Shape bokeh is a fun way to add a creative flare to your DSLR photography. You can create shape bokeh with any DSLR camera and prime lens. Many photographers use a 50mm lens for shape bokeh photography (which is what I used for this post), but don’t feel limited this option.
For the upcoming Valentine’s Day, I’m sharing DIY heart shaped bokeh! The first step is to create a heart bokeh filter for your prime lens. Trace the lens you’re going to use on black construction paper or card stock. Cut out the circle. Punch or cut out a heart in the center of the circle. If you’re using a paper punch, you may need to fold the edge of the circle to center the punch.
I cut the circle small enough that I can fit it right on the lens as you see pictured below. I have always used this method for shape bokeh with no problems. Some photographers create a paper cylinder or paper handles to attach to the bokeh filter, which works well, too.
The second step is to gather your supplies. In addition to the heart filter, you’ll need Christmas lights or another light source that will create bokeh. You’ll also need a light source for your subjects. The ambient room lighting may work just fine. A speedlite works well, too. I have a couple of DIY Lowel EGO lights I use for blog shoots, which were perfect for lighting my subjects. I use daylight bulbs in my Lowel lights. White light is great for many artificial lighting setups, but it was a little harsh for this shoot. So I kept a regular lamp on as well to bring a little warm yellow light to my images.
You don’t need a dark background to create shape bokeh, but I found it helpful for creating a clean background for my DIY heart shaped bokeh background Valentine’s shots. I wrapped my Christmas lights around a piece of black foam board with a chalked finish, which I keep around for blog shoots, and placed my subjects on black card stock. Finally, you’ll need a few subjects! I encourage you to start with objects you have on hand at home to get comfortable with your setup and lighting. I’ve included a list of supplies I used that you may not already have on hand at the end of this post.
The third step is to set up your shooting area. You need to allow some distance between your subject and the Christmas lights or other light source so you can create bokeh. I put a little over 5 feet (1.5 m) between my subject and lights. You may need to adjust your distance slightly, depending on your given subject and the exact effect you’re trying to achieve. It may also take some trial and error to determine the best placement for your subjects and lighting.
The fourth step is to dial in your camera settings. Switch your DSLR camera to manual mode. Open your aperture as wide as possible. I shot with a 50mm f/1.8 lens, so I set my aperture to 1.8. Then I set my shutter speed to 1/80. The subject lighting source you use will determine the best ISO for the particular shot. I used a few different lighting setups, so my ISO is not the same for every shot. In some instances, it’s as low as 200 while for other shots, I dialed it up to 400 or 800.
Attach your homemade heart bokeh filter to your prime lens. Keep in mind when you shoot in portrait orientation, you’ll have to rotate your heart filter accordingly. Otherwise, the hearts will be sideways!
You’re ready to start creating heart bokeh! I recommend trying a few shots of the bokeh alone to get comfortable with your camera settings. Heart bokeh is beautiful on its own. You may create some photos of it that you really love. Try switching your lens to manual focus and experiment with creating hearts in different sizes.
One popular bokeh background technique is to make is look as though the bokeh is coming right out of a glass, jar, or vase. You’ll have to position your lights carefully, so the hearts match up with the glass or jar. You can edit a few stray hearts out of the background, but the more you do to position the lights properly, the less editing you’ll have to do.
I started with a heart mug because it seemed fitting to have the hearts coming out of a heart mug for Valentine’s Day.
A clear glass or vase also works well because it looks like the hearts are right in the glass. In this first shot, I used a clear stemless wine glass.
I absolutely love colored glass and have a number of colored Ball jars and other glass pieces around my house. I used a blue Ball jar for a few shots because I love pairing turquoise and red. Green or purple glass would be so pretty, too.
I added a string of fairy lights to the Ball jar to bring a little more light into the shot and get some hearts right in the jar. I purposely made this shot a little fuzzy to get the fairy light hearts to pop and to heighten the whimsical aesthetic.
Playing around with my blue Ball jar was so much fun I decided to create a shot with it with a regular red bokeh background. The fun of a bokeh setup is that there are so many possibilities. If you have an idea for a shot, give it a try!
I’ve seen a few similar images to the book image I’ve shared below and was excited to try this technique myself. I switched up the red Christmas lights for a pastel strand. I tried shooting with a few different books and liked the results best with a larger book because you can see more bokeh IN the heart. Larger pages also make it easier to get some color on the top interior of the hearts, as you see below. My favorite shot worked best as a square crop, but a wider landscape composition is perfect for a heart book shot as well.
You may need to tape your pages into place, particularly if you use a book with glossy pages like I did. Painter’s tape is ideal because it’s less likely to damage the pages than something like packing tape. I would still remove the tape (carefully!) as soon as you’re finished with your photography.
Over the last couple months, I’ve bought a few new items for photography shoots, including a set of Scrabble letters. I create a lot of styled shoots for different seasons and holidays for my blog and know that I’m going to use these little letters a lot. I wrapped a red lights strand and a clear lights strand around my black foam core board for this shot.
Finally, I created a little wedding setup with a couple Playmobile figures. My husband and I used this set for our wedding cake topper, so I’m a little biased in my preference for this shot. BUT I’m really happy with the overall composition and the lighting on the figures.
Again, a DIY heart shaped bokeh background is so versatile. It allows for endless fun possibilities for creative photography. I’ve included a couple more red non-heart bokeh background examples. The first one features the Canon FD 28mm f/2.8 lens, which I use with a Canon AE-1.
The second one features one of my husband’s Warhammer figures. You’ll have to make up your own story as to why he’s riding a tank with a red bokeh background behind him.
DIY heart shaped bokeh supplies:
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