How to: Shapes in Bokeh

Shapes in bokeh
Today I am going to share a cool look you can achieve using a DSLR camera and a few other supplies. The reason you have to use a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera is so that you can change your aperture. It also helps to have a prime lens! Ready to get started?
 
First, what is bokeh?
 
Bokeh is that beautiful thing in photography that makes the background blurry. Bokeh happens when there is a low aperture. Low aperture causes the subject in the foreground to be sharp and in focus while the background is blurry and melts away. Bokeh is wonderful because when the background is blurred, it brings the attention to the subject! There is a little trick in photography where you can actually turn a blurred light source in the background into a shape! There is a science behind why it happens, but instead of a science lesson, I'll just show you how to make it happen. You don't need much in the way of supplies. 
 
Shapes in bokeh   Shapes in bokeh
When you place a black piece of paper with a tiny cut out shape over your lens, the background lights will mimic the shape you placed over your lens.
 
Ready to get started? Here is what you will need:
 
-DSLR camera and a prime lens (the focal length on this lens is fixed and it doesn't zoom) works best. I am using a 50mm lens and my aperture is set to the lowest number.
-black construction paper (black paper won't allow the light to leak through)
-X-Acto knife or small scissors (you can also use a shape puncher) 
-tape is great if you want extra security
-rubber band
 
Shapes In Bokeh
Put your lens cap on the black construction paper and trace the cap (it does not have to be perfect). Now make a slightly bigger circle around your lens cap. Starting from the outside circle, cut small triangles out that are pointing to the smaller circle. The finished product resembles a flower. Now in the middle of your smaller circle, cut out your desired shape. Once your shape is cut, place the black paper over your lens and secure it with a rubber band.
 
Shapes In Bokeh        Next, take your DSLR, switch it to manual and set your aperture to the lowest number. The lower the number, the less depth of field you will have…which results in a great bokeh/blurry background! Turning your camera on manual focus will give you full control of focusing. Play with your focus ring until you see the shapes appear!
 
Shapes in BokehFor these pictures I used a thin string of LED lights. These lights are really great to practice with! I used .
 
Shapes in Bokeh  Shapes In Bokeh   The results are quirky and fun. If you don't want to make your own bokeh kit, you can buy one instead. A premade kit is easy to set up and you get lots of variety with the shapes. It comes with a lens cover that has tabs where you can insert different shapes. Instead of paper, the kit is made from a sturdier plastic material so you get more longevity. I found this kit .
 
Shapes in Bokeh         With the kit, just open, read the quick instructions, and you are ready to go.
 
Shapes In Bokeh      Tips for great bokeh: Make sure that you always have lights in your background. Each light will take on the cutout shape on your camera lens. If you want lots of shapes, then have lots of lights in the background! Also, the bigger the lights, the bigger the shapes. You can use any kind of light: cityscape, stop lights, patio lights, candlelight, indoor lighting…the options are endless! 
 
Shapes in bokeh     P.S. Still feeling a little lost when it comes to setting your camera? Check out our e-course, . xo! –
 
Credits//Author and Photography: Janae Hardy. Photos edited with .
  • This is a really great tip if you are wanting to create some unique bokeh shapes but as far as hearts, circles and stars are concerned – there are too many free editing software options out there for creating those bokeh shapes but love the emoji idea.

  • Cool project, is it possible to use different lens? I don’t have a 50mm.

  • Thanks Janae for this cool lesson and introduction to Bokeh! I think I’ll start practicing so I can get some cool shots for 4th of July.

    Happy Wednesday

  • You can also use a CSC (compact system camera, a.k.a. mirrorless camera). You just need a camera with a lens that has a low aperture.

    I also think this post would have been better if the examples weren’t just blurry, out-of-focus shots. The best bokeh shots (in my opinion, of course) are ones where the bokeh enhance the background. For example, someone standing in front of a Christmas tree – the person is in focus, the lights on the tree in the background are shaped bokeh.

  • Shaped bokeh are not limited to DSLRs. You can also use CSCs (compact system cameras a.k.a. mirrorless cameras). The requirement is that you have a lens with a low aperture.

    I also think the examples used here are a bit boring, since they are just all out-of-focus shots. I think it’s also nice when there’s an object in focus in the foreground and the bokeh are decorating the background, e.g. when someone is standing in the street (in focus) and in the background, the streetlights generate shaped bokeh. But that’s just me!

  • Thank you so much for this! i have been needing inspiration to pick up my camera and this is great!

  • Found your article / tutorial via a link list on

    Thanks for the in-depth article. Love it. I was in fact thinking of making one like this for my blog, BeyondPhotoTips.com, but you’ve done it better than I could. I’ll probably just link to your post. 😀

    Thanks again!

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