Alien Skin Bokeh 2 Review


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Outside of close-up photography, shallow depth of field (DOF) is often associated with:

  • Fast lenses
  • Long lenses
  • Large sensors
None of the above are easy to implement in small cameras and lenses, so those of us using compact gear are somewhat limited in the use of shallow DOF.

Things are changing, though. For example, the use of software-corrected optics has given us fast lenses which are smaller than ever before. In combination with powerful processors and software, dual lens-sensor compacts should soon allow us to choose DOF after the time of capture, and one can imagine a technology which extrapolates the difference in DOF between two bracketed exposures and calculates a range of DOF outcomes from that.

Other than shallow DOF, we currently have several other tools for achieving selective blur with compacts:

  • Specialty lenses, eg our sponsor Lensbaby
  • Creative use of flash
  • Panning effects
  • Selectively applying blur in software
Bokeh 2 is an application from Alien Skin which gives a great deal of control over the creative application of blur during postprocessing.

Bokeh 2 has a wide variety of creative blur effects which can be applied in a standalone application or as a Photoshop (PS) plugin. For me, the ability to somewhat realistically simulate shallow DOF is one of the most intriguing aspects of Bokeh 2, but I want to be clear that this effect requires careful selection in PS and cannot be achieved in the standalone Bokeh 2 app. A discussion of subject selection in PS is beyond the scope of this brief review, but I'll mention than none of the examples shown in this review took me more than 5 minutes using the "Quick Selection" tool in PS as demonstrated in this video provided on the Alien Skin site.

PS itself includes some powerful blurring tools, and it isn't hard to achieve indistinct blur in that application. For example, the following samples which I processed using Bokeh 2 would probably look similar with given some effort and time with the blurring tools included in PS (without the use of Bokeh 2):









However, at least in my hands, the blurring tools available in PS don't produce blur with similar characteristics to that produced by a lens, eg specular highlights rendered as discs. That's where Bokeh 2 comes in. Here are a couple samples which I wouldn't have been able to achieve in PS:









One of the coolest things about Bokeh 2 is that it allows one to experimentally create renders by hypothetical lens designs. For example, one can specify the aperture shape and number of iris blades. There is even a "Creamy" slider which has a similar effect to dialing in spherical aberration. Increasing creaminess gives a bright core/soft falloff rendition to simulated out-of-focus (OOF) elements, while decreasing this slider setting gives your lens a "nisen bokeh" appearance with harsh edges and doubling of elements. By playing with this setting, one may decide to make OOF elements less distracting or alternatively give them more structure, independently of exactly how OOF they appear.

Here's an example of the aforementioned tools at work. I started with this image of my son taken with a Sigma DP1:


First, I tried a Canon 300mm lens simulation, and the result was simply too blurry:


Next, I went with a Nikon 50mm lens simulation, and the results were more to my liking:


Simulated lens with 5 aperture blades and low creaminess:


Simulated lens with 11 aperture blades and more creaminess:


Final image after processing in Bokeh 2:


Bokeh 2 has some nice creative focus tools which can be applied without needing to use PS to make a selection. In the example below, I used Bokeh 2 to apply an elliptical blur with a subtle motion effect and vignette:





Both the standalone and PS plugin for Bokeh 2 allow you to quickly and easily simulate a "toy model" or "tilt-shift" look as shown in this example:





Overall, I'm having a lot of fun using Bokeh 2. It's much easier than I thought it would be to make the selections in PS. Whether it's worth the $199 asking price will depend on the photographer, but I have yet to come across another solution that does as well at simulating OOF lens rendering. It's a powerful tool for those of us who enjoy the use of compact cameras.

For more information, examples, video tutorials, or to download a trial version, go here: Alien Skin Software: Bokeh 2
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Newcastle, Australia
Real Name
That looks really nice, Amin. I do get frustrated by the lack of decent bokeh with compact cameras... this will help. I've been too afraid to look at the price yet, though, its going to have to wait a while :)


Twitter: <a href="!/ZDP189">@Z
I like the look of the software. I can add a few ideas:

  • Depth of field adapter; projection onto ground glass, static, vibrating, oscillating, or rotating.
  • Compound lens / sensor array techniques
  • SynthCam
  • Reverse focus stacking
  • Tele adapter


betwixt and between
Real Name
Amin, this is really pretty darn interesting. I can see how I might become lost in my digital darkroom with Bokeh 2. First, I will have to read more about it and ponder a bit. However, your examples are making me quite interested in something I wouldn't really have thought too much about before.


Bring Jack back!
Houston, Texas
Real Name
This is very cool Amin. Thanks for the review.

How difficult is it to perform progressive blur though? For example, on the foliage and basketball shot, the level of blur differs (as it should) as the distance changes between the focal point and the background/foreground elements. On the other hand, on the photos of your son with the sling, the level of blur is all the same regardless of the distance to your son, and thus, looks very two dimensional as if your son was standing in front of a poster. Would the progressive blur require Photoshop? And does using Alien Bokeh require the real PS or would PS Elements suffice?

Thanks Amin!


How difficult is it to perform progressive blur though?!

That's my question too. The transition to bokeh seems too abrupt in the Alien Skin samples above. Bokeh is typically more gradual, depending on the various factors that contribute to it. Can you adjust the slope of bokeh transition in the app?
London UK
Real Name
Very very cool bit of software. I'm going to have to take a look at that as it will be ideal for out of focus areas from compacts as has already been said.

Nice work and thanks for the effort.

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