In Depth: What in the Heck is Bokeh?

In Depth: What in the Heck is Bokeh?

Updated with several products including OnOne Software Perfect Photo Suite, Biomekk zBlur, Motiva RealPerception, and several stock footage options (Rampant Studio Bokeh, That Studio Indie Essentials) on 7 October 2014. Updated 8 October, 2014 with an After Effects tutorial. 


What is Bokeh and how is it pronounced?

Bokeh /bōˈkā/ is derived from the Japanese word “boke”, which means “blur” or “haze” [Wikipedia: Bokeh]

The dictionary definition is the aesthetical visual quality of the blur or out-of-focus areas of a photographic image, usually as rendered by a particular lens. You've seen this effect hundreds of times before. I know you have. The example in the title image is a real photo, not generated by software. It is a group of lights on Christmas trees and it was taken by my fiance, Dan (Terpstra Photography) this winter at the ice skating rink. 

In post production, you can use a Lens Blur effect to simulate a bokeh effect. You can make it in your own eyes squinting your eyes, causing blurs through your eyelashes to all of the lights and reflections. This works best on a dark rainy night with lots of lights and reflections.

So how do you say it? It is pronounced “Boca” like the burger, or the word for mouth in Spanish. I have also heard it pronounced “bo-kay”, as in bouquet (or Hyacinth Bucket insists her last name is pronounced!) 


The above image is an example of natural bokeh and was included in chapter 3 of my book, Plug-in to After Effects: The Essential Guide to the 3rd Party Plug-ins.

Let's See a Few Examples of Bokeh

How to Create Bokeh in Post

Still Photo Bokeh Effects

Here's a tutorial that shows you how to make a bokeh type effect in Photoshop CS6.

Topaz Labs Lens Effects

Topaz Labs Lens Effects works in  Adobe Photoshop, Photoshop Lightroom, Photoshop Elements and Apple Aperture. 

With the integration of the new Smart Brush tool, for simple way to create depth maps, Lens Effects makes it easier than ever to adjust depth-of-field, emphasize your focal point, create beautiful bokeh effects, balance color tone, simulate SLR lenses and have complete creative control of your image after the shot. Quickly generate bokeh, blur, vignettes and lens characteristics.

OnOne Software Perfect Photo Suite

OnOne Software Perfect Photo Suite contains FocalPoint 2, a plug-in for instant bokeh and realistic blur.

Here's a review of Photoshop vs. OnOne Focal Point

Video Bokeh Effects

In After Effects

There are several ways to create a bokeh in After Effects. First, the Camera Lens Blur effect, introduced in After Effects CS5.5. Below, Todd Kopriva of Adobe explains how to use the Camera Lens Blur effect with a depth map to blur areas of a layer to simulate different distances from the camera.

You can create the effect by enabling Depth of Field in After Effects and adjusting the Aperture settings.  

Daniel Bryant recently created a tutorial for Layers Magazine explaining how to make bokeh in After Effects with dot shapes.

Here is another tutorial, this time from Lynda.com about how to create bokeh with the After Effects Camera.

Frischluft Lenscare

Frischluft Lenscare is available as plugins for Adobe After Effects, OFX (Nuke, Digital Fusion, Toxik/Maya Composite) and Photoshop … Lens Aperture A cameras lens aperture greatly defines the look of its blur (Bokeh).

Boris Continuum Complete Lens Blur

BCC Lens Blur is a plug-in in Boris Continuum Complete (BCC) and works in several hosts, including Adobe After Effects and Premiere Pro, FxPlug for Final Cut Pro & Motion, AVX for Avid Media Composer, NewsCutter, and SymphonySony Vegas Pro, and Autodesk Sparks.

The MP-accelerated BCC Lens Blur filter emulates the circular or multi-sided iris shaped highlights that are generated with real camera lenses in areas of the image that are out of focus. This filter includes a pop-up that can be used to match the different looks that can be achieved in the physical world based on the camera lens aperture setting. This pleasing optical result is referred to in photographic terms as Bokeh. The filter includes a Z-Map control group for generating depth-of-field rack focus effects.

Also included in Boris Continuum Unit: Blur and Sharpen

Trapcode Particular

Trapcode Particular works in After Effects. 

Here's a tutorial for Trapcode Particular using a crazy computer voice but it's a pretty good tutorial otherwise! Note: This is to generate a bokeh looking background, not to create actual lens blur bokeh.

Digieffects Delirium DE NightBloom

Digieffects Delirium DE NightBloom works in After Effects, Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro 6-X

From Plug-in to After Effects: “DE NightBloom, while not a true bokeh since it works with luminance values, not lens focus, will blur and give the appearance of bokeh. There are options for different Bloom Shapes, including Flares, Hexagon and Circular, and at low settings, DE NightBloom can look very natural.”

SUGARfx Xflare for Final Cut Pro X by FxFactory

SUGARfx Xflare for Final Cut Pro X works in FCP X and Motion. Create Realistic Lens Flares for Final Cut Pro X. Includes Includes 20 easily customizable styles to get you started.

The Foundry NUKE 7.0

The Foundry NUKE 7.0 can create a bokeh effect with ZDefocus.

Biomekk zBlur 

Biomekk zBlur is a plug-in for CINEMA 4D that creates a DOF effect and a first class tool for beautiful bokeh effects! zBlur requires only the Cinema 4D core, no other modules.


Motiva RealPerception

Motiva RealPerception is an OFX plug-in package  that is compatible with:

  • eyeon Fusion 6
  • Sony Vegas
  • The Foundry NUKE
  • Autodesk Composite Toxik
  • DaVinci Resolve
  • Nucoda

RealPerception Pack 2 contains four plug-in nodes, including a plug-in node named RealDefocus, which blurs the image in a realistic way with bokeh shapes.

Stock Footage Options

If you want to create some cool bokeh effects in your video, stock footage is another option. Use stock footage in your NLE or compositor (Premiere, Avid, Sony Vegas, After Effects, Nuke etc.) and use layer modes like Add, Overlay, and Difference to create interesting effects and transitions. 

That Studio Indie Essentials

That Studio Indie Essentials are a collection of Visual Effects (smoke, fire, flames, muzzle flashes, ice, snow and much more) that can be dragged and dropped on top of your footage and give you immediate, high-quality, professional visual effects.

Rampant Studio Bokeh

I'm sure you guys are familiar with Rampant footage. It's great quality! Rampant Studio Bokeh is 90 2K, 4K and 5K Royalty-Free Quicktime Movies of REAL Bokeh Effects that were shot on the Red Epic Camera System.


Now that you know what bokeh is, you'll be noticing it everywhere! It really is a beautiful effect. There are lots of other plug-ins out there to create the effect, and you can do it in many of your NLEs with built in Lens Blur effects, but this should give you some ideas on getting started adding your own bokeh transitions or flair to your work. 

Posted by Michele Yamazaki