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.
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:
- 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.
- Turn off camera flash.
- 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.
- Pick a relatively small subject with plenty of textures to be able to focus on it easily.
- 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.
- Make sure that the objects in the background have reflective surfaces. Glass and metal surfaces are great candidates for the background.
- Hold the point and shoot camera as close to the subject that you want to appear sharp in your image as possible.
- Focus on your subject by half-pressing the shutter button. Make sure that your subject is in focus.
- Take a picture and view it on the camera LCD, making sure that your subject appears sharp, while the background looks blurry.
- 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:
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
I have the same question as Gus, however I am a newbie to photography. I want to get good bokeh shooting macro flowers and want to upgrade from my phone (although even my Nexus 6p gets reasonable bokeh!). However I want quality photos. What is the cheapest camera combination fixed or removable lens choice say under $1500. Thanks.
Hello Nasim, I follow this website as I always find very good information here. Sorry to bring back such an old article but I’ve been in this recent quest…
I currently own a Fujifilm X-T10 and one X-A3 (technically my wife’s but I end up using it more) with several lenses including the 56mmF1.2 that I bought for the obvious reason of shooting magic portraits.
Now I’m always looking for a pocketable (probably jacket pocket in this case) solution of a camera that would give me “some” form of Bokeh.
I have read once on a photographer’s blog that he uses the following math to understand a lens’ bokeh-bility:
Focal Length divided by Widest Aperture
(Actual Focal Length and not equivalent therefore size sensor would be already accounted for in the math)
And he decided that for his taste any results of more than 15 would do the trick. That was the minimum acceptable for him to take pictures of people with discerning background blur.
Obviously the aforementioned 56mmF1.2 yields great Bokeh and the Bokeh-bility Index is 56/1.2=46.66 which is very similar to Bokeh results a 90mmF2 would yield 90/2=45.
While results from a 35mmF2 is still good at 35/2=17.5 the 18-55mmF2.8-4 only yields a fair result at 55/4=13.75 but if you consider a standard kit lens 18-55mmF3.5-5.6 results are poor with the index at 55/5.6=9.82.
After testing all these myself I end up agreeing with the formula and researching a possible contender for a Compact Portrait System I ultimately have been considering the following:
Canon G5X/G7X I II at 36.8mm/f2.8 = 13.14
(On Par with the 18-55mmF2.8-4)
Panasonic LX100 at 34mm/f2.8 = 12.14
(almost as good as the 18-55mmF2.8-4)
Nikon P7700/P7800 at 42.8mm/f4 = 10.70
Fujifilm X10/X20/X30 at 28.4mm/f2.8 = 10.14
(Slightly better than a standard kit lens)
Sony RX100 V at 25.7mm/f2.8 = 9.17
(Taking size into consideration it’s great)
Canon G1X III at 45mm/f5.6 = 8.03
(Not the best result you would think for APSC)
Would you say this is a fair assessment when deciding for a compact camera that could yield some Bokeh results?
Have you tried any of these and especially tried the Bokeh-bility of any of these cameras?
I have bought nikon coolpix L840 point and shoot camera .I want to get bokeh effect though my camera .I love SLR camera but the price of DSLR camera prevent me to buy this so I bought nikon L840 point and shoot camera is worth buying? And how to create bokeh effect by this.
I have a Canon Powershot sd200, but would love to upgrade to a DSLR. Are there any that you recommend under $400?
I have a Nikon D3200 which I have just bought. It has had me really flummoxed with all its features and I recently spent a whole weekend trying to work out this bokeh effect. Your article has finally got the “lights turned on”. Thank you so much. You set it out clearly and easily – especially for a newcomer to SLR cameras and I have been delighted with some of the results I have achieved so far.
My next plan is to save up enough to purchase the lens you recommend.
Thanks again for a really informative article. Do you have any articles on portrait photography – especially children? as that is where I would like to focus my attention on ultimately.
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
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?
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?
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
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
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.
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.
you might have already bought the camera though, so you may already know it first hand.
I have a Nikon p500 and am filming a music video and want to do the bokeh video effect like this:
would this be possible with my camera?