Backgrounds can make or break any photograph. And the separation we get from the background is also critical for many photographs, especially portraits. Key to creating separation in a photograph is your choice of aperture and depth of field. Choosing F2.8 with a telephoto will give you a nice blurry background. But the quality of those out of focus elements, known as bokeh, is what really matters. Not all lenses are equal when it comes to bokeh. So what lens has the best bokeh?
My choice is the 85mm 1.4 Nikon. Of course this is a subjective opinion, but there is just something special about the bokeh created shooting the 85mm at wide open apertures. The image at top was shot using this lens at F2.2 at 1/30. The slow shutter speed ensured the background burned into the shot, and the shallow 85mm aperture created the soft silky bokeh. The background helps set the scene and mood of the shot, and the tack sharp subject pops off the background. I have other lenses that create pleasing bokeh too like the 70-200 F2.8, but my choice is the 85mm.
Here is a behind the scenes shot of our set up with one of the models we shot (thanks Casey and Jeremiah!). We used 4 lights for this shot. One overhead Elinchrom ELC1000 shot through a small deep Rotalux octabox to illuminate the model from the front. Next, two Rotalux strip banks with grids were used to add accent light to the sides of the model (the grids kept the light from spiling into other parts of the scene). We used two Elinchrom Quadras for this job. And last, an Elinchrom Quadra shot through a 30 degree grid added accent light to the model’s hair.