Bokeh on Point and Shoot Cameras

I get many emails from our readers asking me how they can get good bokeh out of their point and shoot cameras. I first thought about posting a short paragraph in a Photography FAQ post, but then decided to elaborate more on the subject and explain it in detail, rather than providing a short answer. Hopefully those who have point and shoot cameras will understand everything I say, since I will do my best to explain the subject in simple terms.

1) What is Bokeh?

As I explained in my “What is Bokeh” article, Bokeh is the quality of out-of-focus or “blurry” parts of the image rendered by a camera lens. The key word here is “quality”, since bokeh is not the second name for the blurry parts of the image. When you hear somebody say “the bokeh on that image is creamy and beautiful”, they are simply referring to the overall quality and feel of the out-of-focus area, not the out-of-focus area itself.

Creamy Bokeh

See the soft out-of-focus area behind this cute boy? That’s what quality bokeh typically looks like. How do you achieve a similar result on a point and shoot camera?

2) How to get background blur in your images

Before we talk about bokeh, let’s see how you can first separate a subject from the background with a point and shoot camera and get blur in your images. Obviously, when I say “blur”, I mean the “out-of-focus” area, not motion blur. Most digital cameras are capable of producing out-of-focus areas when the camera lens is focused at a very close subject with a large lens opening called “aperture“. Here is what you need to do to create some blur behind your subject:

  1. If you have an advanced point and shoot camera, switch the camera mode to “Aperture-Priority“. If your camera does not have such mode, switch to “Macro” or “Portrait” mode, which also work great.
  2. Turn off camera flash.
  3. Ideally, you should do this outside during a sunny day to shoot at low sensor sensitivity or “ISO” and to get lots of light reflections/highlights into the image. If you are shooting indoors, make sure to do it during the day and do it in a well-lit area with large windows behind you. Otherwise, you will need to use a tripod.
  4. Pick a relatively small subject with plenty of textures to be able to focus on it easily.
  5. Make sure that your subject is physically isolated from the background. For example, if you are taking a picture of a coke can, make sure that the objects behind the can are relatively far. If you have objects close to the subject, they will be in focus (which is not what you want), while placing objects at a distance will make them out of focus.
  6. Make sure that the objects in the background have reflective surfaces. Glass and metal surfaces are great candidates for the background.
  7. Hold the point and shoot camera as close to the subject that you want to appear sharp in your image as possible.
  8. Focus on your subject by half-pressing the shutter button. Make sure that your subject is in focus.
  9. Take a picture and view it on the camera LCD, making sure that your subject appears sharp, while the background looks blurry.
  10. If your camera has an optical zoom feature, zoom in all the way and take another shot.

Here is an example that I shot indoors:

Point and shoot Bokeh

The champagne bottle on the left side was the subject in focus and the flowers in vase at the end of the table appear blurry or out-of-focus. The above shot was taken with my iPhone, which I use as my point and shoot camera. As you can see, you can get blurry backgrounds with pretty much any camera out there.

The above example will be a great way to see the type of bokeh your camera and its lens are capable of producing. If the background blur looks nice and smooth (which basically means good bokeh), you could use the same technique to isolate your subjects in the future.

The background blur in the above image looks nothing like the one in the first one, doesn’t it? Let me explain why.

4) Limitations of point and shoot cameras

As I have demonstrated above, almost any camera is capable of producing out of focus areas when the lens is focused at a very close subject. However, not all cameras are capable of producing good-looking bokeh. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Point and shoot cameras have very small sensors. The size of the camera sensor is directly related to depth of field (the area of the image that appears sharp or “in focus”) – the smaller the camera sensor, the larger/greater the depth of field. When compared to film or full-frame digital cameras, point and shoot cameras typically have sensors that are 15+ times smaller in size. Because of this, the area that appears sharp is much larger in size than what it would be on a DSLR camera, making it harder to isolate the subjects. That’s why in the above instructions I asked you to keep background objects far away from your subject – if you leave them close, they will be in focus due to the large depth of field.
  2. The lenses in point and shoot cameras are not optically designed to create good-looking bokeh and are very limited in terms of minimum and maximum apertures and focal lengths. Generally, lenses in point and shoot cameras are wide-angle and have short focal lengths to cover as much of the area as possible, which puts most of the scene in focus. Cameras with optical zoom lenses typically change apertures to a larger number when you zoom in (thus increasing depth of field), making it even harder to separate the subject from the background.
  3. Most point and shoot cameras are designed to put everything into focus, so that the pictures people take do not turn out to be blurry due to focus issues. That’s why most of focusing in point and shoot cameras is automated, with face and scene recognition systems specifically designed to automatically acquire focus on the right target. This is because typical point and shoot camera users only need sharp images – they do not care about out-of-focus areas and bokeh.

I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments section below.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) sam
    July 28, 2010 at 6:47 am

    Hi Nasim,

    Just wondering what lens did you use to take pic of the gorgeous little boy ?

    Sam

    • July 29, 2010 at 3:15 am

      Sam, I used the Nikon 85mm f/1.4D lens – Nikon’s bokeh king :)

  2. 3
    ) Kristi
    July 29, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Hi Nasim,

    Your articles about photography have been very informative! I am one of those people who would love a DSLR but will not get one because of price and size. I am looking to upgrade my 6 year old P&S with a P&S that is as close to a DSLR as possible. Currently I’m considering the Canon S90, and I wondered if I could get your thoughts on this camera. Mostly I take pictures of people or my dogs, and occasionally a nice landscape if I’m hiking in the mountains, so I don’t feel like I would use a DSLR to its full potential at this time. I’m learning about aperture, shutter speed, and exposure, so I’m hopeful I can produce high quality photos without spending the money on a professional level camera. I would be grateful for your thoughts!

    A secondary question, my parents have the same camera as me, and I know they would like it replaced. They would not use manual features and would probably keep it on one setting all the time. Can you recommend an easy, user-friendly camera for casual users who may be easily frustrated?

    Thanks so much for your articles and advice!

    • July 30, 2010 at 1:35 am

      Thank you Kristi!

      The Canon S90 is an excellent camera, definitely worth the money! Another one worth checking out is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35 – I know that a lot of people are very happy with it, especially with its beautiful HD video capability.

      As far as a point and shoot for your parents, why don’t you get them the same S90?

  3. 5
    ) Robert Gomes
    August 2, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    Hi Nasim,

    Sorry for the off topic post but since it popped into my head — how does one view the red focus points in an image in Lightroom 3.0?

    Thanks!

    • August 18, 2010 at 2:17 pm

      Robert, you cannot do that in Lightroom, since it strips the Nikon proprietary headers from images. You would have to open the images in Nikon software like CaptureNX.

  4. 7
    ) Robert Gomes
    August 19, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    And I can confirm it’s the same for Canon shooters. Bummer!

    It’s an option that many beginners need to have as to see where their focussing problems stem from…

    • September 2, 2010 at 12:22 am

      Robert, yes, it is unfortunate that Adobe does not fully support all RAW features…but they will hopefully provide the support in the future.

  5. 9
    ) Swaraj
    November 8, 2010 at 8:43 am

    Hi Sir ,
    I have a Kodak Z981 , and I wanted to get the bokeh effect through my cam. I followed all your given steps , though I am getting a darkened image and also the blur is very less. What other customizations should be done to eliminate this.
    Thankyou!!

    • November 17, 2010 at 6:40 pm

      Swaraj, I do not know your camera settings, so I cannot really recommend much. If you have already tried the settings above, then I would check the camera manual for additional info.

  6. 11
    ) Emily
    December 20, 2010 at 10:47 am

    Hi! I’ve entered some pictures in the Pioneer Woman’s Photography Assignment Bokeh. I have a point and shoot. While I’m not excited about the quality of all the pictures, i think they turned out ok. I’ve been learning a lot about my camera this year. I would LOVE an SLR, but price prevents me at this point in time. I’ve thought about a mid-range one, but my husband thinks I should wait and save the money for a good one. Here are my bokeh shots: http://strobelshappenings.blogspot.com/2010/12/pioneer-womans-photography-assignment.html

    I have a Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS.

    • January 6, 2011 at 5:20 pm

      Emily, listen to your husband, since he is giving you a wise suggestion. Save and get a DSLR instead!

      • 13
        ) Emily
        January 6, 2011 at 8:53 pm

        Yeah I’m going to take my husband’s advice and I’m looking into Nikon D5000. I think I’d like the D7000, BUT price prevents me from that one. :)

        • January 7, 2011 at 12:15 am

          Emily, the Nikon D5000 is now discontinued. Get a Nikon D3100 or Nikon D90 instead :)

          • 15
            ) Emily
            January 7, 2011 at 5:58 am

            That is GREAT to know! I had no idea. Thanks for the info!

            • 20
              ) Emily
              April 14, 2012 at 10:06 pm

              I did end up getting the Nikon D7000. I LOVE it!

  7. 16
    ) faiz
    January 12, 2011 at 6:08 am

    sir..
    i’m faiz from malaysia..have bought nikond3100 with 18-55mm lens last month
    how can i shoot out-of-focus images using d3100?or just follow on above?
    sir..sorry to say,may be i will be always ‘disturb’ you bcoz i’m the new one in photography world..

  8. 17
    ) nishant
    October 1, 2011 at 3:06 am

    Hi, I’m Nishant from India. I normally turn into a photographer during social functions or my family leisure trips. I have NIKON L 14 P & S. I’m looking forward to by either NIKON L 120 or NIKON p 500. Please advice which one I should go for.

    Thanx in advance.

  9. 18
    ) Kari
    March 10, 2012 at 10:24 am

    Hi!
    I just purchased a new camera last night. I am a beginner in fact I haven’t had a camera in two years but have missed a lot of memories of my kids because of it. Money is tight so I was looking for a great camera for a great price. I purchased the Fujifilm Finepix s4500 on sale at Costco for $179. I was excited about the zoom because my 9yr old plays football and I wanted to get a great zoom while he is on the field. Did I make a decent purchase? I really want to achieve the Bokeh effect can I do this? I printed out your instructions and I am excited to play around with it. I know it’s not a top of the line but thought it was a great starter. Your input would be awesome.

  10. 19
    ) Dawna Austin
    March 13, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    Would it be better to turn OFF facial recognition abilities or focusing? Wondering if that distracts from the purposes of attempting bokeh

  11. 21
    ) Katie
    April 17, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    I have a Nikon p500 and am filming a music video and want to do the bokeh video effect like this: http://www.howtogeek.com/107799/bokeh-art-highlights-interesting-bokeh-filter-effects/

    would this be possible with my camera?

  12. 22
    ) jostom
    September 12, 2013 at 9:22 am

    hello sir ,
    im jose from india.im thinkin of buying a sony hx300 point and shoot for bokeh photography.will it do justice if not , then would u pls recommend any gud DSLR camera-lens combo with price range below 630 dollars.

    • 23
      ) Matt
      October 31, 2013 at 4:00 am

      the Sony HX300 inspite of its DSLR-like looks is not ideal for bokeh photography and that is primarily due to its small sensor size. HX300 features a 1/2.3″ sensor which is tiny, that is 6.17 x 4.55 millimeters. you can get an idea of its bokeh capability by comparing it to lens that Nasim has used for his photos here.

      http://www.billionbokehs.com/nikon-d800/252-744-85-317-300/sony-cyber-shot-dsc-hx300/2586-16-85-317-300/

      you might have already bought the camera though, so you may already know it first hand.

  13. 24
    ) Bhagyesh S Poyekar
    December 22, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    hello sir i have a canon SX 150 IS camera and i want to learn the bokeh effect, portraits clicking and many more things which is possible with my camera. please help

  14. 25
    ) Keith R. Starkey
    December 23, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    Great article, however, am I misunderstanding you here?

    In 2) How to get background blur in your images, you said for point #10, “If your camera has an optical zoom feature, zoom in all the way and take another shot.”

    But then under 4) Limitations of point and shoot cameras, you stated under #2, “Cameras with optical zoom lenses typically change apertures to a larger number when you zoom in (thus increasing depth of field), making it even harder to separate the subject from the background.”

    Isn’t this contradictory: zoom in for more bokeh (step 2, which is true), but doing so makes it harder to get bokeh (step 4, which is false)?

    Did I miss something here?

    Thanks much,

    Starkman

    • 26
      ) Matt
      December 30, 2013 at 3:04 pm

      You bring up a good point. Both statements are true. Zooming in is good for bokeh. The caveat is that most cameras decrease aperture as you zoom in. And small aperture is bad for bokeh. I guess the question boils down to whether bokeh lost by changing of aperture is regained by zooming in. That depends on a specific camera.

      What camera do you have?

      • 27
        ) Keith R. Starkey
        December 30, 2013 at 3:47 pm

        Well, Bokeh is pretty much out of the question with my Canan A640 P&S, unless, of course, I’m shooting in Macro (oh wait, I can blur the hek out of stuff in the background using Lightroom!…whoohoo! I’ll get some serious Bokeh…who cares if after all that the picture itselfis no good!) At any rate, one of these days, I’ll own a DSLR (I’ve got my eye on the Nikon D3200).

        Anyway, I get what you’re saying.

        Thanks again for a good article,

        Keith R. Starkey

  15. 28
    ) Tim
    May 26, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    Bokeh
    Does any one realize the the word Bokeh is simply Blurry in Japanese
    That all what it means look it up
    Are we all as photographers including myself are more ons
    Why do not we just say the quality of back ground blur because we are more ons

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