Rather than spend our whole weekend triple-checking our phones for missed calls on the one (nope; not a word), I thought it would be fun to work on a mini project that would keep our one-track minds off of the only thing we think about lately. And since we’re limbo-living – and because tweaking our home again would just be insane (although I’m itching to build, paint and fuss) – we’re taking this time to hibernate (it’s cold here!), eat more soup than normal and craft. Craft for crafts sake! For fun.

I dug up this tutorial from How About Orange about creating bokeh shapes with your camera and went for it. I’ve thrown around the term bokeh in the past (haven’t I?), but it’s simply the out of focus area of a photograph, most visible (and magical) when there are highlights in the background. You’ll see this a lot around the holidays – on blogs, cards and commercials – those fuzzy, sparkling Christmas tree lights in the background and something in focus in the foreground. (See, for example, Jack + tree at the bottom of this post.)

But! Back to the bokeh shapes. By fashioning a little paper cap for your camera lens, you can force the bokeh to mimic any shape you choose – that is, as long as you can cut it (or you could cheat and use a paper punch, you fancy thing, you.)

What you need: black construction paper, a straight edge/ruler, scissors, X-acto knife, pencil/marker, tape and a DSLR with a lens that has a large aperture:

I used my 50 mm lens for this project, so I cut a strip of paper wide enough to cover and long enough to wrap around the lens. Then I cut a circle big enough to enclose my little “paper cap” and cut a pattern with the X-acto knife into each one. I made 3 inter-changeable circles – for triple the fun, obviously – and used tape to hold everything together. In the end, you should have a cap that’s snug on your camera lens, and it’ll look like this:

Now, onto the good part! As I mentioned, I used my 50mm lens for this project, and I set my camera to Manual mode (although Aperture Priority would work, too). To get these photos, we headed to Wicker Park on Saturday night – a busy, bustling neighborhood where we knew we could catch twinkling lights. We brought along a toy giraffe as our subject, and we went armed with our camera, tripod and bokeh caps.

To get the bokeh effect, I set my camera on the tripod and opened my aperture up to 1.8 and used a shutter speed of 1/15. To balance my large aperture on a dark night, my ISO was set to 400. Scott set up our little giraffe on the tops of news stands, bike racks and hand rails, and with my paper caps in place, I focused on the giraffe, causing the background to go out of focus (the bokeh!). Then, I took these:

Fun, right?! The out of focus background lights mimicked the shape of our paper caps (hearts and Xs), just as planned. It made for good conversation for those walking by, and we got a real kick out of it. While we were out and about, – and to further remove our brains from the one – we grabbed drinks and dinner with friends, and on the way home, we snagged a late night doughnut snack. (God love Chicago for selling fresh doughnuts at midnight.)

So, go forth! Create your bokeh shapes!

PS… Learn even more about bokeh and how to replicate it in these tutorials: here, here and here.

PPS… We had only one minor glitch during our outing; our giraffe fell from his perch so many times during our bokeh shoot (due to clumsiness, the rumbling train and passers by) that he now only has one ear and one ossicone (had to look that one up!). Scott has since nicknamed him Half-y Giraffe-y.

10 replies on “Fun with Bokeh”

  1. That’s pretty darn cute. You may have just inspired me to try it! I’ll just have to find an equally adorable safari animal for my subject.

  2. Paige, yes! Pick one up at any dollar store!

    Crystal, now THAT is an adorable idea. And pose your pup in the foreground… too cute!

  3. Omg, love the heart bokeh giraffe — please add to print shop!! Also, Scott: halfy giraffey is a fantastic name :)

  4. Love the results, especially with that subject! :) I’ve had black construction paper sitting on my desk for this exact purpose for over a year, it’s really time I got motivated to try it too!

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