Learning to Take Beautiful Bokeh Photos
One of my favorite things about the holiday decorations are the beautiful Christmas lights! Lighted up trees and other decorations look so festive. Last year I decided to experiment with Christmas light in the studio to achieve a simple yet cheerful background. I used either white or colored strands of light to create beautiful backgrounds with bokeh.
What is bokeh? Bokeh is the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image produced by a lens. In other words, it is blur. It is an effect created with some sort of light in the photo that produces cool looking blurry light balls or “bokeh lights“. Keep in mind though to get the bokeh lights, you need the light sources to be small. Christmas tree lights work exceedingly well but streetlights at a good distance would work.
Bokeh photography is a very popular technique, because it produces photos that are visually appealing by focusing the viewer’s attention on the subject while blurring the rest. A good bokeh pleases our eyes and should be soft. Bokeh creates amazing Holiday photos with a simple background. Bokeh is created by the lens not the camera. Technically, bokeh results when you use a shallow depth of field. The bokeh effect is the way the lens renders parts of the image blurry and focuses on another part of the photo. Different types of lenses render more aesthetically pleasing bokeh than others. Particularly higher end lenses render much more pleasing bokeh!
If you’re an amateur photographer, don’t worry if the first shot comes out blurry. This technique requires some trial and error. The main trick to bokeh photography is to use a low aperture (f 2.0 versus f 8.0). Setting your camera at the lowest number is important (is is actually the larger size of an aperture even though the number is smaller because the number is actually a fraction). So with my 24 to 70 mm lens, the aperture goes down to 2.8 at the smallest number. If you have a prime lens that goes lower to f 1.8 or f 1.4, you might want to consider using that as well. Keep in mind that the more people you are including as the subject, the higher you will have to be in aperture to keep them all in focus.
The small aperture puts your foreground out of focus and blurs your background as well while maintaining focus on your subject. The low aperture will turn your Christmas lights into the glowing balls of light. Next, you need to manipulate the size of bokeh lights by changing the distance between you and the lights you are blurring. Simply move farther away to make the lights appear larger. You can also place lights in front of your subject! It is a different effect that can be fun!
I used either a neutral colored backdrop or a neutral painted wall to start the set up. I also used my studio lighting to light up my subject. However if it was right time of the day, I used natural light. If you don’t have professional equipment, use a shower curtain rod and prop it over two chairs or use the counter top to set it up. You can either drape your lights over it or use a second set of chairs and a second curtain rod to hand the light on. As a last resort, use your wall and tape the Christmas lights on it. And, as I mentioned use natural light!
And voila, you have a simple yet gorgeous background perfect for your holiday cards! Here are some examples of photos I took with different effects and backgrounds.