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How to Photograph the Holiday Lights Bokeh Effect Like a Pro

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! When it comes to holiday photos, capturing blurred lights in the background is probably the prettiest effect you can achieve. The blurred background in a photo is called bokeh. Bokeh refers to the out-of-focus area of a photograph, usually created by sources of light and color behind the subject. Our tips will show you how to create your own bokeh using your holiday lights just in time for the holidays.

What you’ll need

You need to use a lens that has low aperture capabilities like the Canon Telephoto Lens from A 50mm lens is great because it allows you to go all the way down to f/1.8, and it’s typically the first lens new camera owners buy after they learn to work their camera body. Which means it’s probably on your wish list anyway, so go ahead and treat yourself to an early Christmas present…you know you want to.

How low can you go?

When choosing your camera settings, you need to go with the lowest possible aperture your camera from can achieve to create those big circle bokeh you are trying to achieve. The wider the aperture the better the bokeh. If the camera is in aperture priority mode, it will always adjust to the fastest shutter speed. If in manual mode, you’ll need to set the shutter speed manually. You’ll need to manually focus the camera so the lights are out of focus. After all, bokeh is the out of focus effect from a lens, so it makes sense that you want to defocus on the lights for this effect.

How to Photograph the Holiday Lights Bokeh Effect Like a Pro

Bokeh background 

When you want to photograph a main subject like a person or pet with the bokeh of the lights in the background, you’ll want the subject close to the camera, with the lights separated from them by some distance. By using a wide aperture, and focusing on the main subject, the lights will go out of focus. If you want more of a soft, glowing look, place the lights further back. For more definition to the shape of the lights, place them closer to the main subject.

How to Photograph the Holiday Lights Bokeh Effect Like a Pro

Tricks of the trade 

You can make the little balls of light bigger by increasing the distance between your subject and the out of focus lights in the background. Create different shaped bokeh like stars, hearts or even little snowflakes by making a little cutout ‘mask’ for your lens. You can also change the shape of your bokeh balls by experimenting with different apertures. The larger your aperture the rounder the ball. Use a slightly smaller aperture and you may find your bokeh becomes more hexagonal or octagonal. These different ways of using this bokeh technique with your holiday lights is only limited by your imagination.

How to Photograph the Holiday Lights Bokeh Effect Like a Pro  

Once you’re set up to take your shots, play around with your camera’s placement in relation to the holiday lights. Take a shot and then move a bit and take another. Play around with size and placement of the bokeh and have fun!

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