Bokeh comes from the Japanese word boke (ボケ), which means ‘blur’ or ‘haze’—or boke-aji, the ‘blur quality.’ Bokeh is pronounced BOH-Kə or BOH-kay.

Visit any photography website or forum and you’ll find plenty of debate on the pleasing bokeh that user’s favourite fast lenses allow. The adjectives flow thick and fast: smooth, incredible, superb, good, beautiful, sweet, silky, excellent …but what exactly is bokeh?

Bokeh can be defined as ‘the effect of a soft out-of-focus background that you get when shooting a subject using a fast lens at the widest aperture.’ Simply put, bokeh is the pleasing or aesthetic quality of out-of-focus blur in a photograph.

Although bokeh is actually a characteristic of a photograph, the lens used determines the shape and size of the visible bokeh. Usually seen more in highlights, bokeh is affected by the shape of the diaphragm blades (the aperture) of the lens. A lens with more circular-shaped blades will have rounder, softer orbs of out-of-focus highlight. A lens with an aperture that is more hexagonal in shape will recreate that shape in the highlights it captures.