How to: Beautiful Bokeh in Pet Photography

I recently decided that instead of answering requests for advice and technical questions privately, I would publish some frequently asked questions here on the blog so that others can read the answers too . . .  

"Hi, I've been following your work and it's absolutely beautiful.

I'm a beginning pet photographer and wondered if you'd be able to help me out a little. You get such beautiful bokeh in your photos and just wondered if you could give me some pointers.

I understand that you need to set your F stop as low as you can get it, but I think there's more to it. Any advice you can give would be appreciated."

~ V.


Bokeh (pronounced like "bo" in Bob and "ke" in Ken) describes the aesthetic quality of the out-of-focus, blurry area of an image. Val was right - having a shallow depth of field (as a result of shooting with a low F stop) does contribute to pleasing bokeh, but there is definitely more to the story.

  1. Shoot Wide Open: I almost always shoot with apertures around f/2.8, unless I'm photographing action shots. If you are using a kit lens with an aperture of f/5.6 then you just won't be able to achieve the look you're after.
  2. Leave Space: I like to shoot in areas that have a lot of space. The more space between your subject and the "background" (whether that be a tree or a building or a field), the more blurred your background will be.
  3. Get Close: Get close to your subject (use a Macro lens or a lens with a short focusing distance).
  4. Backlight: I position the dog in a shady spot with the strongest source of light is behind them. This means that their sweet little face will be smooth, but there will be enough light in the background to create some interesting bokeh.
  5. Light sources: Include several small light sources in the background - anything from small specks of light filtering through a spare tree canopy, bright city lights or drops of rain glistening off the pavement.

How to create bokeh in professional pet photography