A Study in Bokeh in A Study in Pink
From a cinematic point of view A Study in Pink could just as well be called A Study in Bokeh.
Bokeh comes from the Japanese word boke (ボケ), which means “blur” or “haze”, or boke-aji, the “blur quality.” Bokeh is pronounced BOH-Kə or BOH-kay.
Bokeh is… “the effect of a soft out-of-focus background that you get when shooting a subject, using a fast lens, at the widest aperture, such as f/2.8 or wider.” Simply put, bokeh is the pleasing or aesthetic quality of out-of-focus blur in a photograph. [nikon.com]
Steve Lawes (the Director of Photography for Sherlock’s first season) uses bokeh (and framing that mimics bokeh) in so many scenes and for such a variety of effects that it’s actually quite impressive. And it’s not usually pleasing. In the case of the program’s first scenes, John’s Afghanistan flashbacks in the bedsit, the bokeh blinds, blurs and disorients. By the end of the episode, in the last frames, the spinning lights of the ambulance transform from menacing (John’s trying to tell Sherlock to STFU about the profile of the cabbie’s killer) to beautiful as Sherlock realizes what’s happened. By the last frames the blurred light positively dances, the metaphorical twinkle in John’s and Sherlock’s eyes.
The bokeh in Pink is so relentless that once you notice it, it’s difficult not to be hyperaware of the endlessly shimmering circles. But the circular framing is just as relentless. The cabbie’s medallion, the foreshadowing mirror in the hallway of 221b, Sherlock’s fingers forming a ring with the pill bottle, the hole John blew through the window with his bullet… Round is everywhere:
More Lawes Bokeh
Here’s another example from the short film Convergence in which Steve Lawes uses bokeh. This screen cap is from DSLR Cinema: Crafting the Film Look with Large Sensor Video by Kurt Lancaster. Note Lancaster’s interpretation of the effect.
This is such a great post. As a cinematographer I myself use quite a bit of Bokeh style in my work and this really helps people to understand why we are making this choice with modern cinematography.