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Creating Custom Bokeh Effects

Tulips with Hearts Bokeh
50mm, F/8, ISO 200, 1/13 second

Ready to learn a new photographic technique? Try creating custom bokeh effects!

Bokeh is a word with Japanese origins, defined as “the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light.” The word comes from the Japanese word boke, which means “haze” or “blur.” (The “h” was introduced to help English speakers pronounce the word correctly [BO – KEH].)

Out-of-focus points of light can create magic in an image, but the bokeh effect shouldn’t be limited to just circles. It is easy to make a cutout filter in the shape of hearts or stars which will transform points of light into gorgeous shapes.

You can create an inexpensive filter by drawing a circle on a piece of cardstock, using the lens cap or a screw-on filter as the guide for the diameter of the circle. After cutting out the circle, create a small shape in the center of the circle using scissors or a craft knife. Place the card on the front of your lens. You can use gaffers’ tape to secure it in the proper position. (Gaffers’ tape won’t leave any sticky residue on your lens.)

  Illuminated tree with flower bokeh, narrow f-stop50mm, F/16, ISO 400, 1/6 second

  Illuminated tree with flower bokeh, wide f-stop50mm, F/4, ISO 400, 1/6 second

When photographing a scene, any small points of light in the image will have the shape that was cut into the circle. Keep in mind that the F/stop used will determine the size and definition of the bokeh that appears in the image. Use a large aperture (small number) to maximize the effect of the bokeh. Also remember to adjust the shutter speed and possibly the ISO to compensate for the restricted amount of light due to the filter on the front of the lens. Start with simple shapes and work up to more complicated images such as stars and hearts.

You can also buy pre-cut custom filters if you don’t want to make your own. The filters used in the example images are from a collection of filters with the Creative Optic which is used in the Lensbaby Composer Pro II.

Send us your images – we’d love to see them!

Photos by Sherryl Belinsky

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