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It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas… and in our forums I’ve noticed more and more great Christmas images being shared – some of which feature a technique that is always popular at this time of year – Bokeh Christmas lights shots.
The technique takes a bit of experimenting and practice but is relatively simple to do. You need some Christmas lights and a camera lens with a reasonably ‘fast’ aperture (or a large aperture).
The key is to shoot at the larger end of your available aperture – this throws the background (and foreground) of your shot out of focus and any Christmas lights in the foreground or background will become little balls of light.
As you’ll see in most of the images featured in this series – the technique is particularly good if you also have some element in your shot that is in focus. This ‘subject’ might be a person, a pet, a Christmas decoration or something else.
You can make the little balls of light bigger by increasing the distance between your in focus subject and the out of focus lights in the background.
While most of the images in this series have the Christmas lights in the background of the image (behind the subject) it is also possible to create the little bokeh balls of light by putting the lights in the foreground of your image (in front of your subject). You can see this in the image below. The impact is a little different as the bokeh balls will cover part of your subject.
Another popular technique is to create different shaped bokeh. You can make stars, hearts or even little snow flakes like the image below.
To get these different little bokeh shapes is pretty simple. You just need to make a little cutout ‘mask’ for your lens. Rather than go over how to do it here check out this video tutorial that will walk you through it here.
The other way to change the shape of your bokeh balls is to experiment with different apertures. You’ll find that in most cases the larger your aperture the rounder the ball – but go for a slightly smaller aperture you may find your bokeh becomes more hexagonal (or Heptagonal or Octagonal… the number of sides will depend upon how many blades your lens has).
The different ways of using this bokeh Christmas lights technique is only limited by your imagination. Here are some more examples to give you ideas. Enjoy!
July 18, 2013 08:12 am
Absolutely beautiful! My favorite lens for bokeh is my Canon 50mm f/1.2L. I get some incredible shots with it.
January 20, 2013 02:07 am
I love those photos. I have a night photography workshop today, I'll see what we can get :)
January 17, 2013 04:57 pm
Love the post and thanks. In trying the boken on Christmas lights this year I was having trouble with ghost imagest of the lights covering my subject. Is there something I can do to prevent this? What is the cause? Any thoughts?
January 2, 2013 10:47 pm
Some christmas related bokeh shots. Do check them out.
December 30, 2012 12:19 pm
My first attempt at Bokeh. I surprised myself!
December 26, 2012 03:52 pm
My first try on bokeh. I like the way it turned out.
December 23, 2012 09:07 am
These are great pictures and a wonderful effect. Like a few others said, I'm a novice and I would REALLY like some technical advice on how to create this effect. If anyone has an answer to those asking about properly lighting you foreground subject that would be VERY helpful too. Thank you!
December 21, 2012 12:00 pm
Played with bokeh, but I'm not sure they are quite right. I think I needed more lighting in front of the subject on some. Any advice is appreciated.
December 19, 2012 10:56 pm
Please check out my kitten and Christmas tree bokeh :)
December 17, 2012 07:43 am
http://flic.kr/p/dBuSXR I was baking and taking pictures of cookies in various states and these are my sons favorite. Oreo cookie truffles, before they are given a bath in white chocolate. When I reviewed the picture what to my wondering eyes appeared but some cool little bokeh. Love this technique.
December 16, 2012 10:14 pm
I really enjoyed these pictures and it inspired me to see what I could achieve in the comfort of my living room. Here are the results which I have started to put up on my blog...
December 16, 2012 11:06 am
Thank you for many great tips. I would never advocate, however, wrapping anything, be it a pet or a baby, in lights - live wire and lead coated lights are a recipe for disaster.
December 15, 2012 12:57 pm
Check out my latest post on http://jlusardi.blogspot.com/ for some Christmas Bokeh.
December 14, 2012 11:56 pm
SUCH great examples. SUCH great photography--expect for the one with the girl in the corner who's yelling at who knows what--I loved these shots! Thanks for sharing!
December 14, 2012 11:49 pm
A Bokeh tribute to an old favourite
December 14, 2012 12:05 pm
Is 2.4 near large enough of an aperture to get the bokeh effect? I love photos with little depth of field but my camera can't change lenses and only goes that far
December 14, 2012 07:30 am
I am very new to photography but would love to try this. I have a Canon Rebel XT with the lense that came with it 18-55 mm. How do I know what aperture the lens is? And do I shoot in manual or some other setting? This is scarry for me but I love the effect and need to learn to use my camera. Love DPS and all the hints and tutorials. Chris
December 14, 2012 06:34 am
This is one of the most helpful and entertaining articles on photography I ever read. It is all pretty obvious after you read it, but I would not have thought about it otherwise. Thanks so much. I am anxious to give it a shot.
December 13, 2012 07:04 pm
Hi, I just want to ask, can we produce bokeh simply by putting the lens into manual mode? So basically you just put the lens into manual, aim to the source of lights (christmas lights, candle, street lights,etc) and turn your lens so the lights become blur. I did it once and it looked like this (with f5.6) http://www.flickr.com/photos/54378500@N00/8210552045/in/photostream
December 13, 2012 03:28 pm
Well done but some of the shots look to be a result of Photoshop effects rather than open apperture. For example, people in http://www.flickr.com/photos/toshi123/3092847136/ are in the same focal plane as the first arc. Nevertheless, the first arc is sharp whiile the people not.
December 13, 2012 01:00 pm
I love all the samples,, very inspiring
December 13, 2012 12:30 pm
These were taken using bokeh filters I made from the paper punches I use for scrapbooking. They were a lot of fun to play with.
December 13, 2012 12:16 pm
My first try. Our Himalayan cat. Almost impossible to shoot.
December 11, 2012 01:03 pm
Nice! I was taking some photos over the weekend at 1.8 and the bokeh was great with the holiday lights!
December 11, 2012 10:37 am
Another trick for bigger brokeh is to unmount your lens and hold it in front of the camera. The larger the distance between your camera and lens the larger the bokeh.
December 11, 2012 09:44 am
Was just playing around this weekend at a friends house!
December 11, 2012 08:30 am
My first Bokeh
December 11, 2012 08:11 am
Tod, use min apeature number (1.8, 2 etc), focal - bigger better becase it limits DOF so there will be blurred background and more bokeh :) if you use stencil you have to try with focal because stencil size limits FOV :)
December 11, 2012 07:11 am
My bokeh favorite:
Snowflake bokehs - e.g. last friday in Zurich, Switzerland. With OM-D, 12-50 and kit-flash.
December 11, 2012 07:09 am
Any advice on lighting etc or even focal length would be good
December 11, 2012 04:20 am
Christmas markets are also a great place to find possibilities for bokeh shots.
December 11, 2012 02:33 am
Some really nice examples of some great bokeh here. Excellent stuff.
December 11, 2012 02:14 am
For a moment, I thought you showed my photo, but it's the same place in Tokyo's LaQua spa, chk the similarity: http://500px.com/photo/2100641
September 20, 2012 02:30 am
You can see some of my Christmas Images (bokeh) here
April 7, 2012 03:58 am
The smallest f/ my camera can go to is like f/ 4.5 can I still do bokeh??
February 27, 2012 01:49 am
Here's my shot at it:
Comments would be welcome!
January 15, 2012 09:47 pm
nice article w/ great photographs
January 13, 2012 03:10 am
Update - have had fun playing with this technique, so thanks again.
January 5, 2012 12:29 am
Here's one I had fun with. I turned off all the lights in the room except for the Christmas tree lights. I set up a high powered flashlight a couple feet away from Santa and covered the light with 2 layers of parchment paper to soften the brightness. Thanks for the tips on Christmas bokeh shots. I love DPS! http://www.flickr.com/photos/60595163@N02/6629101965/in/set-72157628701786707
January 4, 2012 12:13 pm
Thank you! I was just asking telling myself to learn how to do this, now that I know it seems so simple!
January 3, 2012 05:20 am
December 30, 2011 03:08 am
Great photos, makes me want to experiment with the cut out technique. Love the brandy glass picture - stunning!
December 29, 2011 02:24 am
These pictures are beautiful and so festive - especially the dog one! I can't seem to get this to work, but maybe I'm overly ambitious with my Nikon point-and-shoot (Coolpix P300). Is bokeh impossible with a f/1.8 lens?
December 28, 2011 10:10 am
I gave yet a crack: http://www.flickr.com/photos/53093151@N04/6566601975/in/photostream - turned out well :)
December 27, 2011 04:17 pm
another experiment inspired by these awesome pics (though not even close to matching the beauty here)
December 26, 2011 06:17 pm
Merry Bokeh from Rome!
December 26, 2011 06:37 am
My first try at bokeh.. It isn't the best, but I am happy it worked.
December 25, 2011 06:36 am
love these. I got a 50mm lens for christmas, this is one of my first attempts http://www.flickr.com/photos/katiekavanagh/6561373913/
December 25, 2011 03:57 am
December 23, 2011 02:40 pm
let me know wat yall think...
December 23, 2011 02:38 pm
My First bokeh
December 22, 2011 11:55 pm
Amazing inspiration for some photo's. Had a quick play around, made a DIY filter and voila.
Can't wait to do some more
December 22, 2011 03:18 pm
A shot for the cover of a handbells CD with plenty of background bokeh lights.
December 22, 2011 07:31 am
Beautiful photos, all so nicely done and examples to follow!
December 22, 2011 07:09 am
I really like the post, idea and especially the photos, they are AMAZING.
@Stephen, it says to use the lowest number aperture possible, and to change it to get different number of corners on the light. And to experiment and play with it :)
December 22, 2011 04:04 am
Not exactly a tutorial. What aperture should one use? Is there a good starting point...what about shutter speed? Poorly written.
December 21, 2011 03:09 am
love the shot with the candles and the shot with the clock tower very cool
December 20, 2011 03:17 pm
Experimenting with a wine bottle...
December 20, 2011 09:25 am
shame we dont have a christmas tree this year...
my brothersr drums take up an 8th of the livingroom alreaddy lol
December 20, 2011 04:58 am
December 20, 2011 04:24 am
i made some aparture stencils and here a try :)
December 19, 2011 01:00 pm
Christmas Train bokeh
December 19, 2011 12:30 pm
The links weren't correct on my prior comment. Here they are.
As I mentioned, the balls are gold balls on a Christmas tree at an outdoor mall, not lights.
December 19, 2011 07:16 am
My Last Bokeh Christmas Tree for today..Bokeh is a lot of fun!! http://www.flickr.com/photos/38609585@N00/6533115271/in/photostream
December 18, 2011 04:26 pm
Here are my two Christmas Bokeh
December 18, 2011 03:14 pm
Stunning! I have started to experiment with it. Wish I had more time but I'll post up my example here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lilsoak/6529188567/
I can't wait to do more! So fun!
December 18, 2011 02:10 pm
December 18, 2011 01:53 pm
playing around wif star
December 18, 2011 07:01 am
Surprisingly, I've been playing around with boekh after setting up our Christmas tree. Bokeh always is associated with background, so I decided to make it the central element of the picture and make it work :)
December 18, 2011 01:03 am
WOW! great article - thankyou :)
December 17, 2011 11:08 am
great job on his video blog Darren. Looking forward to seeing more of your wonderful digital photography in 2012 :-)
December 17, 2011 08:25 am
Here's my first bokeh experience http://www.flickr.com/photos/isab3ll/6522567617/in/photostream/
December 17, 2011 06:25 am
Here's mine with a candle :) http://www.flickr.com/photos/38609585@N00/6518239701/in/photostream
December 17, 2011 04:45 am
Don't know how the name and emial address got so fouled up on my post. apologies if my fault.
Correct is above.
December 17, 2011 04:42 am
Darren, i ALWAYS love your presentations but do so greatly wish the EXIF data for the shots could be shown.
Experimenting is fun and productive but having someone else's success to start with is a big help.
December 17, 2011 04:37 am
Thanks. I enjoyed this article and photos.
Attaching two images are actually not lights but shiny gold balls on a tree at an outdoor mall. They were taken from inside a Starbucks with the tree outside in background seen through the window.
December 17, 2011 03:32 am
Love this Darren, thank you - great inspiration!
December 17, 2011 03:01 am
I'm with Rachel. Hard to get the lighting just right on my subject in the foreground. I'd like to see more of a set up for some of these shots. Where is the light source on the subjects? I understand shooting wide open on the apeture to get the bokeh really nice on the lights, however, I can't get the light source right on my subject. Turn up the ISO, equals NOT crisp, liquid images that I'm going for. frustrating. :(
December 16, 2011 07:57 pm
Excellent photos.As a complete beginner it is good to learn new things every day.Definitely I'm going to use this with my christmas tree and ....my cat.
December 16, 2011 05:23 pm
December 16, 2011 02:59 pm
This work is extra ordinary and truly appreciate able. But I want to know that which machine and lens is been used for this work?
December 16, 2011 11:55 am
Delightful! Got my wheels a turning'. Thanks
December 16, 2011 07:56 am
I had a play with a Nativity scene & a candle-bridge a couple of weeks ago with great results here! :)
December 16, 2011 07:32 am
I love, love, love this!!! I can't wait to try it out tonight. Thanks for posting not only inspirational photos, but a great variety of ideas. Thanks for posting!!!!! Great to see everyone's attempts at it too....wish me luck :)
December 16, 2011 07:23 am
Thanks so much for letting have all of this great advice you give. It means a lot to me and I would like to take this time to tell you how grateful I am for you guys just being great people. THANK YOU VERY MUCH. Merry Christmas and A safe and wonderful New Year....
December 16, 2011 07:14 am
Fantastic stufff .... here's one I tried .... nothing remotely close to the heavenly pics here .... but it's a start ....
December 16, 2011 03:50 am
These are really fantastic photos! Beautiful! This is such a great website for finding inspiration!
December 15, 2011 11:19 pm
Beautiful set of photographs. Very pretty indeed
December 15, 2011 10:28 pm
Here my attempt with a nice cold can of Mountain Dew haha
December 15, 2011 09:49 pm
Here are my last evening shots:
Thank you for the idea!
December 15, 2011 06:53 pm
simply awesome set of pictures...nice exampless! :) I have a Nikon D3100 lens- 18-55 mm...can u please help how I can take Bokeh pics with this model?... Wanna get my hands on and know how to do Bokeh sooon!..
December 15, 2011 01:52 am
Great shots and great ideas... Thank you! Bokeh and Christmas go together so well! Time for me to break out the F1.4 and get shooting!
December 14, 2011 10:05 pm
Nice article. Here is one I did
December 14, 2011 09:33 pm
Just tried this out tonight, awesome stuff!
December 14, 2011 05:19 pm
Here's my first try:
December 14, 2011 04:59 pm
very nice collections of photos.......
December 14, 2011 04:05 pm
I just happened to come across this wonderful blog that you have here about photography. I want to commend you for staying on course with your blogging ambitions, since the year 2002, and never giving up in staying the course. Keep up the good work and keep the inspiration flowing abundantly :-)
December 14, 2011 02:49 pm
This was our first try, but this picture was before this post so I am sure that it will get better.
December 14, 2011 09:18 am
Thank you for this.
I needed some inspiration for my christmas/new year card
December 14, 2011 06:43 am
Thanks for the good article! :) I love bokeh and just reading here and looking at the pics is inspiring me! :)
December 14, 2011 06:18 am
Here are some shots of mine: http://usedglass.blogspot.com/2011/12/teleporter-koln-sud.html
I like creating pictures like that. Especially with my 50mm F1.7, that creates hexagons all over the bokeh part :-D
December 14, 2011 01:43 am
Is this possible to do with a kit lens of 18-55? I think my f/ goes to 5 something usually... I won't be getting my 35mm prime f/1.8 until after Christmas but the technique is really awesome!
December 14, 2011 01:23 am
My first EVER bokeh picture!! I took it a bit before this post when I first got my first DSLR camera early December - but I thought I'd share. I really need to take another stab at this those, because there is some distraction in the picture that I think could really help the picture if removed! But I'm pretty excited it turned out on the first try!
December 14, 2011 12:47 am
This was unintentional but I really like it.
December 14, 2011 12:31 am
Very nice ! Thanks dear Darren !!!!
December 13, 2011 09:35 pm
This is a great article. I have learned so much from this site! I couldn't wait for the holiday's this year, since learning how to use my dslr in manual mode...I've been going crazy with bokeh and sparkle images.
December 13, 2011 04:52 pm
I love the bokeh effect from Christmas lights.
December 13, 2011 04:07 pm
Wow... Amazing... Time to take out the nifty-fifty :)
December 13, 2011 03:41 pm
I tried this with my daughter's ornaments from each year since she was born. I wanted to put them all together in a collage. It's easy to do except I'm having trouble lighting the ornament (20 feet away from the tree) and still have the lights bright enough. So I turned off my flash and cranked up my ISO. Even after editing in RAW and some photoshop actions I can't get my subject bright and clear. Any suggestions on how to light my subject and keep my Christmas lights in the background? Thanks.
December 13, 2011 03:33 pm
Fabulous examples and tutorial, makes me almost want to dig out my decorations and play even though we're going away for Christmas!
December 13, 2011 03:23 pm
Very interesting post ..Thanks .
December 13, 2011 03:09 pm
These picture are awesome! I'll give them a try when I get a Prime lens...
Umm...and yes...a D-SLR too.
December 13, 2011 01:42 pm
Bokeh is going to get REAL boring REAL quick.
December 13, 2011 07:06 am
Very, very pleasing selection, thanks. I particulary love the 2nd photo and the brighton clock tower.
December 13, 2011 06:37 am
I will be working with this technique this Christmas! These photos are great!
December 13, 2011 06:02 am
It's also important to remove any UV filter you have on your lens.
December 13, 2011 04:40 am
It's -5'C (23'F) outside but these pictures are making me melt! I want to try!
December 13, 2011 04:23 am
Darren, liking these very much. We're going to have a race here to see who comes up with the nicest one! Kevin's already checked out your tutorial. Thanks for sharing - inspiring little holiday fun project - perfect! x
December 13, 2011 04:20 am
Here is a bit of Fireside Bokeh
December 13, 2011 03:29 am
Thank you for choosing my "Love a good Buzz (Lightyear)" photo as an example. I found the technique easy to master and lots of fun to experiment with. While the custom cutout holder in the video is way cool, I started simple by just cutting a shape in an index card and taping it to my lens.
December 13, 2011 02:37 am
I always enjoy these type of posts. Gotta say am not sure which I enjoy the most, the mother and baby or the poor guy checking under his lights (paranoia or is the green or the blue that's not lit?).
December 13, 2011 02:24 am
Very nice! Thanks Darren!!
December 13, 2011 01:28 am
Lovely pictures, will surely give this a try sometime.
December 13, 2011 01:25 am
This is really fascinating stuff.
Because whenever we say Christmas everyone picture in their heads Santa Claus and Christmas tree.
But in few pictures above it is only lights.
December 13, 2011 01:14 am
I've already tried:
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