How to Get the Bokeh Effect in Smartphone Photos

Bring out your artistic side with this attractive photography effect

The bokeh effect is popular among DSLR and film camera shooters, and it's possible to mimic it on a smartphone camera. In the photos below, bokeh is the quality of the out-of-focus areas of an image. In digital photography, the shape of the camera lens creates the white circles in the background.

It's a technique that adds artfulness to portraits, close-ups, and other shots where the background doesn't need to be in focus. Once you recognize it, you'll start seeing the bokeh effect everywhere. 

Bokeh effect on a smartphone
Lifewire / Bailey Mariner

What Is Bokeh?

Bokeh, pronounced BOH-kay, derives from the Japanese word boke, which means blur or haze or boke-aji, which means blur quality. This quality is caused by a narrow depth of field, the distance between the nearest object in focus, and the farthest.

When using a DSLR or film camera, a combination of the aperture, focal length, and the distance between the photographer and the subject creates this effect. Aperture controls how much light is let in, while focal length determines how much of a scene a camera captures, and is expressed in millimeters (i.e., 35mm).

One example of bokeh photography is in portraits, where all but the subject is blurred out. Bokeh, the white orbs in the background, is caused by the camera lens, usually when it's at a wide aperture, which lets in more light.

Bokeh Photography on Smartphones

On a smartphone, depth of field and bokeh work differently. The elements needed are processing power and the right software. The smartphone camera needs to recognize the foreground and background of a photo, and then blur only the background. A smartphone with a dual-lens camera will shoot two pictures at once and then combine them to get that depth-of-field and bokeh effect. 

A photo of bubbles floating in the air with a blurred background
The photographer, using a digital camera, had some fun combining bubbles with bokeh. koocbor / Flickr

If you have a flagship phone from Apple, Google, Samsung, or other brands, your camera probably has a dual-lens (at least), and you can get bokeh without an app. When you take a photo, you should be able to choose what to focus on and what to blur. Some smartphones also have a dual-lens front-facing camera for artful selfies.

You can also get bokeh with a single-lens smartphone camera by downloading a third-party app. Options include AfterFocus (Android | iOS), Bokeh Lens (iOS only), and DOF Simulator (Android and PC). There are plenty of other bokeh photography apps available, too, so download a few, give them a try, and pick your favorite.

Take some practice shots to perfect your technique, and you'll be an expert in no time.