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Pocket Camera Bokeh Tutorial

Panasonic Lumix FX07

Yesterday I posted a tutorial on photographing bokeh with a DSLR. Today I am going to attempt to do the same about pocket cameras. Please take a minute to read over the first part of my DSLR Bokeh Tutorial to familiarize yourself with the basic concepts of what bokeh is and how it is typically created. The photo above (taken with my Pentax K10D & 50mm f/1.7 SMC-A lens) is the closest most people think you can get to photographing bokeh with a compact pocket camera ;-)

The truth is you can shoot bokeh with a pocket or “push here dummy” (PhD) camera, but there are a few things you need to understand about the way they work first so you can set the camera up and compose your shot properly. The two biggest hurdles for getting good bokeh shots on the typical pocket camera are the extremely small objective lens (and resulting small aperture) and the auto focus system. At this point I should mention that there are “pocket” cameras with manual controls. Users of these cameras will have to read both tutorials and combine steps and settings to find what works with their cameras.

typical p&s lens & aperture size typical DSLR lens and aperture size

The first rule of bokeh is the bigger and rounder the aperture opening, the bigger and rounder the bokeh. The photos above do a pretty good job of illustrating the challenge facing PhD camera bokeh seekers. Also, since we don’t typically have control over the aperture setting used by the PhD camera, we have to be sure the camera is set up to give us the desired results.

The second challenge to overcome is the PhD camera’s fully-automatic-do-everything-for-you mindset. If you recall from my DSLR tutorial, to get good bokeh you need:

  • out of focus pin point light sources in the background
  • the largest possible aperture setting your lens will provide (f number)
  • a medium to long focal length (zoom in)
  • a short focal distance to the foreground subject
  • significant distance between the foreground subject and background points of light

Trying to get all of this in combination at the same time can be very frustrating with a PhD camera. PhD cameras are typically programmed to produce photographs where everything is in focus and evenly exposed. To get decent bokeh out of your pocket camera you have to play a few tricks on it’s single-minded little silicon brain. I did a little playing around with the trusty little Panasonic Lumix FX07 above this afternoon to illustrate this tutorial.

TUTORIAL:

First, we need to set up the camera. Most PhD cameras come out of the box in full-on idiot mode. These “Auto” settings are great for taking snapshots but leave very little room for creative control. There is usually a “Manual” or other mode that allows greater control over the camera’s settings. I suggest that you use this mode for this exercise (and everything else). However, since there are so many PhD cameras out there (with each having its own user interface) I’m going to stick to settings that should be universally addressable. If you are unsure how to change any of these settings please refer to your camera’s user manual.

Step 1: Turn off the flash (IMO you’ll be a better photographer if you never turn it back on).

flash off

The PhD camera is going to try and fire the flash to fill in all the darkness between your bokeh balls. Not very helpful.

Step 2: Set the ISO to 200.

ISO 200

By forcing the camera to use a relatively slow ISO speed we ensure that the PhD’s brain will dial up the largest aperture opening to try and compensate for the lack of light while keeping the shutter speed as fast as possible.

Step 3: Turn on Image Stabilization (if available).

IS on

Image stabilization will help compensate for camera shake in what is bound to be a rather slow exposure. If you do not have IS you may have to play around with your ISO setting and/or use a tripod.

Step 4: Select MACRO focus mode.

MACRO focus mode

Macro focus mode will enable us to dial in a very short focal distance to maximize depth of field.

Now that the camera is properly set up you need some nice pin point sources of light. Again, a Christmas tree on the far side of your living room makes an excellent subject this time of year. As we have not yet decorated our tree, some Christmas tree lights on the kitchen counter will have to do for this tutorial. Remember the Golden Rule of tutorials: “do as I say, not as I do” :D

Step 5: Find some pin point sources of light in a relatively dark setting.

Christmas lights

My Lumix has a 3X zoom but the macro setting only works in the widest zoom position so these series of shots are at the widest zoom setting. If your camera can still focus in macro mode within about 6″ of the front of the lens when zoomed out then try zooming out for this tutorial. Otherwise, just do what I did and play with the distance to the lights (I was only 4-5′ away from this small section of lights- 10-12′ is likely a better distance from a full-on Christmas tree).

Step 6: Focus on something small up as close to the front of the camera lens as possible (half press and HOLD of the shutter button only-do not take the picture yet).

focus the camera

Here I’m using the stick from a Dum Dums lollipop. I like the sucker stick because it is small and white but its round shape provides enough highlight and shadow for the contrast detect auto focus to lock onto it. If you use your finger the camera will have difficulty focusing and the exposure will likely be blown out. Since PhD cameras lock exposure and focus at the same time, the trick here is to pre-focus on something very small in the foreground while not blocking too much light from the background and ruining the exposure of the bokeh.

Step 7: Move the foreground object from in front of the camera and fully depress the shutter button to take the picture.

pocket camera bokeh

Admittedly this has a lot to be desired as it has not reached the heights of bokeh-dom as are possible with a DSLR and large aperture lens. However, it is bokeh and it was shot with a PhD pocket camera. Adding a subject back into the foreground after pre-focusing on the small foreground object (using the LCD viewfinder to achieve focus by manually moving the camera and/or subject in front of the lens while continuing to hold the shutter button at the halfway point) can make for some pretty interesting bokeh shots that will impress your friends and neighbors (unlike this example).

Dum-Dum bokeh

Happy pocket camera bokeh-ing! Let me know how it goes.

UPDATE:

So, we finally got our tree up and I took the opportunity to try my technique out for reals. This is the best I could get with my Panasonic Lumix FX07:

Panasonic Lumix FX07 bokeh

Not bad, but I figured the limited macro capability of my Lumix might be holding things up a bit so I borrowed the wife’s 3 year old Canon PowerShot SD400. Canon PhDs tend to feature extremely close macro focus capability. Sure enough, the results this time around were really not half bad:

Canon SD450 bokeh

Merry Christmas!

37 Responses to “Pocket Camera Bokeh Tutorial”

  1. 1
    Uma:

    This is brilliant! Thank you for both of the tutorials. I’m going to forward your link to a friend who just got an early Christmas present in a form of a very nice DSLR. I enjoy reading about your fun studio/shop time, which makes me really miss the mayhem of Smith Hall (Wallace is alright if you like having space and functional toilets…I guess) and can’t wait to see what you have to share with this new blog!

  2. 2
    Robert:

    Excellent. Thanks, Uma!

  3. 3
    Robert:

    PS- Functional toilets are highly overrated. I miss Smith Hall’s character ;-)

  4. 4
    jim - myartistsoul:

    Just read this tutorial…very nice, great advice, well presented.

  5. 5
    Cijoy:

    Thanks for the tutorial… it was nicely composed and explained…this is surely gonna help be get some good bokeh’s :)

  6. 6
    cyber-shoter:

    GREAT!!!! I will TRY this soon… hope got nice bokeh, I Use Lumix LS85….

    glad that the tutorial use Lumix too……

    hey, I just add you as my contact on my flickr account :D

    nice to know you :D

  7. 7
    ryane:

    GREATTTTTT!!

  8. 8
    Valeria:

    “Step 1: Turn off the flash (IMO you’ll be a better photographer if you never turn it back on).”

    Why is it better to not have flash?

  9. 9
    Kelly:

    Nice tutorial, not crazy about how it was written though. Many photographers have point and shoots handy for times when it’s a hassle to lug around DSLR equipment. While it is true that a point and shoot does not offer the same control as a DSLR, you can easily manipulate the various modes on a point and shoot to get very good pictures. Your comments (the point and shoot comes out of the box idiot ready, you’ll be a better photographer if you never turn the flash back on… etc) are ridiculous. There’s no need to diss these cameras just because you have something more advanced. If you can’t get control over the settings on a point and shoot, maybe you’re the idiot.

  10. 10
    Robert:

    Valeria-
    The tiny underpowered flashes typically built into cameras are only good for short range and typically result in fairly harsh, artificial lighting. If you have ever snapped a shot and then gone “ugh” when you saw how different the photo looked with flash than the scene you were trying to capture then you know what I’m talking about.

  11. 11
    Robert:

    Kelly-
    Did you actually read my post?

    Remember, it’s not the equipment, it’s the photographer that makes great photographs. But, knowing how to use your equipment is required to be a photographer ;-)

  12. 12
    anzie:

    Nice tutorial Robert. Yes, point and shoot cameras can create bokeh too, but its a lil bit difficult when u want to take portraits since we dont really use the macro mode here. Im fond of portraits with good bokeh background so that the subject stands out more from the background. Therefore, i would stick to a dslr with a fast lens n a relaticely long focal length in order to get good portraits with bokeh. i wonder if u have any suggestions in order to do this (portraits with good bokeh) with a p&s camera, or even a dslr with a 18-55, f3.5-5.6 lens, and a relatively limited space (the subject cant be too far away from the cluttered background.) thanx Robert

  13. 13
    Robert:

    Anzie, A DSLR with an 18-55mm kit lens on a DSLR can do a decent job of isolating the subject from the background assuming that you use the largest possible aperture and a long focal length (ie: 55mm). The best you can do with a pocket camera is zoom all the way in and get as close to your subject as possible with as much space behind the subject as possible. You’ll never get the same kind of short depth of field subject isolation that a truly fast lens on a DSLR can produce but with careful composition you can certainly get pleasing results.

  14. 14
    syndross:

    ha u r a noob kelly

  15. 15
    Pattern Inc » Beautiful Examples of Bokeh Photography:

    [...] Pocket Camera Bokeh Tutorial – Following on from the previous tutorial, this lesson explains how to apply bokeh techniques to pocket digital cameras. Once again, simple steps layout the principles of achieving bokeh effects, paying particular attention to overcoming the automatic functions of point-and-shoot cameras. [...]

  16. 16
    Beautiful Examples of Bokeh Photography:

    [...] Pocket Camera Bokeh Tutorial – Following on from the previous tutorial, this lesson explains how to apply bokeh techniques to pocket digital cameras. Once again, simple steps layout the principles of achieving bokeh effects, paying particular attention to overcoming the automatic functions of point-and-shoot cameras. [...]

  17. 17
    Beautiful Examples of Bokeh Photography | #! Jack Script:

    [...] Pocket Camera Bokeh Tutorial – Following on from the previous tutorial, this lesson explains how to apply bokeh techniques to pocket digital cameras. Once again, simple steps layout the principles of achieving bokeh effects, paying particular attention to overcoming the automatic functions of point-and-shoot cameras. [...]

  18. 18
    Beautiful Examples Of Bokeh Photography | hi-pk.com:

    [...] Pocket Camera Bokeh Tutorial – Following on from the previous tutorial, this lesson explains how to apply bokeh techniques to pocket digital cameras. Once again, simple steps layout the principles of achieving bokeh effects, paying particular attention to overcoming the automatic functions of point-and-shoot cameras. [...]

  19. 19
    Robyn:

    I’ve been trying to create bokeh photos with my Phd camera, as I couldn’t afford a good DSLR, when my old 35mm manual went belly up, and I really appreciate the info. Digital cameras are a totally new experience for me and it’s taking a long time to remember where everything is compared to the manual. I totally agree on the flash thing, though I find myself using flash more in daytime shade situations when camera is set on automatic to offset the fuzziness caused by light deficiency. Works well when photographing kids and animals and you need to be quick ;).I’m going to recommend your sites to my scrapbooking friends :)

  20. 20
    belle:

    it’s really cool! brilliant!^^

  21. 21
    Amanda:

    Great Tutorial. I just got a lumix fz100. I really want to get bokeh pics with my kids in focus. Would you recommend buying something like a raynox dcr-250 for it?

  22. 22
    sjdvda:

    Thanks for the tutorial, Robert. Using this and the DSLR bokeh tutorial, I was able to take some pretty great shots with my Lumix DMC-TZ10/ZS7. :)

  23. 23
    Aldo:

    April, maybe it is because the original article was posted on December 12th, 2008, and you are commenting 3 years after?
    But critically, because the approach described will work with any point and shoot camera offering some degree of manual control, whether and with a bit of thinking even with cameras with no manual controls at all.
    The camera being waterproof or not is also completely irrelevant, obviously :D

  24. 24
    An Extensive Guide to Creating Bokeh Photography | howtow | How to What?:

    [...] owners feeling left out? Robert Donovan presents a method for creating bokeh with a basic point-and-shoot camera (or as Donovan calls them, “push here dummy” cameras). The tricky part is overcoming the [...]

  25. 25
    Dean:

    Here’s one I took with my Sony TX10. not bad for a waterproof handicam! I’m very happy with some of the photos I’ve taken with this. http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1574931/DSC00569.JPG

  26. 26
    Dean:

    That was before I read this tutorial though. Lets see what I can come up with now!

  27. 27
    Cathlon:

    It was after I had been playing at trying to capture good bokeh with my Canon Powershot that your tutorial was recommended to me! After reading it I think I did really well after all! Btw – I macro zoomed – no prefocusing on anything close by! And I agree – I hate the flash on the camera and have it turned off or I delete almost all photos that use the flash. Sometimes this does lead to a noisy image but that can be part of the fun too!!

  28. 28
    GordonB.:

    Excuse my ingorance but exactly what is a PhD camera? I have a Point and Shoot (P&S) which I have full control over and have a f/2 stop. I agree that perhaps there is a market for the true P&S cameras when a person isn’t interested in doing anything but pointing and ‘click’.

    I enjoyed your article and found it most interesting.

    Gordon B.

  29. 29
    GordonB.:

    No need to answer my question above about what is a PhD.
    I found the answer.

  30. 30
    Whoopi:

    I actually tried to capture bokeh photos with my Point and Shoot camera, but I did not know that that’s what you call it. :p I just loved the effects. Anyway, I learned a lot after reading this tutorial, and the article explained the things that I needed to overcome when capturing bokeh photos. :D Thanks a lot!

  31. 31
    utha:

    nice info

  32. 32
    Phillip:

    Nice tutorial. I have a Lumix FZ35. Sometimes I get nice bokeh, other times I couldn’t. I had been wondering why, and have tried many different settings and was wondering if the distance betw the lens and the subject had anything to do with it. After reading your tutorial, I now understand a lot more and can’t wait to try the different “setting” to see which gives me the best bokeh effect. Good job. Thank you.

  33. 33
    Compact camera tutorial – Compact camera | Cheap Camera for Travel » Blog Archive:

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  34. 34
    usama:

    thanks for such a nice tutorial <3 nicely presented thank you alot

  35. 35
    siddhant:

    actually m having a nikon coolpix L24…
    will this work on it…???

  36. 36
    Robert:

    It should work on a Nikon CoolPix L24!

  37. 37
    Naomi Biswas:

    This tutorial is great! i was searchin something like this for weeks. Thanks a lot..

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