When talking about photography, English doesn’t quite cut it, but as it turns out, Japanese does. They have a word for everything. I just learned “Komorebi. It means sunlight filtering through the leaves of trees,” and by extension, the natural filtering of light through anything.

It’s just the word I’ve needed. I’ve been chasing that light for more than 50 years.

Bokeh is my previously learned favorite Japanese photographic term. It defines something difficult to say in English: “Bokeh is the aesthetic quality of blur in the out-of-focus areas of an image produced by a lens.” That soft background in a portrait or any other closeup. How much bokeh you get in a picture depends on the lens you use and how close you are working to the item you photographed.

I’m sure there are more great, but this is my vocabulary lesson for now.

Categories: Light and Lights, Photography, Words

Tags: , , , , , ,

10 replies

  1. Tks. To me, E is terribly precise, F is meandering and one needs a whole paragraph for one E sentence. G is very precise too but few ppl speak proper G any longer. It’s either dialect or heavily pregnant with Anglicisms.


    • English is a really BIG language — as is French. I don’t know much about German having never spoken it, but apparently Japanese is very precise. Hebrew was a small language — it was dead for more than a thousand years — and not a good language to say anything technical. Great for poetry, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I LoVE Bokeh…. I adore it! And for the other, I think that the English language has excellent words for the effect. Filtering springs to mind, dappled light, the list is endless. The effect is always stunning and I love using those English words available to my limited knowledge.
    YOU get a gold star for this linguistic excercise 🙂 (and the lovely examples you show us)


    • I think what I like about “komorebi” is that it’s so specific to sunlight and leaves. You can describe anything in English, but you need a lot more words. This is very tidy.

      Your grasp of English is amazing!


  3. My Japanese friends told me that Bokeh translates as “depth of field”
    Of course their English was better than my Japanese.
    Komorebi is new to me. I like it.


    • It is depth of field, but it isn’t just depth of field. It specifically refers to that blurry area behind whatever is in focus. Komorebi was new to me too, but it’s nice that there IS a word for sunlight as it shines through leaves (and, I assume, other plants. I wonder what other words they have that I could use?


    • Bokeh is definitely related to “Depth of Field” as the less DOF you have, the more blurred, or out of focus the background. Of course there may be a bit more in the Japanese word having to do with the quality of that blurred background. Seems some lenses, of equal focal length, will exhibit different kinds of “bokeh” that apparently can be expressed in quality, or personal, terms?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes. bokeh refers to that blurry area and its quality, not merely its presence. I should probably point out that the quality of bokeh varies from lens to lens, too. My portrait lens has the most beautiful bokeh with my macro lens right behind it. My telephoto lenses don’t do bokeh particularly well. It looks more jagged, less soft. Bokeh is about that quality, not just that it’s there.


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Tish Farrell

Writer on the Edge



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