How to Make Shaped Bokeh {Photography Tutorial by I Heart Faces}

Making shaped bokeh can add a touch of fun to your holiday photos.  In this free tutorial, our contributor Dana Suggs shows you how to create bokeh shapes.

Last year, I posted the above photo of Brooklyn’s letter to Santa on Facebook.  Here it is again for those that don’t stalk me on Facebook. LOL

I know…..sweet huh?

But I got a lot of comments on the beautiful snowflake bokeh in the background.  No, my Christmas lights are not snowflake shaped, they are just normal little white tree lights. In fact, I have made them in other shapes as well.
How to Make Shaped Bokeh. Holiday Photography Tutorial by I Heart Faces.
(Not the best photo, I had a different camera last year that did not do high ISO very well. We make do with what we have until we can afford better.)
How to Make Shaped Bokeh. Holiday Photography Tutorial by I Heart Faces.
That’s my Chandler in the top photo.  And in the cute pink winter coat, all blurry in the background, is my Brooklyn, watching the ducks in the pond.

But, my favorite shape this season, was probably the snowflakes.  As you can tell.
How to Make Shaped Bokeh. Holiday Photography Tutorial by I Heart Faces.

Yes, even my amazing turkey from Christmas dinner last year, was NOT immune to my obsession of the fun shaped bokeh!

OK, yes, I may be totally odd, but I’ve come to terms with it.

Wanna know my secret?  It’s totally hi-tech and probably has too many instructions for you to possibly duplicate it.  I’m a complete genius with expensive gadgets too expensive for anyone else to afford.  I’m just saying…..Want me to show you anyway?

Don’t be jealous….it’s a sin you know….
How to Make Shaped Bokeh. Holiday Photography Tutorial by I Heart Faces.
Yes, that’s a poorly cut circle with a snowflake hole punched in the center, or what passes as the center, on solid black construction paper.

I told you not to be jealous. HAAA!

Making the “Gadget”

Use ordinary thick black paper (construction paper will work, this just happens to be scrapbook paper) and you cut it into a strip large enough to cover the entire front of your lens. I used scrap white paper first to measure the lens I was going to use. Then I cut it out of my black paper.
How to Make Shaped Bokeh. Holiday Photography Tutorial by I Heart Faces.
Then I traced around the lens I was going to use. My favorite lens to use is the 85 mm 1.8.  I LOVE the creamy, yummy bokeh it creates!

How to Make Shaped Bokeh. Holiday Photography Tutorial by I Heart Faces.

Then you take a hole punch of whatever shape you desire, and you hole punch the shape in the middle of the circle. I folded mine in a little bit so I could reach the center of your circle. That’s important. If the cut is not in the center, the camera will pick up parts of the black circle.
How to Make Shaped Bokeh. Holiday Photography Tutorial by I Heart Faces.

Then just tape your black circle over your little cylinder you made to fit over your lens. I had to use some pretty odd tape because I have lots of little ones in my house now that like to steal my tape and tape up pictures they have made all over their bedroom. It’s cute, so I will work with odd electrical tape when I have to. Then just slide your hood over your lens!
How to Make Shaped Bokeh. Holiday Photography Tutorial by I Heart Faces.

 

This is the end result….pretty cool huh? And it fits right into my budget! 😉
How to Make Shaped Bokeh. Holiday Photography Tutorial by I Heart Faces.

Here are some in-camera instructions to help you out:

1|  Make sure you use the WIDEST aperture possible (which is the smallest number). For my particular lens (85mm 1.8), my aperture was set at 1.8. The lower the f-stop, the better the blur in the background.
2| You need some separation from your subject and the bokeh. If your subject is sitting right next to the lights you are wanting to change shape, it won’t work. Everything will be in focus, and you won’t have the fuzzy, light-bokeh in the background.
How to Make Shaped Bokeh. Holiday Photography Tutorial by I Heart Faces.

3| Use dark or black paper. Light will leak into the little paper hood, and it will not work as well with lighter paper.
4| Keep the hood just a little larger in width than your lens so the lens will be able to focus.
5| If the hood does not work for you, just use the round circle (cut larger than your actual lens so light does not leak in). You can focus on whatever your subject is and stop down to hold that focus. Then hold your little circle over the front of your lens, keeping the subject in focus, and snap your picture.

Then, you just practice on anything that will sit still long enough for you to shoot! Today, it seems the toys are the only things that aren’t moving at the speed of light. We work with what we have. HAAAA!
How to Make Shaped Bokeh. Holiday Photography Tutorial by I Heart Faces.

Be kind to others, and have some FUN with your photos!
Dana Suggs-I Heart Faces ContributorI love to laugh! I think kindness is better than being rich. I love to hang out with my family.  I shoot with a Nikon D700, and I am a strong believer that you can NEVER stop learning!  Find me on my Photography website,  Facebook Fanpage and, of course, I am a PROUD Contributor for I Heart Faces!

{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

vineeth December 9, 2014

Hey,

Thanks for this wonderful tip. I want to try creating these during this holiday season. One question: should it be a black hard paper or any other color would do, as long as I have it close to the lens?

Thanks,
Vineeth

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Curtis Cousino July 5, 2014

I followed the directions but did not get multiple Bokehs in the picture. How are multiple Bokehs achieved?

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danyael December 11, 2014

What is the distance between the main subject and the background? The closer the background is the less bokeh you are going to get. If you are taking someones picture and the background is three feet away you are going to get more bokeh than you would if the background was only one foot away.

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Jen Kempen December 11, 2013

Maaaan, I tried and it didn’t work. Maybe I didn’t have it completely centered?

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Milie December 21, 2014

I found that the smaller your cut out the better the shapes worked, mine was too big at first and gave me odd pac-man shaped bookeh, try making our opening smaller :)

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Beth Daghfal December 8, 2013

Dana.. you are so awesome! I just love your down to earth, sense of humor and creativity!! I would NEVER have thought of this… and it looks amazing!! Merry Christmas!

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zoe November 20, 2013

hi, i tried to do this
but instead of bokeh i just get the black vignette in s shape of heart or snowflake etc
why?
thanks

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stacy December 5, 2013

same here!!! I’m confused

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Venice May 19, 2014

same here! i don’t know why!

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Jen December 9, 2014

You can do it with photoshop. I’m not even sure how it would work, I think it’s fake.

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Milie December 21, 2014

Zoom all the way in with your lens, that should work better

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natalie November 15, 2013

how did you get multiples of the cutout onto one photo?

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Jordan August 22, 2013

Nice tutorial! Created my own this afternoon with a macro lens and it worked really well! Currently building up my collection of shapes!

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Rafaela Corradi June 13, 2013

Hello, I’m a Photographer from Brazil and I fell like I need to improve the use of light in my photography! This was the firts tutorial that I read on this site, but it grave me a lot of inspiration and courage to try new things. Thank you so much! I’ll definitely visit this site more!

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AmericanSumo May 7, 2013

If you want to lasercut some filters, here’s a tutorial on how to do it … even if you don’t own a laser cutter. Enjoy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F35qMEcxU8U

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MDTKEJ April 27, 2013

Can i do this bokeh with a 5mm lens (SONY W650) ????

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liza April 1, 2013

I have tried this in the past and every time I try to get a picture of a person the shape (hearts, starts, etc) shows us also in the person’s eyes as catchlight. how do I avoid this? does anyone knows?

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Jay March 2, 2013

Why bother when you can do it in seconds in Photoshop. It only takes a moment to make the bokeh as a series of brushes which can be altered in numerous ways.

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David February 27, 2013

Thanks, this was such a fun idea and an awesomely written article! Inspiring. Greetings from Germany 😉

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Jasper December 24, 2012

I also using 85mm f1.8 lens, please advise the size of the DIY hole diameter

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Anne December 10, 2012

This is great! Thanks for the reminder of this little trick.
I cut the bokeh filter to fit into my UV filter (I keep one on my lenses all the time for protection) and put it inside the UV filter between my filter and the lens. Because it was cut to fit into the filter, it does not need a “hood”, does not leak light, and works like a charm!. Will definitely have this little gem on the camera at the Christmas Eve Party.

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Morgaine December 6, 2012

im a little confused. do you put the bokeh over your lens? or is it just the bokeh and no lens?

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Lizzie November 25, 2012

Wow, a while back I tried to create different shaped bokeh, and failed miserably…I gave up. I just recently decided to give it a try again – this step by step was very helpful and insightful!

P.S.
I was having the same problem some people were having, with just the little hole showing up and the rest black…what I did was I made the shape a little bigger…used a 50mm lense, 1.8 f-stop…then, I focused on my subject and THEN put the cut out up really close to my lense…it was still a little to dark, so I held a flash light over the subject just to illuminate it a little.

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Varoun September 18, 2012

Hey! Great tutorial on a cool little photography trick. I’m sharing it on my Facebook and I will be using the technique soon! Thanks greatly!

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Lauren March 13, 2012

Oh my word that is so cool!! Totally going to try it out! Thank you so much!

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Daniele Phlieger January 12, 2012

I really like your writing style, great information, thanks for posting :D.

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Bryan Barnett January 4, 2012

Make your own shaped bokeh #DYI #Photography http://t.co/JLEuXmQX

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agung.wibowo December 29, 2011

wow…very creative…thanks for sharing this useful and creative tips.
Merry Christmas to all of you.

best wishes,

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Christine Roosa (@biochemtine) December 24, 2011

I think the trick to getting the whole picture, not just the cut-out shape, is to put your shape as close to the lens as possible.

To learn how it works, check out Understanding Exposure, by Bryan Peterson. He explains how bokeh works when he talks about Depth of Field and “out of focus balls of light.”

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Nadine December 24, 2011

I had the same problem many others here had. My whole frame is black with only my shape visible in the middle, didn’t work at all for me and I don’t know what I did wrong?
Can anyone help?
Thanks!
Nadine

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MB December 23, 2011

Thank you Dana! Glad Im not alone! =)

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Amy Locurto December 21, 2011

I love this tutorial by my friend Dana over on I Heart Faces! She's got cool fingernails too! ha! http://t.co/QSV23DV2

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diane December 21, 2011

You are probably thinking of one of the vines in the Bignonia family whose scientific name is unclear, and which is referred to sometimes as a Bignonia and sometimes as Distictis, and in the nursery trade as Royal Trumpet Vine “Rivers”. It’s easy to grow and would probably be more popular if they ever settled on a name and people knew what to ask for. It’s related to the more popular red and orange trumpet vines.

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Sitaram Shastri December 21, 2011

Interesting technique 😕 RT @FotoBridge: How to Make Shaped Bokeh http://t.co/UJjsqsgY

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Linda Gardner December 21, 2011

How To Make Shaped Bokeh http://t.co/kKsS5EMT via @Iheartfaces

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Leah December 20, 2011

that is really awesome and amazing and cheap! how in the world does that work???? I guess it doens’t matter, it does and its really cool.

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Kristine December 20, 2011

It looked so easy, but I must be doing something wrong. Like MB and Katerine said, I can’t get the whole picture, just a bunch of black with my small shape in the middle with the shaped bokeh inside What am I doing wrong???

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Katerine December 20, 2011

Dana I LOVED this tutorial, you are actually a genius! I did it and the bokeh really has shape! But the picture doesn,t look good at all, because it,s like all the picture is black, and in the middle I have a flower (my shape) with floowershaped bokeh inside. Why does it happen?
PS the only differenc between your example and mine is that I used f4 instead of f1.8
Kisses!

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Nicole December 20, 2011

Thank you so much for sharing! I ignored housework today and played with my camera and Christmas lights. It was so much fun! (Way better than housework any day). Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!

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Nicole December 20, 2011

The beauty is that you don’t have to know how it works. Many years ago, I took physics in college, and I could have explained the principle behind it. Sadly, my memory is fading. It’s not a double exposure. Just give it a try and you’ll be amazed.

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jennifer hadfield December 20, 2011

This is so cool – I didn't even know you could make shaped Bokeh @IHeartFaces :) http://t.co/2Jjk9duR

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Amy Locurto December 20, 2011

FUN tutorial! How To Make Shaped Bokeh via @iheartfaces http://t.co/6CDxJIt2

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podwiatr December 20, 2011

And keep in mind that it’s difficult to use when you work with a manual focus 😉

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Monica Martin December 20, 2011

I have been meaning to do this for a long time!! Thanks for kick starting my butt do go do it! Great time for getting crafty now that all the Christmas orders are done!! Yea!!

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Dana Suggs December 20, 2011

MB….I’ll be the FIRST to admit, I don’t know how it works. LOL I only know it DOES work and it’s totally fun to play with! It’s just one of those really cute things to do.

(I don’t pretend to be the smartest in the group. HAHAHAHA)

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Raven December 20, 2011

Adorable solution Dana! Last year I made the mistake of using the word “ho” – as in ho, ho, ho…. and got a lot of jokes about “hos” on my tree… oh my! :)

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Angelia Sims December 20, 2011

Love the sense of humor Dana has! This is great info. I just became obsessed with bokeh this year (first year I learned enough to be able to do it!).

I, too, believe we can never stop learning.

:-)

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MB December 20, 2011

Sorry … I dont get it.

understand all the directions but dont understand how you get the WHOLE picture if the whole lens is covered with just the punch out in the middle. Is it a double exposure??

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AmsterdaMummy December 20, 2011

Fabulous. Will try that tonight.

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Carrie December 20, 2011

Ha! I just did this over the weekend, and had a LOT of fun with the bokeh! Photojojo also has a really cheap kit (like $20) with a slot to put different shapes in and out (so it’s easier to change shapes)

love the hearts! :)

http://flickr.com/gp/69912667@N07/1S86mS
http://flickr.com/gp/69912667@N07/m79DSb

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Snekcip December 20, 2011

Awesome!!! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I think I can follow those directions!!! It’s definitely in “my budget” that’s for sure!!! Guess I can practice on THE DOG since it’s the only breathing thing that don’t move and lounges 24-7!! The kids are out of of the question!! :)

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Tracy P. December 20, 2011

VERY fun!! Thank you! Merry Christmas to you and all your IHF “elves”, Amy and Angie!

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