According to Wikipedia (whose definitions can be altered or changed) the definition of Bokeh is:
" a photographic term referring to the appearance of out-of-focus areas in an image produced by a camera lens using a shallow depth of field. Different lens bokeh produces different aesthetic qualities in out-of-focus backgrounds, which are often used to reduce distractions and emphasize the primary subject."
Wikipedia states that this specific term has been used in photographic books since at least 2000 and was coined about 1996.
Alien Skin software decided to take this concept and produce a plugin that would allow for different lens Bokeh to be produced. This would create the image to pop-out since it would be in focus while the background would be out of focus. Different lens simulations would produce different Bokeh. Using this plugin, a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 ll @f/1.8 would produce a different Bokeh than the same Canon lens at @f/2.5 and a Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 @f/2.5. Also, the shape of the diaphragm is used to help determine the pattern of the "bokeh;" for example, there will be a difference if the diaphragm is in the shape of a perfect circle as compared to a 5-Blade (Pentagon).
In creating images for the web at 800 x 600 pixels @72 dpi, I could see little differences between these variables. I tried this with images that had bright backgrounds, ones of various brightness levels, and ones that had little variation. If I created a larger image and enlarged part of it, I could see diamond patterns when using the 4-Blade (Diamond), for instance. The major differences occurred when I used "fake" lenses such as hearts (to be described later in the review). You can control where the blur starts and where it stops by using the Planar Gradient. What you are doing is creating a gradient blur. The Planar Gradient is very effective and an excellent addition to Alien Skin's Bokeh plugin. As I stated, the Planar Gradient is used to modify the extent or strength of the filter. This is similar to creating a gradient mask to control the effects of a Photoshop Gaussian blur filter or even one of Alien Skin's filters. The only difference is that you have more control of a gradient mask, but using the Planar Gradient is much faster and simpler. Using the Planar Gradient is related, according to Alien Skin, to using a Lensbaby with your camera. I really prefer to relate it to using a Photoshop Layer Mask.
Below is the original that was created in Vue 6 Infinite which is a 3D landscape building program.
I wanted only the channel water and the rock in the water to be blurred . To do this I created a selection which you will see later. I was able to control the Planar Gradient by where I started it and where I ended it. You will see that it extends beyond the selection.
To get the effect I wanted, I created a selection of the water, as stated earlier, and then removed the front land and plants from the Bokeh layer.
Next, I decided to experiment with Bokeh using a picture that had a horrible background and was not useable without changing the background.
I first created a number of selections to play with and see the different effects I could get within Bokeh. I chose them one at a time. These were saved and appear in the alpha channel. For more information on alpha channels and selections which are very useful in Bokeh, see my tutorial.
What I did use was the following. I only used one of the selections. Depending on how it is created, you might have to invert it in Bokeh.
Below is the image using a default (no particular lens or diaphragm combination) of 20% Bokeh. Once again, I created a selection and used the Planar Gradient. This definitely makes this image presentable and it is very easy to use the Planar Gradient.
I like to work in layers which is why there is a background and two layers plus the Bokeh layer.
However, I could have just used the selection on the background layer.
Below is the selection and the final number of layers.
Using the Hollow Hearts and a Bokeh that produced increased highlights, I was able to turn the highlights into hearts. There are other shapes available. These are the "fake" or "pseudo" lenses. You can change all the attributes such as Creamy etc., as you can using Bokeh from "real" lenses in the Alien Skin plugin.
Below is a comparison between two very different lenses. In a print about 9" x 14" at 300 dpi a slight difference is discernable.
Below is a picture of the same rhino with the the filter used for the background being Gaussian blur set at 16 from Photoshop. The blur could have been graduated had I added a layer mask. The ones above from Alien Skin were created with the addition of the Planar Gradient.
The following screen captures show some of the panels that have to do with creating Bokeh. I have highlighted using black arrows some of the controls that created changes in the patterns. The changes are gradual and the control of the sliders are excellent. I was not considering the Highlight Controls when I tried out the different factors such as Blade Curvature and Creamy
"Bokeh that is soft and where the diaphragm shape is not obvious is often called “creamy”. At negative values of creaminess, the bokeh becomes harsh and can appear as a ring for a circular diaphragm shape. This can sometimes be used for creative purposes".The definition is from pages 13 and 14 of the Bokeh manual.
This plugin also can create vignetting as well as create areas of blur that do not involve a separate selection. I particularly like the Strong Natural Vignette.
My favorite aspects of this plugin involved the Vignetting. I really liked some of the effects I could get. Also, for those not used to working with layer masks in Photoshop, the Planar Gradient is extremely useful. While I definitely could see changes when I increased or decreased the Bokeh or drew from the different major categorizes,
I didn't see a lot of variation within the categories as far as using the different lenses other than the fake ones such as the Hollow Heart. If there was a slight difference, it was very subtle. With the fake lenses, such as the Star, heart, etc., you could see a definite pattern. This program will give some nice results. I have not seen "fake"lenses in other programs that can be used as these can. For many photographs this can add a new interest level. You can increase the highlights of a background as you are blurring it and control the softness or harshness of areas by using the different controls. Alien Skin's Bokeh will allow you to use selections either as part of a layer or on a layer by itself which gives very nice flexibility. You can create the effect of the Bokeh plugin on a separate layer. This gives you the ability to modify the "Bokeh" such as changing the layer mode, opacity settings, levels, etc.
The requirements are:
Bokeh is a plug-in and will require one of the following host programs:
- Adobe Photoshop® CS3 or later
- Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0.1 or later on Mac
- Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 or later on Windows
- Adobe Fireworks® CS4
- Corel® Paint Shop Pro® Photo X2
Bokeh requires the following:
- PowerPC G5 processor or Intel processor
- Mac OS X 10.4.11 or later
- A monitor with 1024x768 resolution or greater
- 1024 MB RAM
- Intel Pentium 4 processor (or compatible)
- Windows XP or later
- A monitor with 1024x768 resolution or greater
- 1024 MB RAM
Recommended System Requirements for Windows and Macintosh:
- Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo
- RAM: 2 GB
A demo can be downloaded. I always recommend this when available because each of us has different requirements in a program.
There are, also, tutorials on the various techniques on the Alien Skin website.
The cost is $199.00
I have been using Alien Skin products and I have a lot of reviews on my website. They have excellent programs and I encourage you, if you are not familiar with them, to check them out. Download a demo of this and take it for a spin. That is the best way to try it out. See which of the features you like the best.