Bokeh. You may not even know what that means, but I’m sure you’ll all know the effect that is bokeh. Basically, those blurred backgrounds with interesting details – more commonly circles. Beautiful bokeh is something that a lot of people aspire to get in their photos, even if they’re not entirely sure why.
Christmas is the perfect time of year to have a play around with this effect, especially with all the extra lights dotted about. To add even more interest, why not make the bokeh different shaped? It is so simple to create shaped bokeh; all you need is some card, tape and a camera. Ideally a lens with a wide aperture such as the 50mm 1.8 if you have a Canon/Nikon.
Here are the materials that I used to make my own ‘bokeh shape tool’. Not all are necessary but they will make the job easier. There are two ways I’ve tried this and it all depends on your lens.
First things first, measure the size of your lens glass and cut out some circles of the same size. In those circles, either use a punch or cut out the shape you want with a scalpel. You want this to be as central as possible.
The quick way of doing this is to simply unscrew your UV filter, place the cut out circle on the actual lens, and then screw the filter back on. Simple!
If you don’t have a UV filter on your lens, you will need to create a hood like you can see below.
To do this, cut out a straight strip of card, making sure it will wrap around the lens completely. Then cut out a circle big enough to cover the lens, and allow the hood to be slipped on. Cut out a square in the middle of that (you can see this in the materials photo above!), making sure it’s big enough to fit the shape that you cut into the first circles.
Then simply stick all the pieces together with tape, making sure that there are no gaps for light to get through. Now you can just slip it over the lens, tape on whichever shape you want to shoot with and ta-da, done. I have created the hood separate from the shape circles as it makes it interchangeable. No need to keep making new hoods for new shapes – just tape on a different circle!
Now it’s time to get shooting! You will need to open your aperture as wide as the lens allows you, and to get just bokeh shapes, throw it completely out of focus. When using this technique for shaping your bokeh, a lot less light is let in compared to usual, and you can see below how the size of the bokeh does shrink when using a shape. It isn’t as bright either, so really it is best if you have a tripod or something to stand the camera on to avoid camera shake.
When shooting a subject with lights in the background, the bokeh won’t be as big as you most likely won’t be able to throw it completely out of focus. Instead you’ll get smaller shapes, but shapes nevertheless. I’ve put the original next to the shaped to show the difference in lighting – no settings were changed, and these are unedited. Remember, the further away your subject is to the background, the more blurred it will appear.
It really is as simple as that, and of course you can play with this technique all year round. It will work on any set of lights – why not try it outside with moving traffic? One look at Google Images and you’ll see tons of different ideas!
For me, Christmas is where I play with this mostly, and I’m loving the little christmas tree shapes! Especially great when you add a pretty kitty like Ginny eh? I’d love if you tagged me in any photos you take if you post them on twitter/instagram – just use @katehlouise or #lifeofkittybokeh and I’ll check them out!