10 Tips for Stunning Bokeh in Portrait Photos
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. Choose the right lens
  2. Adjust the aperture
  3. Focus on the subject
  4. Distance between subject and background
  5. Use lighting to your advantage
  6. Create bokeh with foreground elements
  7. Experiment with different angles
  8. Use a bokeh filter
  9. Take advantage of natural elements
  10. Practice makes perfect

When it comes to mastering bokeh in portrait photography, the magic lies in playing with focus, light, and perspective to craft dreamy, blurred backgrounds that make your subject pop. The result? Photos that radiate charm and creativity! This blog guides you through 10 simple steps to create stunning bokeh effects in your portrait photos. Let's dive right in!

Choose the right lens

First things first, picking the right lens is your ticket to mastering bokeh in portrait photography. It's like choosing the right paintbrush to create your masterpiece: it has to be just right for the effect you're aiming to achieve.

For a beautiful bokeh effect, go for a fast lens. Fast lenses have larger apertures (the opening in the lens where light enters), which helps blur the background while keeping the subject sharp. Like the popular 50mm f/1.8 lens, often nicknamed the "nifty fifty". It's loved by photographers for its affordability, sharpness, and versatility—making it a great choice for beginners and pros alike.

Pro tip: Lenses with longer focal lengths, such as 85mm, 135mm, or 200mm, can create a more pronounced bokeh effect. So, if you're looking to add some serious dreaminess to your portraits, these are worth considering!

Remember, the key is to experiment with different lenses to find the one that suits your style and gives you the bokeh effect you're after. The beauty of photography lies in the journey—you learn more with every click!

Choosing the right lens is your first step in creating stunning bokeh in portrait photos. It sets the stage for the other tips we'll explore, so make sure you've got this one down before moving on!

Adjust the aperture

Now that you've chosen your lens, let's talk about another major player in the bokeh game: the aperture. The aperture is like the iris of your camera's eye—it controls the amount of light that enters your lens. But, more importantly for us, it also affects how much of your photo will be in focus.

When it comes to mastering bokeh in portrait photography, a wide aperture is your best friend. That's because a wider aperture (represented by a smaller f-stop number like f/1.8 or f/2.8) creates a shallow depth of field. This means less of your photo will be in focus, which is exactly what you want to achieve that dreamy, blurred background.

Here's a neat trick: try setting your aperture to the widest setting your lens allows. This will throw the background out of focus, making your subject stand out against a beautifully blurred backdrop. The result? Stunning bokeh portraits that look professional and visually appealing!

Pro tip: While a wide aperture can create beautiful bokeh, it's important to remember that it also narrows your depth of field. So, make sure your subject is in sharp focus before you take the shot. You don't want to end up with a blurred subject in your pursuit of bokeh perfection!

Adjusting your aperture is a powerful tool in your bokeh toolkit. It's all about finding the right balance to create a photo where your subject shines against a backdrop of beautiful blur. So, go ahead, play around with your aperture settings and watch the bokeh magic unfold!

Focus on the Subject

Now that you've adjusted your aperture, it's time to focus—literally—on your subject. In the pursuit of mastering bokeh in portrait photography, the focus is a key player. It's not just about blurring the background; it's about making sure your subject stands out against it.

To create the best bokeh effects, you'll want to make sure your subject is in sharp focus. This contrast between a sharply focused subject and a blurred background is what creates that desirable bokeh effect. But how do you get your subject in perfect focus?

First, try using your camera's autofocus function. Most modern cameras have advanced autofocus systems that can quickly focus on your subject. However, you might find that your camera's autofocus doesn't always focus on what you want it to. That's where manual focus comes in.

Manual focus allows you to control exactly where your camera focuses. It can be a bit tricky to master, but it gives you ultimate control over your focus. And remember: in portrait photography, the eyes are often the most important part to keep in focus.

Pro tip: Use a tripod to keep your camera steady while you adjust your focus. This can help ensure your subject stays in sharp focus, even with a shallow depth of field.

So, take a moment to really focus on your subject. After all, they're the star of the show! And with a little practice, you'll be nailing the focus and mastering bokeh in portrait photography in no time.

Distance between Subject and Background

Continuing on our journey to master bokeh in portrait photography, the next stop is understanding the role of distance. The space between your subject and the background can drastically influence the bokeh effect. Let's dive into it!

To make your subject pop and the background blur, you might want to increase the distance between your subject and the background. This can help create a more pronounced bokeh effect. So, if your subject is standing right in front of a wall, you might not get the bokeh effect you're looking for.

But what if you're in a tight space? Don't worry—you can still achieve a beautiful bokeh effect. Try moving your subject closer to the camera. This can help create the illusion of more distance between your subject and the background.

Pro tip: Experiment with different distances. Play around with how close your subject is to the camera and how far away the background is. This can help you find the perfect balance for your shot.

So, the next time you're setting up a shot, think about the distance. It might just be the secret ingredient you need to master bokeh in portrait photography.

Use Lighting to Your Advantage

Lighting plays a pivotal role in mastering bokeh in portrait photography. It's like the magic wand that can turn your photos from average to astonishing. Let's take a look at how you can use lighting to your advantage.

One of the secrets is to use a light source behind the subject. This technique, often referred to as backlighting, creates a beautiful glow around your subject and helps to generate an attractive bokeh effect in the background. You might be thinking about sunlight, but it doesn't have to be natural light. Christmas lights, street lamps, or any light source can work wonders!

Remember: The intensity of the light source matters. Too much light might wash out your subject, while too little may not provide the desired bokeh effect. It's a bit of a balancing act, but with practice, you'll find the sweet spot.

Another trick up the sleeve is to use reflected light. This can be light bouncing off a shiny surface, like a mirror or a body of water. It can create an unexpected and eye-catching bokeh effect in your portraits.

Last but not least, don't forget about the golden hour—the time just after sunrise or right before sunset. The soft, diffused light during these times can create a stunning bokeh effect and give your portraits a dreamy touch.

Mastering bokeh in portrait photography can be a game of light and shadows. So, don't be afraid to play around and experiment with different lighting conditions. After all, photography is all about capturing light, right?

Create Bokeh with Foreground Elements

When people think of bokeh in portrait photography, they often picture dreamy, blurry backgrounds. That's one way to do it, no doubt, but have you thought about flipping the script? Yes, that's right! You can create a beautiful bokeh effect using elements in the foreground.

Imagine this: you're capturing a portrait of your friend, and there's a bunch of flowers nearby. Instead of positioning your friend in front of the flowers, why not place them behind? This way, the flowers become part of the foreground. If you adjust your focus to your friend, leaving the flowers out of focus, voila! You've got yourself a foreground bokeh effect.

Pro tip: Objects with interesting shapes or colorful patterns can make your foreground bokeh even more captivating. Try using leaves, fairy lights, or even a glass prism. The possibilities are endless!

Another way to create bokeh with foreground elements is by utilizing a technique called "freelensing". This involves detaching the lens from the camera and holding it close to the camera body. It may sound scary, but when done right, it can produce a unique bokeh effect with a dreamy, tilt-shift style.

As always, experimenting is key to mastering bokeh in portrait photography. With some practice, you'll be surprised at the stunning results you can achieve with foreground elements.

Experiment with Different Angles

When it comes to mastering bokeh in portrait photography, the angle at which you shoot can make a world of difference. Think of it like a twist in a story, a new angle can dramatically change the narrative. It's the same with photography.

If you always shoot straight on, you're missing out. By changing your angle and perspective, you can not only change the composition but also the way light interacts with your subject and background. This is a key element in creating stunning bokeh effects.

Try shooting from a lower angle. This can place your subject against the sky, and if it's a day with scattered clouds or a beautiful sunset, your bokeh will be absolutely divine. Or, you can try shooting from a higher angle, this can place your subject against a busy, colorful background. With the right aperture setting, this background can transform into a mesmerizing blur of colors.

Pro tip: A slight tilt of your camera can also create an off-kilter effect, adding more depth to your bokeh. This is known as the Dutch angle. It’s a simple trick, but it can add a whole new level of interest to your portraits.

Remember, experimenting with different angles is an essential part of mastering bokeh in portrait photography. It opens up a whole new world of possibilities and allows you to create unique, eye-catching images.

Use a Bokeh Filter

Imagine turning the lights in the background of your portrait into adorable hearts, stars, or even letters. Sounds fun, doesn't it? That's the magic a bokeh filter can bring to your photography. They're like a magician's hat, pulling out the unexpected and making your pictures genuinely unique.

A bokeh filter, also known as a bokeh shape filter, is a simple device that you can attach to your camera lens. It shapes the light entering your lens, turning ordinary light spots into specific shapes. This can add an extra layer of creativity and fun to your bokeh, helping you take your portrait photography to new heights.

Bokeh filters come in a wide variety of shapes: stars, hearts, diamonds, and even custom shapes. You can even make your own DIY bokeh filter. It's an easy and fun project, and it allows you to create truly unique bokeh effects.

Remember: When using a bokeh filter, it's essential to have a good light source in the background. The more lights there are, the more shapes will appear in your bokeh.

So, if you're looking to add a sprinkle of magic to your portraits, a bokeh filter might be just the tool you need. It's a sure-fire way to step up your game in mastering bokeh in portrait photography.

Take Advantage of Natural Elements

Have you ever noticed how a sunset can transform an ordinary scene into a painting? Or how a field of flowers can add a splash of color to a picture? Nature is one of the best artists, and you can use its creations to create stunning bokeh in your portraits.

Think about the times you've seen light filtering through the leaves of a tree, creating a beautiful pattern of light and shadow. That's a perfect example of natural bokeh. The leaves become a canvas for the light, painting a picture that's unique and dynamic. All you need to do is place your subject in the right spot, and let nature do the rest.

But it's not just about trees and leaves. You can create bokeh with any natural element: water droplets on a window, a field of flowers, a foggy morning. The possibilities are endless.

Pro tip: When using natural elements for your bokeh, consider the time of day. The golden hour—just after sunrise or just before sunset—can create a warm, soft bokeh that's perfect for portrait photography.

Mastering bokeh in portrait photography is all about seeing the beauty in ordinary things. So next time you're out with your camera, take a moment to look around. You might find the perfect bokeh right where you least expect it.

Practice Makes Perfect

Let's be real. Mastering bokeh in portrait photography isn't going to happen overnight. It's a journey, with lots of trial and error, but that's what makes it exciting, right?

Just like learning a new song on the guitar, or finally nailing that yoga pose, it takes practice. Each time you adjust your lens, play with the aperture, or experiment with different angles, you're improving. You're getting closer to capturing that perfect bokeh effect in your portraits.

But remember, practice isn't just about repetition. It's about reflection too. After each photo session, take some time to review your shots. What worked? What didn't? Which settings gave you the best bokeh effect? The more you learn from each experience, the faster you'll improve.

Pro tip: Don't be afraid to experiment. Try different lenses, settings, and subjects. You might be surprised by what you discover. It's all part of the journey to mastering bokeh in portrait photography.

So grab your camera, get out there, and start practicing. Each shot brings you one step closer to creating those stunning bokeh portraits you've been dreaming of. And remember, the only bad photo is the one you didn't take. So, what are you waiting for?

If you enjoyed our "10 Tips for Stunning Bokeh in Portrait Photos" blog post and want to learn more about portrait photography, we recommend checking out the workshop 'Demystifying Portrait Photography' by Cyn Lagos. This workshop will provide you with practical tips and techniques to capture stunning portraits, including more advanced bokeh techniques to elevate your photography skills.