Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Shaped Bokeh Tutorial

 I think he loves you

Last Phriday I published a photo that had all the blurred lights in the background in the shapes of Christmas Trees.  If you missed it you can see it by clicking here.

Several people mentioned in their comments that they would like to know how it's done.   The good news is that it is a very simple process.  No software required and it will cost you only pennies in supplies to do it.

You've probably read or heard the term "bokeh".  Bokeh simply means the out of focus highlights in the background of a photo, and can be produced by lights or reflections.  The fact is that some cameras, or to be more precise, some lenses produce a more attractive bokeh than others.  That is because the "bokeh" is produced by the shape of the aperture and better lenses have more rounded shaped apertures giving you bokeh like these:














So the process to create shapes in your bokeh is simple - just change the shape of your aperture.  But, before you go tearing your camera apart to see how to change that shape, there is a better way - change it in front of the lens.
 

To do that simply take a piece of dark construction paper or card stock (matte black is best, but I didn't have any handy), cut out the shape you want and put it on the very front of the lens as seen here.  As you can see, they do not have to be professional.


There are a few additional things you need to know to be successful, however.

1.  To change the shape of the aperture the cut out must be smaller than the aperture of the lens.  I do not want to discourage those of you that have "point and shoot" cameras, but DSLR owners do have a distinct advantage here, especially if you have a fast lens (one with an f-stop of 2.8 or larger).  Remember the lower the number the larger the aperture.  Can you do this with a point and shoot camera?  Yes, if you can create a small enough cut out.  Look for paper punches like the scrapbookers use.

2.  You want to get the cut out as dead center as possible (I got a little sloppy on this).  The smaller your largest f-stop is the more critical this point is.

3.  The lights creating the bokeh must be far enough in the background to be way out of focus in order to take on the shape.  Having your lens wide open, or set to the very largest aperture, also has the advantage of giving you the shortest depth of field (DOF) (If you need more info on DOF I have a tutorial that will help.  It is about Macro photography, but also gives some good explanation and examples on DOF.  Just click here.)  The reason you want the shortest DOF is to throw the lights that are creating the bokeh as far out of focus as possible. 


The point of this is pure Phun.  With Valentines coming up the use of hearts is ideal, or for engagement or wedding photos.  Want to add a little more Phun, add colored gels in front of the lights.  If you look at the top photo you will see that the hearts in the middle, closest to the rhino's head have a very slight pink cast.  All I did was put a very small piece of pink paper behind those lights - yes I said "behind" so the light reflects.  Let your imagination run wild on the shape, it can be almost anything.  Beside what you see here I've seen question marks, key holes, asterisks etc.

Get out your camera, experiment and try different things.  If you are using a zoom lens see what happens at different zoom settings - note that as you increase your zoom length, it is likely that your f-stop will get smaller, requiring a smaller cut out. 

I would absolutely love to see your results, so after you've tried some things post it and tell about your experience, or email me and send it along.

I know I don't need to tell you that you can Google "shaped bokeh" and find a lot more information and examples and even paper punches. 

Don't be shy - leave a comment or email me.  I look forward to hearing from you!

21 comments:

Sandra said...

this is fantastic, i had no idea you had something in front of the lens. this i will have to try and i do have slr so that makes it better. thanks for a very interesting idea

Elena said...

That most wonderful idea. Thanks for sharing. I'm sure the practice. Happy 2011. Greetings.

Denise said...

I am so happy I popped in today. That is brilliant! Happy New Year!

erin said...

thank you soooo much!! i have been wondering about this.....i can't believe it is that easy!? i'll try it tomorrow.
happy new year!
erin

George said...

Thanks for explaining how this is done. I also will give this a try.

bluekat said...

This is so cool! Can't wait to try it. I can't believe it's so simple!
Thanks for sharing the instructions :)

黄清华 Wong Ching Wah said...

Scott,
Very good and clever idea, I shall try this... really thanks for sharing such ideas.

Regards,
Wong

Linda (PA_shutterbug) said...

Thank you so much for sharing this information. I know about bokeh but didn't realize that some of the shapes in the background could have been created by cutouts placed in front of the lens!

Laura Delegal - Leroy Photography said...

Wow, I love learning.

Jessica said...

Yup, great tutorial. Also, if you have a lensbaby try the creative aperture kit. And Photojojo sells a set of cutouts so you don't have to do the cutting yourself.

Chad said...

This is probably your best tutorial and gives me lots of ideas to use it on.

Rick said...

Looks interesting Scott - may have to give it a whirl one of these days. Thanks for posting.

AphotoAday said...

Okay, okay... My lens is in one million parts (((lost one spring)))... Where do I put the paper? Do you think I'll EVER get this lens back together? I may have to use rubber bands and Scotch tape because I think I may have lost a few more screws than I need...

Tanna at The Brick Street Bungalow said...

How stinkin' fun is that!?! Can't wait to give it a try. Thank you, Scott.

lisa said...

This is great Scott! Thank you for sharing!!

Don said...

Good tutorial. I heart you!

Stacey Dawn said...

Fabulous job explaining - love it - gonna have to try it!!!

Lisa RedWillow said...

I love Love the heart and going to have to give this a try . Thanks for sharing this. What a fun blog. Im leaving here with a big smile. You made my night. I sort of knew how to do this .
Thanks again for sharing.

Photog Ave said...

COOL!
I have bookmarked this and will certainly try it very soon. I like the Valentine's Day idea.
Thank you Scott!

chasity said...

what an amazing tip....
can't wait to give it a try!
chas

Angie said...

Thanks for sharing that info Scott... I'm going to try it someday :)

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