What you will need.
- X-Acto Knife
- Elastic Bands
It’s Christmas time and that means one thing for you as a photographer. Bokeh Lights. Christmas gives you a certain vibe. Everyone longs for warmth, nostalgia and a bit of magic. So some out of focus lights in the background can give you that quality to your photo. Yet, there is a twist. Bokeh lights on their own are a beautiful effect, but being able to customize their shape is even better. This makes it more interesting and opens new ways to explore and experiment with your photo. If you post a photo or video on your Instagram account, with your customized bokeh lights, you’ll get many private messages asking you how you did it. Most people asked me which software I used to achieve this effect.
The right lens for the job
If you own a DSLR you’ll know if your lens can achieve this bokeh effect. I don’t have experience with mirrorless cameras so I stick to what I’ve tested. You need a lens with wide aperture. My Nikon 35mm is perfect for this job because it gets all the way to f1.8. My telephoto lens the Nikon 105mm is also great for the job and the widest it gets is f2.8. Try your lens if can achieve that look before starting. Remember even if it can do it, and the results don’t match is because not all bokeh is created equally. Different lenses give different qualities but I won’t analyze it any further here. Make a quick test and continue with the guide.
Collecting the necessary items
Start by placing a rotary mat on your desk. It’s a great way to avoid damaging the surface of your desk. You don’t need one but investing in one will come handy and protect your stuff. Moving on we have to buy a piece of cardboard or use one lying around. The thinner the better for this job. An X-Acto knife is very useful for this project because you need precise cuts. The shapes are going to be very small so that makes it even more difficult. It’s cheap if you don’t own one. Furthermore Buy a piece of cardboard, the thinner the easier to cut it. If you don’t have an X-Acto knife now it’s a good time to invest in one. If you want to be super precise with your project you can use a compass to draw the circle. Also, some rubber bands can be useful.
Shaping the light
The rolling blades of the lens usually are circle shaped. That’s what gives the lights the circle look when they are out of focus. If they were star-shaped we would always get star-shaped lights. So you got the point. Place the cardboard on the rotary mat and then make a circle around the size of your lens. If you want you can check the back of your lens cap that says the diameter of the lens. Draw a circle on the cardboard and then use a ruler to make rectangle handles. You can attach them later with your rubber bands on the front of the lens. The back of your Lens Cap shows the diameter of your lens.
Grab a piece of cardboard and draw a circle. How big you will ask. You can make whatever size you want, it just needs to cover the lens. For you, that love precision you can check the back of lens cap. It has the diameter of the lens. My particular lens is the Nikon 35mm f1,8 and the back of the cap says 55mm. So we need a circle with a diameter of 5.5cm. After I made the circle I made 4 rectangles to use them as handles later. Attaching them to the lens will make you focus on the photo you want to take and not on holding the cardboard.
You can find some cool shapes online, but to get you started quickly I made some shapes in the illustrator. On the end of the text, a link is provided to download and print them. I recommend starting with the star shape. It is easier to cut and it may take you a few tries to find the right size for the shape depending on the lens you have. The smaller the shape the better the result, but try out and see for yourself. As a reference point to where to place the star, you can use the hole made by the compass if you used one. Cut the shape with care to be as clean as possible and then cut the circle and the handles.
Taking the photo
Great you made it, now it’s time to attach it to the lens. Keep in mind that the rubber bands should not be in your focus ring because that will make your job more difficult. Also, keep in mind that you want your shape to be flat on the lens. To be amazed as I did go put colorful lights in the background and turn the live view mode of your DSLR on. Turn the focus ring and see the lights turn into colorful stars. It seems like a simple effect but it will give a smile on your face. Experiment with the distance of the lights so to get sharper results.
For this example photo, I used a Stormtrooper (for the Star Wars geeks a flame trooper) as my main subject. You want to keep your subject close to the lens and the lights on the back. There you take the photo and the result is amazing. Now you can try other shapes, you can even do your name.
The coolest, however, was that I could take the same result while I was taking video. For example Being on the highway and see the lights of all these fast moving cars turn into stars and hearts was great and very impressive.
That's where this tutorial ends, and you begin to experiment with what you have learned. There are more ways to do it so keep searching and experimenting.
Stay tuned for the next project that I will post next week. Subscribe to any of my social accounts or sign up for my newsletter. Have fun and if you have any questions or you want to share your project please send me. Merry Christmas