Bokeh consists of the out-of-focus highlights seen in photographs. You know, those beautiful little balls of light that just seem to pop off the screen and make a picture look so much sexier? Here’s an example. So it follows that a bokehrama is a panorama — or a series of shots — of bokeh, lots of blur, and a single subject in focus. The best way to describe it is to showcase a terrific example, one from kick-butt wedding photog Ryan Brenizer, from whom I’ve learned this method:
The whole purpose of doing this is to strongly pronounce your subject with a big blurry background. If you’re able to isolate your subject from a background with a single shot and still get a creamy-looking background, just imagine what you can do with a series of shots, all merged together! This is what we’ll do today.
Let’s Get Right Down To It!
1. The first thing we need to do is choose an interesting subject, with an (hopefully) interesting background. What’s better than a pretty girl all alone on train tracks? Probably a few things, I’m sure, but we’ll use that as an example. Below you can see my guinea pig for this experiment, whom also happens to be my girlfriend, Mariko, in the first shot of what is part of our bokehrama:
There’s not much to see here. Hardly any train tracks and hardly any Mariko, though this was all I could fit in with my 85mm lens. I do like the blurry background though, and want to see more of her, which is the whole purpose of this technique. And so we’ll proceed as follows…
2. Put on your fastest and longest lens. In my case this is an 85mm f1.4. You’ll need a) the fast aperture for its incredible depth-of-field (which means more blur!) and b) the length for working distance (and also more blur!). Set your camera as follows:
- Manual Mode: Since we want all images to look the same in terms of light and color, we’ll shoot in manual. You don’t want each shot to have different levels of light or else the resulting panorama will appear like patch-work, with visible seams between each image.
- Manual focus: This is very important as you want consistent focus throughout every picture, which means blurry elements remain blurry and your sharp subject remains sharp. If you’re using autofocus then each shot will remain perfectly focused eliminating any chance at a nice blurry background when all the shots are put together.
- Shoot JPEG: Shooting JPEG instead of RAW, and at a small size will allow us to process the bokehrama without choking our computer. Don’t worry about losing detail because of the small JPEG setting; with all the images stitched together afterward, you’ll have detail to spare!
- Set your aperture wide-open: For my 85mm this is f1.4. If the lowest yours goes is f2.8 or f4, etc., then set it to that. But the faster the better for more noticeable results.
- Expose to determine the shutter speed: Since we’re in manual we need to get the right exposure before shooting. Take the first shot of your subject to determine what the shutter speed should be so they look good at the selected aperture. Are they too dark? Lower the speed. Too light? Increase it.
- Set your white-balance: This is very important to maintain the same look across all images we take, and at least for me very easily forgotten. Again, we need each image to remain consistent in terms of color and light levels. Take the same test shot as before and adjust the WB for the best look of your subject and keep it on that for the rest of the shoot. Most of the time mine is set to Cloudy when shooting outside.
Your focus is manually set for your subject; your shutter speed is set to where it needs to be; your aperture is wide-open; your white-balance is also where it should be. So let’s start shooting!
3. Everything’s in place, all we need now is to visualize our composition. Since the bokehrama will be fitting much more into the picture than what we’ll get with a single shot, you have to use your head to visualize what’s around you in order to shoot appropriately and create a stunning bokehrama. To begin, if your subject is a person, be sure to shoot their face first and tell them to hold still for the entire process, as lots of movement may appear in our bokehrama and look out of place (for example, one blinking eye and one open eye!). The same applies for lots of moving objects, such as cars. Make sure things are relatively quiet and still before carrying on.
Now visualize the whole composition as a square, in rows and columns (a matrix). We’ll shoot in a structured fashion, filling each square of this matrix with plenty of overlap between shots. Using manual focus only, focus on only the most important element of your subject first (Mariko’s face) and shoot. Now without re-focusing, start shooting from the top-left corner of the composition (your matrix), moving across in a columnar fashion until you approach the top-right corner of your composition. Then move down to the next “row”, and starting from the left of the composition, shoot all the way to the right again. Repeat until you’ve created the composition you’ve envisioned, thus filling in our matrix. Again, be sure to have plenty of overlap between shots. If this sounds a little bizarre, then it’s only my poor writing style to blame. Here’s a (messy) example, with each square representing a single image from the camera:
Once you’re done shooting, flipping through the images on your camera will look like my following example, which consists of each individual shot I’ve taken of Mariko to create my bokehrama of her on the train tracks. Hopefully it becomes clearer when seeing each shot put together. Note that I’ve a) shot her face first, b) (very roughly) shot in a rectangular fashion, left to right and top to bottom, starting with the top-left thumbnail until I’ve completed my mind’s composition, and c) created plenty of overlap between each image to ensure they merge together correctly later on:
We’re done shooting!
4. It looks very rough so far, but soon each shot will be merged into one massive panorama… er, sorry, BOKEHRAMA!
Download and install AutoStitch, which we’ll use to merge all our shots into a single large one. That’s right, you don’t need Photoshop, and AutoStitch is free!
5. With AutoStitch open, go to Edit -> Options and change Scale to 100 then click OK:
6. Now go to File -> Open and select all of the images you’ve taken as part of your bokehrama. It may be helpful to copy them to your computer first to speed up the process. AutoStitch will do its thing, which may or may not take a while, depending on how many shots you’ve snapped:
7. After it’s done, your final bokehrama will appear on-screen and in the same folder as your pics. Here’s what AutoStitch spat out for me:
Now edit it as you see fit! Below is the result of cropping, cloning and color warming done in Photoshop:
View the larger version here.
Note that this is a very “artistic” technique, and results vary greatly. If you’re not happy with your results, then isolate what you think went wrong and keep that in mind for next time. For example, my first attempts at this resulted in lots of distortion and curves around Mariko, which I’ve learned was due to me sitting too close to her; I simply stepped back. Practice, practice, practice!
Thanks for reading! Any questions or comments? Please e-mail me!
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