Learning how to photograph Christmas lights is always a fun challenge to take on – why not mix it up a little bit more by being able to create your own custom-shaped bokeh as well?
“Wait, what is bokeh?”
That’s a great question! Bokeh (pronounced “bow-kay”) is essentially the Japanese word for an aesthetic “blur.” Bokeh photography refers to the out-of-focus parts of a picture (most obvious with bright spots in the background). Its most popular usage – and today’s main focus (or lack thereof – ha, ha) – is that it is primarily known for pictures with lights, typically Christmas lights, blurred in the background.
Bokeh can be seen among all ranges of photography – from being very subtle and gradual to more in-your-face and direct.
Naturally-produced bokeh is circular-shaped (or polygonal, depending on the aperture – the smaller the f-stop number, the more round the natural bokeh will be), matching the shape of the aperture opening in the lens. Imagine what shapes the bokeh could be if the opening was star or heart shaped! Luckily, you don’t have to imagine – with this neat photography trick and a DSLR camera, you can create your own little makeshift cover to fit over the end of the lens to produce whatever shaped bokeh you fancy!
First, we need to create the makeshift lens cover.
What you’ll need:
2. Place the ring on top of the remaining black construction paper. Trace around the outside of the ring, and add three tabs to the outside of the circle – as seen in the picture above. The tabs will make it easier when it comes to taping the circle to the ring. Cut out the shape!
However, if you plan on only playing around with one bokeh shape, then just cut your desired shape (about 1/2” tall) in the middle of the circle, tape the two pieces together, and skip to Using the Makeshift Cover.
(I happened to be a bit too excited to play around with different shapes, so I’m going to use this as my base and cut out a few different shapes to use, as shown in the next couple of steps!)
Voila! You now have a makeshift custom bokeh cover for your camera! Go ahead and pop it on the real 50mm lens on your camera if you haven’t already.
Using the makeshift cover:
Now it’s time to have some fun using this photography trick! Set your camera to M for manual, or A/Av – this means that the camera will adjust its shutter speed to whatever aperture you set it to. Set the aperture to the lowest number – mine was 1.8. Play around with the rest of the settings to achieve the look you’re going for!
Since I was in the dark for these pictures, I was going to use a tripod because I thought the shutter speed would be slow. However, because I was just photographing the bokeh itself, I didn’t need such a long shutter speed. Most of these were shot using the following: ISO 800, f/1.8, and shutter speed at 1/125. You can click through the images to see what lights I used in the pictures!
If you would like to photograph someone (or some thing) in front of the bokeh, you will probably need a tripod for a longer exposure to help light the subject if in a dark setting. If you don’t have a tripod, you can always set the camera down on a coffee table, chair, pile of books – anything sturdy enough to provide a stable surface for it to sit on while the shutter is open. I would also recommend to set a 2-second timer on the camera, to ensure that any motion you might have made when pressing the shutter button would not affect the picture once it started.
If you are outside and shooting a picture like below, you should be able to handhold the camera. For example, for the photos below, I used the following settings: ISO 100, f/1.8, with the shutter at 1/100.
If you cut out more than one little shape, you can carefully peel the square cut-out off the front of the makeshift lens, and tape on a different one!
Using the star-shaped bokeh square really made the lights pop on this Starlight Sphere!
The possibilities of whatever shapes you can create using bokeh photography tricks are endless, and are fun when learning how to photograph Christmas lights. So have fun, and don’t forget to share your creations on our Facebook page!