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How to take Bokeh-ful Photos with Christmas Lights

What is Bokeh?

Christmas ornament with an example of bokeh
Sharp foreground, bokeh heavy background.

Before we dive in, here’s a quick break-down of what bokeh is. Bokeh is the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light – it is that aesthetically pleasing circular shape that you see in many stock photos and professional portraits. Christmas is a season of lights, and the perfect time to perfect your skills at capturing bokeh.

To product bokeh, it is best to purchase a lens f/4 or wider. Our recommended lenses that won't break your budget are the following:

The reason why we recommend a 50mm, if you don't already own one, is because it is the most affordable lens in most cases, where you have a lens with the wide aperture of f/1.8. Generally these lenses can be purchased for between $125-299.

If you already have several lenses, any focal length between 35mm-300mm, with an aperture of f/1.4-f/4, is preferred.

No bokeh - f/16

Bokeh - f/1.8

What Settings Should You Use?

You will want to open your aperture as wide as possible, the wider the aperture, the smoother your bokeh will look. In order to open your aperture, you will want to either shoot in Aperture priority mode, or Manual mode. In aperture mode, you will only need to keep an eye on your ISO and aperture, in manual, you will have to manipulate your aperture, ISO and shutter speed.

For this quick guide, let's have you start with aperture priority mode, and turn your ISO to auto.

There are two ways to proceed: Take a photo of a subject with plenty of bokeh in the background, or to shoot just a photo of the bokeh itself. Tip: If you want circular bokeh, be sure that your light source is in the foreground or background. Shooting when the room is dark or outdoors when it is dark, will enhance how your bokeh stands out.

Notice that bokeh can be seen in the foreground AND background

In order to take a photo of a subject with plenty of bokeh in the background or foreground, you will want to make sure your subject is a sufficient distance away or between your holiday lighting. Depending on your lens, you may find that certain distances may offer a better bokeh effect.

If you are shooting with a lens 50mm or above, you will notice that you do not have to ‘work’ as hard to find where the background will start to create a beautiful bokeh.

If you are interested in only taking a photo of the bokeh, switch your camera or lens into manual focus mode. Toggle your lens out of focus until you notice that the bokeh is to your liking and take a couple photos.

Now you have several gorgeous photos to share with friends and family! If you are having trouble, don’t be afraid to check in with your friends at The Shutterbug Camera Stores!

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