- Sean Cayton
- Use a wide-open aperture to isolate your subjects and make a better picture from a busy scene.
Camera lenses have a special quality that can help isolate your subjects and make a picture much more interesting. But rarely does anyone use it, which is a shame because if there’s one thing most photographers could do to make better pictures it’s this quality.
The lens quality I’m talking about is called bokeh (BOH-kay), which means photographing with a wide-open aperture to create a pleasing blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of the image.
When you’re photographing a busy scene, this quality can be a real life-saver.
Here’s an example.
I attended the March For Our Lives protest at Acacia Park downtown two weeks ago. There were hundreds of people and hundreds of signs. Taken as a whole, the protest was busy looking and didn’t make for compelling pictures.
But by using a wide-open aperture, I was able to isolate individuals and signs in the crowd and create interesting compositions with the help of my lens’ bokeh.
I brought one camera with me, a Canon 6D, and one lens — my favorite 50mm f1.2 L series lens.
As an aside, the better the glass the better the bokeh. Canon’s L series lenses are made for professionals and are widely regarded as some of the finest camera lenses in the world. These lenses offer users the ability to photography scenes with very wide-open apertures resulting in pleasing bokeh.
In this instance, I photographed the protest using apertures between f2.5 to f.5.
With my kids in tow (we were returning from the library when we stumbled on the protest by accident), I walked around photographing the protesters and their signs making some wonderfully compelling photographs.
The next time you find yourself struggling to get a great picture, especially if it’s a busy scene, try using your lens’ bokeh to make more pleasing compositions.
Sean Cayton is a wedding photojournalist of 19 years and operates a successful, award-winning wedding photography studio in Colorado Springs. He's also an award-winning photojournalist. Sean is happily married to the love of his life (also his business partner) and is father to three beautiful children. When he’s not working, Sean can be found outside flying kites with his kids, hitting golf balls or casting a fly rod to hungry trout