My favourite photographic effect is the bokeh resulting from a narrow DOF (depth-of-field) which leads to having the subject of the image in focus against a blurry background. I'm rather envious of the beautiful paint-like smearing often found in bird photography (which I have never seriously attempted):
There are technical challenges obtaining the same effect when taking portraits, particularly on a DX-sized sensor, but sometimes when the planets align I can more-or-less pull it off. My first go-to method is to approach the subject as much as I can and shoot wide at 200mm (300mm equivalent on 35mm):
The subject is still pretty far away (making it hard to communicate, if it happens to be a person), and the lens is quite slow at the telephoto end, but the bokeh isn't too bad. Alternatively, my favourite portait lens (85mm) is much faster at f1.8 and gives a more pleasant-looking background without me having to pull back so much (although I try avoiding shooting at the maximum aperture to have a bit more DOF leeway). Of course, regardless of method, the farther away the background is the better.
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