Choosing A Subject

After choosing a lens (see Equipment section), the next thing to do is consider a suitable subject. Shooting many images of a subject is going to take a little while, so you’ll need something that is still (or can hold still for a minute). Foliage blowing in the wind is usually not too much of a problem. Objects in the background that move will be the biggest issue. People make great subjects for bokeh panos due to their scale and interest. You could try to fit them into a single frame, to avoid stitching errors, if the rest of the scene is interesting. If the person is the only real subject in your scene then I highly recommend getting very close to your subject and shooting a lot of frames.

  • People

  • Statues

  • Bikes

  • Cars

  • Chairs / Benches

  • Plants & Bushes

  • Trees (small or parts)

  • Shop Windows

  • Interiors / Vehicle Interiors

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Larger aperture lenses will be better for everything, but they will also enable shooting of larger subjects while retaining the extreme subject isolation. Here are some examples of those subjects:

  • Trucks / Trams / Trains / Buses etc.

  • Boats (potential motion issues)

  • Buildings (smaller)

  • Trees (larger)

  • Animals (for distance & lower images needed)

  • Cars (including more of the surroundings)

  • Interior Spaces (larger)

Background

The first thing to consider here is the distance between your subject and the background. The bigger the distance (relative to your focus distance) the more blur you will be able to achieve. It’s highly probable that your background will be blurred, but this doesn’t mean it is not important what that background is. Try to consider roughly how the tones (brightness) are distributed throughout the scene and how that might affect the contrast of your subject. Foliage makes for a great background because of the patterns they make when blurred and the contrast with the sky. Having only sky in the backgound can end up just getting blown out, so try to get something else behind your subject. Consider eliminating the sky completely if you can, but wide angles will make this more difficult.

Foreground

Another thing to consider if foreground blur. Anything in front of the focal plane can get very blurred when focusing very close and this can be used in a few creative ways:

  • Edge elements / Borders

  • Elements in front of your subject

  • Elements in front of the background

I have noticed that the last case doesn’t happen too often, but when it does it can be quite interesting. Foreground blur that overlays areas of background blur creates an interference pattern. Blurred edges of objects seem to act like a stopped-down (shaped) aperture, refocusing background elements and reducing exposure:

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Maximizing The Effect

What makes this technique great is seeing a wide image with an extreme subject isolation. There are three main aspects at play here:

  • Aperture size

  • Focus distance

  • Final FoV (Field of View)

To achieve the most extreme result your lenses aperture needs to be as big as possible. The closer your focus distance the better, although this will need to be balanced with the final FoV. A wider final FoV is more dynamic. Although extremely wide will also reduce the impact of the blur, by effectively pushing the viewer further away (zooming out). So keep in mind that there’s a sweet spot for how wide to go if trying to keep maximum subject isolation (depth of Field) effect.

 

My estimation for the final FoV “sweet spot” is between 20 to 28mm (depending on the lens used) based on experience. If you find this to be the case for your equipment & style of photography then I recommend looking for a viewfinder of that FoV to visualize your bokeh panos.

Distance vs Size

To achieve the best effect from the lens you are using; try limiting your focus distance to your lense’s aperture diameter multiplied by 100. Use that limit to choose a subject that fits your chosen frame. For an extreme effect; half than distance (entrance pupil x50). Using the following lens here’s an example of those limits:

100mm f/2.0 aperture size = 50mm / 5cm

  • 5m focus distance limit for a good effect

  • 2.5m focus distance limit for an extreme effect

Larger apertures will allow you to push the focus distance further away while retaining the extreme effect. If you are looking for a greater effect; make sure you have a large distance between the subject and the background. If that isn’t sufficient; look for smaller subjects (chair sized rather than truck sized) and shooting them as close as possible.

Distance vs FOV

A key benefit of this technique is that your FoV (Field of View) can go as wide as you want or need. The more images you shoot; the wider angle you will capture (emulate). Whatever you’re shooting you can balance the FoV with focus distance as you see fit. Here is a demonstration of three different focus distances, taken on the same lens, shooting more images as I moved closer:

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Focus Distance = 10m  /  Single Frame From = 85mm f/1.2

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Focus Distance = 5m  /  Full Frame Equivalent = 60mm f/0.85

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Focus Distance = 2m  /  Full Frame Equivalent = 33mm f/0.47

Framing & Visualisation

With a longer lens on your camera it can be difficult to visualize the wider scene that you're aiming for with this technique. Here are a few ways that you can visualise your final image (with some pros and cons).

A Second Camera

  • Could take wider images

  • Can take comparison images

  • More to carry

  • Fiddly to use while holding main camera

A Phone

  • You'll likely have it with you

  • Nothing extra to buy

  • Possible to zoom

  • Can take comparison images

  • FoV may not be wide enough

  • Fiddly to use while holding main camera

A Viewfinder

  • Nice and small

  • Fits on your camera

  • Can be expensive

  • Fixed angle of view

 

Whatever you're using to visualise the final frame it will help to stick to that. Shoot a bit extra to cover the corners but as a general rule this will help you achieve the ideal distance to the subject. Although you won't get a good idea of the final depth of field until you're in the processing stage, the closer you get the more effect you'll achieve.

Composition

There are many compositional techniques to utilise for enhancing your photography. This technique provides a heightened subject isolation through extreme depth of field by default. Combining it with other techniques will improve it further. You can find more details elsewhere, but here are some of my favourite aspects to consider:

  • Minimalism - Use large, flat open areas

  • Symmetry - Align elements in the frame equally

  • Leading lines - Use lines that lead in to the image

  • Direction - Try to show movement or direction

  • Space - Allow room for your subject to breath

  • Frames - Frame your subject using other objects

  • Contrast - Use tone to highlight your subject

  • Colour - Shoot or process a limited colour pallet

I’m not a big fan of the “rule of thirds” and especially the “golden spiral”. They feel like cheap gimmicks when not catering for the complexity of the scene and subject.

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