Langkawi, also known as the Jewel of Kedah, is a tropical archipelago of c. 100 islands in the Andaman Sea, some 30 km off the mainland coast of northwestern Malaysia. The islands are part of the sultanate of Kedah, which is adjacent to the Thai border. By far the largest of the islands is the eponymous Langkawi Island with a population of c. 65,000 and the town of Kuah as largest town, of which c. 90% are ethnoreligious Muslim Malays; the other ethnic groups consist mainly of Chinese, Indians and Thais.
Langkawi was a haven for pirates which affected the northern part of the Malacca Strait and it remained as a quiet backwater until 1986 CE, when the then prime minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, decided to transform the archipelago into a tourist place. The island rapidly grew as a tourist destination, and by 2012 CE, it had received over 3 million tourists a year, with many of them from Asia and the Middle East.
Langkawi is a duty-free island which means that beer and booze can be bought at rock-bottom prices (320-ml cans of beer from MYR 1.50 or US$ 0.35 per can; 1,000-ml bottles of Scotch from MYR 20.00 or US$ 4.70 per bottle). Though Malaysian law discourages Muslims from imbibing alcoholic beverages, tourists and the rest of the population are free to do so…
A Few Words on Bokeh
Most of the street portraits above show a (more or less) sharp subject and a blurred background which is called bokeh. It derives from the Japanese word boke, which means "blur" or "haze". Adjectives that describe a pleasing bokeh include: smooth, sweet, silky, soft, and excellent… but what exactly is it?
Bokeh is defined as the effect of a soft out-of-focus background that one gets when photographing a subject, using a fast lens, at the widest aperture, such as f/2.8 or even wider, e.g., as in this blog post about Langkawi, the fast and robust Nikkor AF-S FX 50mm f/1.8G prime lens together with the reliable cropped-sensor Nikon D3100. Although bokeh is actually a characteristic of the photograph, the lens used determines the shape and size of the visible bokeh.
I mostly shoot street portraits with the lens wide open, using a shooting mode of Aperture Priority or Manual. Manual gives me the ability to choose both my aperture and shutter speed, whereas Aperture Priority allows me to choose the best f/stop (e.g. my preferred f/3.2 ... f/3.5) while the camera chooses automatically the appropriate shutter speed for the exposure.
One little trick: by increasing the distance between the background and the subject, I can further enhance the bokeh in my images. Another option is to decrease the distance between the camera and model.
Bokeh can add softness to an otherwise brightly lit photograph. Using this technique to separate the subject from the background allows me to utilise a sometimes not-so-photogenic background which helps to highlight the subject, not detract from her or him.
Portrait photographs of hijab-framed Muslim beauties in Matt Hahnewald's