Dec 09, 2014

Holiday Lights Bokeh

How to photograph holiday lights so they make bokeh.

noun; the visual quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photographic image, especially as rendered by a particular lens.

Have you ever wondered how to take photos of holiday lights so they show up as beautiful circles? With it being the holiday season, my photo tips post today is about how to photograph bokeh. Bokeh occurs when points of light are out-of-focus in a photo. To achieve this you will need a SLR, digital SLR, or a camera that you can adjust the aperture on. Need to learn more about gear? You will also need some lights to (not) focus on. These can be anything from a Christmas tree, to decorations, to street or car headlights.

Bokeh aperture difference.

On your camera, if you wish to focus on a single object to have the lights behind show as bokeh, you will need to set your aperture (Don’t know what that is? Read this post!) to the lowest setting. On my lens it is F/ 1.4, as illustrated in the top photo above. In the lower photo, I’ve set it to F/ 16, which is the highest my aperture can be for the lens I’m using. Notice the difference in the lights? In the top photo they are out of focus, creating bokeh, and it brings the focus to the ornament in the front. In the lower photo most of the photo is in focus, which doesn’t allow the lights to create bokeh.

On your iPhone, hold your finger down on the object you want in focus. It should say AE/AF lock once you’re locked on. If the object is a good distance from the lights, they should create bokeh when you snap the photo. If your iPhone is like mine when I try to photograph my Christmas tree, it won’t want to focus in a dark environment and the whole tree will show as bokeh.

Changing bokeh on a Christmas tree

You can see above how the bokeh from the lights change as the aperture setting changes on my camera. If you want to photograph a person in front of the tree, bring a light source to behind the camera so the lights will still be in a darker area but the person’s face will be brighter than where the lights are.

A fun thing to do (which is what my iPhone defaults to) is to set your camera on manual focus so you can adjust the focus ring by hand. This will make all of the lights out of focus if you choose, and can create some festive images as well.

Christmas tree bokeh photography tips.

Still have questions? Feel free to ask away in the comments below. Happy Photographing!


Expand Comments

I love this! I’ve always wondered how to get this effect. Thanks, Jessica!

Thank you! Go try it out, it’s super easy and fun. You can even put a cover on your lens to make the bokeh different shapes instead of circles. I tried a heart shape out a few years back.

Can’t wait to try these tips & tricks this holiday season… our Christmas tree is going up tonight, so you can bet I’ll be taking lots of photos!

<3 dani

Ooh, have fun! You should share the photos, I want to see what everyone is doing with this. 🙂

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