A History of Bokeh and How It Has Changed Photography

The spelling of “bokeh” to describe out-of-focus areas wasn’t used in relation to photography until as recently as 1997, so how has it come to dominate discussions about the qualities of a lens to the point that manufacturers have to mention it with every new release? This in-depth video explores the use of bokeh over the centuries from 16th-century oil paintings to today’s digital cameras.

Bokeh has a fascinating history (for photographers, at least), and it’s interesting to see how in some ways, the obsession with bokeh is very much a recent phenomenon, making you wonder whether lens design has led to this preoccupation or vice versa. The fastest lenses are generally regarded as the most desirable, but as the video notes, this has not always been the case.

Hollywood and movie-making have definitely been an influence, though there are some notable exceptions. The 40s and 50s saw some directors go to great lengths to try and make every shot in focus from the foreground to the background, with one of the most famous examples being Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.” Better film stock and brighter lights brought advances that cinematographer Greg Toland was keen to take advantage of, allowing the viewer’s eye to move around the frame and take in every tiny detail should they wish.

Is bokeh here to stay? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.


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