The background is the subject.

Sometimes the foreground object isn’t the only subject of the photo. In the following shots the background was what I really cared about capturing. The foreground is a supporting actor.

When using this technique I sometimes like very soft focus on my real subject. Macro mode helps with that. You can also use our Bokeh software to soften the background.


Raleigh Skyline

Pickled Plum


Here is a set of photos that use this technique to varying degrees. It is hard to get just right. In the best case the foreground helps tell a story about the background.

Exposure X4

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About the Author:

Jeff Butterworth is the founder of Alien Skin Software. He used to create the products, but now he does marketing and gets coffee for the programmers.


  1. […] food can be surprisingly interesting. Macro is good for many of these. I like to get people in the background when doing macro shots. They won’t be in focus, but they provide […]

  2. john April 9, 2013 at 9:30 am

    Hi, i see the lens presets i.e. Canon 85mm 1.2. So i assume when applying this it replicates the canon 85mm lens. Great!

    However – if i shot my original shot at F1.4 or at F16 and then apply the Canon 85mm 1.2 effect, it is quite a different result. The F1.4 shot is very blurred even more than it started out and the F16 now nicely blurred but can still make out some background objects.

    My basic question is ” What is the optimum aperture to shoot the photo at, then apply the Canon 85mm 1.2 effect and actually get very close to what the real lens would have done? (rather than over blurring it or under blurring it etc… there has to be an optimum value)

    Look forward to your reply, thanks!

    • Jimmy April 10, 2013 at 10:49 am

      Hi John,

      Bokeh doesn’t work in the way you’re suggesting. The lens presets only control the lens and the f-stop. There are many other variables that determine the amount of blur which is not captured in the photo, such as the distance of the objects to the camera. You’ll need to use the Bokeh Amount slider to control that.

  3. john April 10, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    Hi – this doesnt really answer my question:

    ” What is the optimum aperture to shoot the photo at, then apply the Canon 85mm 1.2 effect and actually get very close to what the real lens would have done? (rather than over blurring it or under blurring it etc… there has to be an optimum value)”

    As i understand, choosing the Canon 85mm 1.2 preset should replicate what the real versoin of the Canon 85 1.2 would do at F1.2 – obviously the bokeh software adds the extra blur to achieve this.

    So what is the optimum F stop to shoot an image at, add the preset of the 85 1.2 and end up with a shot that looks similar to if the real 1.2 lens was used. They has to be an optimum F stop.

    Shooting at F1.4 and then adding the 85 1.2 preset adds too much blur. Shooting at F22 and then adding the preset still doesnt quite cut it or add enough blur. So is the optimum F stop F8? F5.6 ? what?

    • Robert April 10, 2013 at 2:05 pm

      There really is no “automatic” solution for this. The best thing to do, since it is adding too much blur (when using Bokeh), is to reduce the Bokeh slider in the controls. This way, you can negate some of the extra blur, and get it closer to what you want to have.

  4. john April 12, 2013 at 11:46 am

    but what i want to do is replicate the effect the Canon 85mm 1.2 lens gives. It is all very well saying i can adjust the bokeh amount myself… for sure i can do that.

    but i have no idea how much to adjust it to make it look like the real canon 85mm 1.2 as i have not the real lens to compare it with.

    Which is why my question is : what F stop is best to shoot at before adding the 85mm 1.2 preset to get the end result as close as if it was shot with a real Canon 85mm 1.2 ?

    • Jimmy April 12, 2013 at 4:06 pm

      Hi John,

      In addition to the f-stop number, many other variables like the distance of the background from the camera, the camera’s focus distance and the lens’ focal length all affect the amount of blur. So it would be very difficult to describe how the photo should be shot in order to replicate the 85mm f/1.2 effect. You’re going to have to guess.

      To keep from bokeh-ing your already bokeh’d image, I’d err on the side of safety and use the smallest aperture that your lens can handle, like F16 or F22. This will ensure that most of the image is in focus and will let the software render the blurring characteristics of the preset.

      I hope this helps.

      If you have further questions, you may benefit from a chat with the software developer behind Bokeh. If so, please fill out a support ticket, here.

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