Bokeh is a very interesting photographic effect that shows up on those parts of a photo that are out-of-focus. Usually, the effect is visible for photos with small Depth of field or shallow focus. When an object is on focus and everything else is not, the part of the photo that is outside the depth of field becomes blurry. But as you can notice the term “bokeh” doesn’t sound English. So what does bokeh mean and what is the word origin?

Balkans Aviation Summit bokeh effect word origin

The word origin comes from the Japanese word ボケ which should be read as bo-ke. The word translates as blur, haze, however, in the right context can also be used as mental haze, craziness, senility. I couldn’t find information on when the word was first used as a photographic term. It is said that the term bokeh derives from the transliteration of the Japanese word into English as boke. However, an h was added at the end to help pronouncing the word correctly, because unlike in Japanese, the word boke in English would normally be pronounced as bəʊk, like coke, shoke, poke etc. The h transforms the pronunciation intoˈboʊkɛ or ˈboʊkeɪ.

Bokeh is usually used as an effect to draw attention to one thing in the photo (the one on focus). However, the effect is also used as a cool trick to play with brightness and lights. You can see some examples below (photos are taken by Margarit Ralev):

london cafe bokeh effect word origin

bird bokeh effect word origin meaning  bokeh effect word origin meaning

london bokeh effect word origin


If we got you interested in taking bokeh photos, you can check out DigitalRev video below on how to ‘do’ bokeh. If you are a fan of photography and image processing you can check out our article on the name origin of the Adobe software company, too.