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  • Writer's pictureMark Heathcote

Stop the BOKEH

It's not big, its not clever, and I don't care that you have an expensive lens which opens up to F0.5 and gives you bokeh.

I'm sorry if anyone gets offended

I hate 95% of images with Bokeh. I'm sorry if anyone gets offended by this, but this is my opinion. There are times that it is useful, and beautiful in the right hands; for example portrait photography. It is not meant for street photography. Not everyone will agree, but stay with me, I'm pretty sure I can prove the case here.

London Bridge
What? No bokeh!

I see so much 'so called' street photography, especially from Leica owners, where all they seem to do is minimise depth of field deliberately to focus on someone. There is little skill involved here, and the resulting images are not interesting. Honestly, they are not. All this illustrates to me is someone who is lacking skills in composition, structure and technique. Worse, they convince themselves that it is awesome (because of the bokeh) and this stops them growing as photographers.

Some of you are going to be angry now

OK, some of you are going to be angry now - there are a lot of you out there that do this. There are also a lot of you out there that 'like' and 'fave' those kind of shots. I would suggest that both the 'takers' and the 'likers' do not understand what good photography is.

Let me prove my point.

I have now alienated a lot of 'street photographers' (and 90% of Leica owners), but I think there are those who understand exactly what I am saying (tweet your support to @markheathcote) - I am now going to prove my point.

Consider as many major photographers as you can think of. Here's just a few randomly off the top of my head... Martin Parr, Trent Parke, Alex Webb (and Rebecca), Tony Ray Jones, Ernst Haas, William Klein, Saul Leiter*, Robert Frank, Matt Stuart, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jesse Marlow. I could go on all day; ALL their photographs have significant depth of field (DoF), not minimal DoF with bokeh. Their images are excellent because of their use of composition, complexity, structure etc.

That is mastery of photography

That is mastery of photography. Not a bokeh in sight.

*note - yes, Saul Leiter did have out of focus layers, but this was as a result of being close to foreground objects, not opening up the aperture wide. He was still maximising his depth of field.

Of course, portrait photographers are allowed to minimise DoF, it is part of what they do, and it is for a reason. Their skill lies in obtaining something special from the subject, not in producing bokeh per se. Please, if you are shooting the streets, and I assume trying to become a better photographer, stop doing the bokeh thing. You need to study the work of the masters, and you need to learn what makes a good photograph. If you continue what you are doing, you will not grow or improve as a photographer. Do not be fooled by all the 'likes' you are getting - those people do not understand photography (look out for another article from on what makes a good photograph / the photographic process).

Controlling the background. No bokeh!

Sell your lenses

IF you really want to be the best you can be, sell your expensive lenses, buy a cheaper and smaller one that does not have such a large aperture, and you will have loads of cash left over to join a workshop with someone that knows what they are doing. You will improve your photography far more from a single workshop than 10,000 images at f1.2.

Don't take boring pictures - Tony Ray Jones

Even amateur photo mags regularly promote the use of small DoF to remove distracting background elements. It infuriates me. The skill is in obtaining the photograph whilst managing the background so that it becomes part of the composition rather than a distraction. In the words of Tony Ray Jones, 'Don't take boring photos'.

Shameless pitch: I run workshops :-)

For a stream of my work, follow me on Twitter or Instagram. If you are interested in rapidly improving, get in touch about my workshops. Also open to commissions or editorial of course.


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