Creating Your Own Bokeh
Bokeh refers to the aesthetic quality of any lights in the out of focus area of your images. This is to NOT be confused with a blurred shallow depth of field. Bokeh is all about the shape of any lights or highlights in an image. Different lenses naturally give different shapes depending on the shape of their blades.
In this article, I will show you:
1. How to create different bokeh shapes using your own bokeh filter and
2. How to capture natural bokeh in-camera.
You can also purchase bokeh overlays online to add to your images, which can be beautiful, convenient, and VERY EASY to use. But it’s always fun to know how to create bokeh yourself.
How to Create Your Own Bokeh Shapes
As I mentioned earlier, different lenses give different bokeh shapes. Some give off circular shapes, some give off more of an octagon shape, all depending on the shape of the blades in that particular lens. But there's a fun and easy way to play with all kinds of different shapes and effects using your camera and lens. It just requires getting a little creative and crafty!
Here's what to do:
Step 1. Take a blank piece of black construction paper and create a “lens cover”. Make sure to cut out a circle big enough to cover the front of the lens entirely and leave enough paper to fold over the edges of your lens so it can be secured before shooting.
Step 2. Cut out a shape about a ½ to ¾ inches in size in the center of the circle. You can use scissors or a craft knife to cut out stars, hearts, circles, etc. The more defined the shape is, the better results you will get. Using a craft knife works best. Try to avoid any raggedy edges because they will show in your bokeh. You can trace shapes or draw them free-hand, whichever is easiest for you.
Step 3. Once you have your shape cut out, secure your construction paper "lens cover" to the end of your lens using tape or a large rubber band. Just make sure it covers all of the glass part of the lens so that no extra light can get in. You are now ready to start experimenting!
Step 4. When shooting, you may have to use a higher ISO because you will be allowing very little light in your lens. Find and play with different sources of lighting and have fun with it! You can also create multiple lens covers using all kinds of different shapes - hearts, stars, christmas trees, and much more.
In the example below, a heart shape was used to create beautiful heart shaped bokeh in the background. The top of a jar was focused on with the light source in the background at a good distance away. So instead of the natural shape created from your camera's lens blades, the bokeh lights are now hearts!
If you were to take a photo of a lit up Christmas tree using this technique, you would have a tree full of hearts. There are so many fun ways to play around and experiment with diy hand made bokeh shapes!
Creating Bokeh Outdoors Using Natural Lighting
You can really take advantage of getting beautiful natural bokeh when shooting outdoors. The key is to shoot with a wide aperture!
You want your subject to be sharp and in focus and the background with the lights you are incorporating to be blurry and out of focus. Look for points of light to include in your background such as trees with speckles of light coming through, street lights, car lights, lights from buildings, etc.
I shot the images below with my 70-200mm 2.8 lens. I always try to shoot at 2.8 to get my background as blurry as possible. When going for bokeh, I check out my surroundings and place my subjects a good distance from the light source. As you can see in these images, this lens gives a natural circular shaped bokeh effect.
Get as close to your subject as you can to have them and whatever else you want to be sharp and in focus. The goal is to keep the bokeh light source blurred. For these images, I used the lighting coming through the tree leaves as my source of bokeh.
When shooting at night, look for things that have random lighting that you can use to create beautiful and interesting bokeh effects. The image below shows how points of light can become interesting bokeh when out of focus.
Remember to use an open aperture to keep the foreground in focus and the background out of focus.
This next image was also shot at night using the random street and city lights as the bokeh light source. You can experiment with many different ways to create bokeh just by paying more attention to your surroundings, whether its during the day or at night.
Creating Bokeh Indoors
You can find all sorts of natural bokeh opportunities indoors. Christmas lights, glimmers of light reflecting off of walls or ceilings, uniquely shaped lighting fixtures, etc., all work very well. Just remember to keep your subject or object you are shooting a good distance from the light source to get great background blur and the best bokeh possible!
For the indoor portrait image below, I kept my subject at a distance from the background and kept the aperture open (i.e. f/1.8, 2.0, etc). The Christmas lighting in the background gave me the perfect bokeh lighting I was hoping for. It really took a basic portrait image to a different and much more visually appealing photo.
Many of us aim to get that beautiful blurred background in camera to draw the viewer's eyes to our subject or focal point. But when you can make those blurred out areas more appealing, you give the viewer more to look at because you add even more interesting elements to the image as a whole.
MORE READING: 8 Essential Tips for Beautiful Bokeh Photography
When you are looking for a fun and creative way to add some appealing effects to your images, make sure to try adding your own bokeh.
Using bokeh, can take a blurred out background from blah to beautiful! And its always a good thing to give your viewers more reason to really scan over the entire image and appreciate it as a whole and notice every beautiful detail from corner to corner.
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