Aperture Mask: The Many Faces of Bokeh

Aperture Mask: The Many Faces of Bokeh


One of our regular readers, Lee Hancock, emailed me this week to show me a technique (Aperture Mask) that he’d been playing with. I asked if he’d like to write up a quick tip on the topic here on the blog – below is what he’s kindly submitted.


First and foremost I’d like to clarify that I’m fairly new to photography, at least anything beyond your typical point and shoot. Aside from DPS most of my knowledge comes from what I’ve seen posted on Flickr. I’ve found solace in displaying my progress and receiving critiques of various new techniques I’ve picked up along the way.


The other day I came across pictures with a very unusually shaped bokeh. Hearts, stars, crosses, even mushrooms.

After a little searching I found the effect was achieved by using what’s called an aperture mask.

It’s literally nothing more than a piece of cardstock with a shape cut out of it. Placed on the end of a lens with a fairly large aperture you get a wonderful effect.

There are numerous write-ups on the elements at play here so I don’t want to take any attention away from them by simply rewriting their work. I did however want to bring this technique to the attention of the DPS readers and see what kinds of interesting shots we can come up with.

You can see two of my attempts at this Aperture Mask technique above and below.


Learn more about Aperture Mask at Create Your Own Bokeh and The Aperture Mask Project.

See more of Lee’s work on Flickr.

We’d love to see some of your Aperture Mask shots in the forum.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • kyun October 25, 2008 08:31 am

    I remember seeing this technique explained in a Korean TV show a few years ago. A lot of people were shooting photos of a bridge at night, and nice results came out with all the heart shaped bokehs of the lights coming out of the bridge.

  • leorolim October 22, 2008 10:47 am

    Forgot the link :(


  • leorolim October 22, 2008 10:47 am

    Tried hard and failed lots of times ;)

    But I managed it :D

  • Udi October 18, 2008 02:00 am

    Hi Darren,
    Thanks for the link in. This is a favorite method of mine for a long time.
    There is another post Removing The Mystery From The Heart Shaped Bokeh Thing that provides several tips on this technique and reveals some of the principles behind it

  • Brett Dickson October 17, 2008 08:47 pm

    For all those people who own a SLR with a 50mm prime lens, this technique works really well.

    Here is an example of mine: http://www.flickr.com/photos/brettdickson/2898496458/

    Some important points to remember when creating the mask:
    * Make sure the pattern is centred on the lens
    * Make sure the pattern is not too large for the lens
    * Add tabs to the edge of the mask that you fold back over the lens and hold in place either by hand or with a rubber band

  • paul saulnier October 17, 2008 08:43 pm

    yup ...im interested ...damn you ..now i have to try it ..it gave me an idea for my flickr shots at night ...thanks ....might try this weekend if weather permits me

  • Dasoar October 17, 2008 01:42 pm

    Thank you so much ! This seems like a great idea. Time to make use of those itty bitty paper punches my children use for crafts.

    All the best,

  • PRH October 17, 2008 01:38 pm

    I've seen this technique before and I've always been impressed with the results. I never tried it myself so always thought the the aperture shape had to be bigger. It looks like you can buy a cheap decorative card punch like the ones for scrapbooking to get a neatly cut shape.

    Love the images

  • Brian Mauter October 17, 2008 01:37 pm

    I think this is very cool. I've already given it a try:

    Cool article.

  • Jenny Stewart October 17, 2008 10:22 am

    Wow! What a neat idea! Keep up the great work!

  • Jared October 17, 2008 04:35 am

    OH WOW!
    This is incredible, my mind has just been melted.
    I'm trying this today. I just hope it will work with my f3.5
    Otherwise i might have to mug some old ladies to get me a prime. :).. kidding of course

    brilliant.. thanks for this.

  • Natalie Norton October 17, 2008 04:34 am


  • Jamie October 17, 2008 04:25 am

    That's really really cool and such a simple technique!

    I'm going to have a shot at this myself later on.

  • scott October 17, 2008 03:58 am

    I have used this in the past, but a lot more subtle. See this example for adding hearts to an image:

  • Joe Tech October 17, 2008 03:24 am

    This is perfect. Just in time for the wedding I'll be photographing Saturday.

  • Nick Watts October 17, 2008 03:08 am

    Great technique and tip, thanks! Simple, fun and inexpensive - I'll have to try this some time.

  • Erik J. Barzeski October 17, 2008 12:53 am

    Yeah, a friend and i wrote that up a year ago, and we based our writeup on something we'd seen by a guy in Japan.


  • Rick Hanzlik October 17, 2008 12:13 am

    Interesting effect. I think I'd like to experiment with this on some of my snow shots this winter. Thanks for the idea.