji, I find that the fairly recent and overarching preoccupation with this appears to be largely internet photo forum geek-driven. To my mind, the key question here is: what is good overall photographic composition? I think John's comment that bokeh should be a subtle, aesthetic tool is the right level of how to think about this. Bokeh is, and should be, part of this discussion, but IMHO, it should not be a reason for OCD, either. Folks now are demanding faster and faster glass so they can achieve shallower and shallower depths of field. It seems to have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. Some guy recently got really PO'd at me for questioning whether he really needed "millimeter-level" planes of DOF. Seriously? This has also led to the behavior of some folks shooting everything "wide-open"....and as good as most lenses are today, the majority of them do not provide maximal optical performance when shot wide-open. For my own photography, it's not really much of an issue; most of my work requires as much DOF as possible, not as little. Modern racing cars are pretty long from front to back....

I recently had reason to scan a negative from 1987. Surprised to see that the picture of my then 2-year-old youngest sister-in-law had a very nice bokeh,taken with my Canon AE1 and a Tokina zoom that never left the camera.

I first learned of bokeh and what it was about 5 years ago.

Hi Mike;

There are a lot of pro photographers locally. I can remember seeing a fashion photographer with a tripod mounted 300 f2.8 pointed down the sidewalk. I began looking for his subject.. she was a half city block away with an assistant and stylist. I figure they used radios to communicate.

I once did a portrait with a 180 and spent a lot of my precious allotted time running back and forth between subjects and camera.

I do a lot of portraits with a 50. The subject can hear a whisper. Communication is more important to me. Bokeh - smokah..

If you would add.. Smith and Salgado could/can really see. That's a gift, something that can't be learned I think.

What a fun read that was, both the new and the old. Arguing about bokeh can be as bad as arguing about any other image quality, but I do like learning about it from someone who knows what they are talking about.

While I tend to be an "everything sharp" guy, there are times when I like a little blur, and even a lot. And I still play with blur at times like a total newbie, as with this shot of a lighted bus-stop mural on a rainy morning when a pedestrian walked into the frame. There's a red bokeh ball on his head, sort of the bokeh equivalent of the classic lampshade. And look at the coma on the light points...

In recent years I've done a major cleaning out of my photographic books/materials, etc. as I was simply not using or reading most of what I had. What I did keep though includes an original of this article (and the companion Terminology of Bokeh article by Oren Grad). These had a strong influence on me, but in some ways conflicting. I also still have the original copy of the Mar/Apr 1996 Photo Techniques magazine, of which on the cover is a picture of a Conley 5x7 Large Format Camera. This issue also had articles by Stephen Peterson and Paul Hansma covering image sharpness and view camera focusing. Several weeks after receiving that issue I had a Conley 5x7 in my hands (which I restored), and that was the start of my large format journey that now also includes 4x5 up to 8x10 film and printing (projection and contact), which I still do and plan to do as long as materials in possession hold out. Sufficient sharp focus over the entire image area in all three dimensions was my complete focus (pun intended). The Bokeh article addressed an area I had put aside since moving away from 35mm format, that being selective focus. I dabbled a bit with some old petzval lens designs but that is more appropriately considered "soft focus" rather than selective focus (or selective blur). I'm still seeking where my digital photography will take me but one thing that intrigues me (with myself LOL) is that I'm now doing more selective focus work with my digital camera (canon 6d) and lenses than ever before.

I may have posted this before; if so, please ignore!

Once, while busily procrastinating, I did a little research on the word bokeh, as used in English. (Somebody was claiming it was in common use before the Photo Techniques articles were published, which I knew to be untrue.)

I have access to Lexis-Nexis, and its database did contain one (and only one) prior English-language citation of the word, and it's not referring to photography. Instead, it uses the word to denote mental blur, which I thought was really interesting. It's from the Nov. 8, 1990 edition of The Washington Post, in an article by T.R. Reid about the reluctance of the Japanese population to allow their Prime Minister to send any Japanese troops overseas. Here's the relevant paragraph:

" ... much of the country seems to be fearful of any foreign involvement. The attitude, dating back to Japan's disastrous defeat in World War II, is a broader and longer-lasting version of what in America came to be known as the "post-Vietnam syndrome." The term for it here is heiwa bokeh, which translates as "peace senility.""

What a lovely phrase and idea: peace senility.

So this doesn't in any way change the story of bokeh in its photographic sense in English. But in its "mental blur" sense it did escape Japan as early as 1990, and the Post editors decided to transliterate it with the 'h', just as Mike did a few years later. Great minds think alike!

If anyone is interested, the excellent movie "Margin Call" makes extensive use of shallow focus, and in some shots will go back and forth between two people, in and out of focus depending on who is speaking.

Heck, I am hearing it for the first time that MCJ first mooted the use of "bokeh".

Now it's been used and repeated a zillion times. Imagine the royalty you would have enjoyed (if that was possible) if patency rights could be applied to a new word.

one does not focus a wide angle lens selective focus is a pre set normal lens and longer technique with commercial applications

I remember the article well. It filled in a gap for me. I felt much smarter knowing and using the word bokeh, especially since few of my peers had read the article.

Love the article! As the author states, "it's all a matter of taste" when it comes to aesthetic judgement. Here is a sample of what I find pleasing in bokeh. This is coming from a rental Fuji x100f shot at f/2:

From a just acquired Nikkor 105mm f/1.4

>>the 75mm Summicron-M, and the 80mm Summicron-R<<

Both are Summilux (f/1.4) lenses.

What's accidental bokeh in Japanese? Bloody @*#!

Some classic portrait lenses like the Pentax 77ltd I think are at their very best stopped down by 1-2 stops from wide open. As far as I can see the lense which renders very sharp centrally but tails off, as it were, peripherally gives such lovely results without too narrow a depth of field.
I am just not sure if at my great age I really want to carry that K1 around!

I was able to join a group for a tour of the Cooke factory in Leicester. I think it was in 2015. The lenses, used in so many movies, are largely hand made and the tour was fascinating. The lens design however is done with proprietary software. I asked how they kept the 'Cooke Look' in their lenses. Apparently it has been mathematically described and is built into the design program. They do make some lenses for large format but I wouldn't like to ask how much they cost!

I've long been partial to the Summilux R 80mm f1.4 lens for its treatment of out of focus areas. Unfortunately, attached to an R8 or R9, you're rivaling a medium format camera in terms of size and weight. Great results also from the 135mm f2 Canon "L" lens.
I'm also experimenting with the "portrait" mode of the iPhone 7. It's certainly a step in the right direction for those who don't like the wide angle infinite depth of field rendition of a cell phone camera.
Finally, articles like this remind me just how good magazines like Photo Techniques and Camera and Darkroom were. Must have been the editors!

Did you enjoy your editing jobs?

[I did. Really all I've wanted is to stay in the field of photography one way or the other--that was my goal when I graduated from photo school. The editing was just another way to do that.

Are you an editor? --Mike]

After reading the Lens Collector's Vade Mecum, I became mildly obsessed with Cooke lenses. I bought a 75mm Speed Panchro and a 100mm Deep Field Panchro and had them converted for use on EOS cameras.

Whatever magical properties these lenses possessed totally eluded me. I tested them out every way I could think of and nothing looked special.

Then I read that the truly fabled Cookes were Series II and I managed to buy a 40mm Speed Panchro II. I got it converted for use on a Leica M. Nope, nothing special. In fact, as cinema lens, it didn't fully cover 35mm and vignetted horribly.

I drew several conclusions from: I'm not very good at testing lenses, cinema lenses are designed for the big screen and, finally, a photographic fool and his money are soon parted.

Rhymes with Muskogeh, right?

Thank you, thank you, I'm here all week.

So that 's what editors are for! There can't be many other instances where inserting a single letter has opened so many creative possibilities.

I'm a reasonably geeky guy who reads Kingslake for relaxation, and I always wonder why so many lenses have really beautiful out of focus images in the foreground but awful background images with harsh bright rings around the out of focus highlights. I would pay good money for a lens that was the reverse. The lens on my Autocord is pretty nice and I am surprised by how nice an old Schneider Xenar from a Braun Paxet works on my Sony a7.

The bright ring syndrome is the worst in fast lenses so I sometimes find myself stopping down to f/3 to make the background less distracting.

Anyway, is there someone here who can explain this?

@John Krumm
Beautiful Picture

How's your back?

[Healing nicely, thank you, and thank heaven. Each day it's a little better. I think I'll be back to 100% in a few more days, a week at most.

I really sympathize with all those who deal with chronic pain of any kind. It's a species of torture. --Mike]

Thank you for the tip-off about "Legend."

The cinematography is truly gorgeous (bokeh everywhere!). This is an astonishing feat, considering that the film is set in the very drab, grimy and shabby London East-End of the early 1960s.

Worth watching for that reason alone, though Tom Hardy's acting is equally extraordinary. Violent gangster movie advisory.

Eamon, if I ever bump into Tom Reid again I'll be sure to tell him that he beat me into print with that word!

Probably a reflection of our times, but one seldom if ever hears "heiwa bokeh" in Japan any more. But the word still comes up in the very common expression "jisa bokeh": "ji" = "time", "sa" = "difference", hence "jet lag".

And for the final irony, in recent years Japanese photo writers have evidently decided they need a cool new loanword instead of "bokeh", so one now often sees the fractured English expression "outo fokasu".

Speaking of Photo Techniques, I have the privilege of the acquaintance of one Howard Bond, who had a column in Photo Techniques for some time. He and his wife are frequent attendees at the local camera club, and he is still doing black and white darkroom work and shares it regularly with us on print night. Very inspiring, although I'm not sure I've seen much of anything from him with anything out-of-focus. Being a member of the f64 group, I imagine that would not be his cup of tea.

There is no "real" bokeh. DOF is real but bokeh, the way out of focus is rendered, is quite artificial and varies according to a whole lot of lens designs factors. It is just as "authentic" to control the look of bokeh by PP adjustment to give out of focus area the "look" the photographer desires as it is to acccept the out of camera result. PP bokeh is almost certainly the way it will be managed in the future. Already Alein Skins "Bokeh" program enables the photographer to PP select bokeh that looks like the effect you get with a lens of your choice ( You can select the bokeh that takes your fancy from a range of famous lens foptions).

The problem with the Alien Skins program is that it ant read depth so you get a two plane effect with the subject, then a flat "bokehed" background. With work, if you wish, more gradual transitions can be done. All that is needed to do the trick is to have depth data available to the program. This is exactly what Apple is doing with its dual lens cameraphone and what Light 16 is doing with its multi lens panel.

ie., We are almost there. DOF bokeh of your choice will soon be something that can be done either in camera or PP just as lens correction is now done. I noted that Sony chief executives have stated that while they have no immediate plans, they are watching the development of multi image computational techniques very closely.

Given the iQ that can now be obtained at higher and higher isos, one suspects that the days of those beloved very fast lenses may be numbered.

Hugh Crawford – If I recall correctly, Dr. Hubert Nasse of Zeiss fame does a good job of explaining the interplay between front bokeh and back bokeh in lens design. Link: http://lenspire.zeiss.com/en/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2016/03/cln35_en_web_special_bokeh.pdf

A cheap jupiter-3 stopped down to f/2.5 looks great to me with regard to back bokeh (as does the zm 50/1.5 at f/2).

Somebody else mentioned it, but there was no Leica m 75mm summicron when the article was printed and there has never been an R 80mm summicron. I assume John meant the summilux versions of both those lenses, and I also personally really like both those lenses for their bokeh though they can be a bit busy wide open too.

frosty bench

The comments to this entry are closed.