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DIY Shaped Lights With Your Camera Bokeh

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I have a BFA in 3D animation. I'm also very interested in cinematography, editing, and web design.

Create a changeable lens tube that changes the shape of your camera's bokeh.

Create a changeable lens tube that changes the shape of your camera's bokeh.

DIY Bokeh Shapes Photography

Changing the shape of your camera's bokeh is a fun and well-known camera trick. In non-photography terms, this basically changes the shape of the light blurs or out-of-focus light sources. You can even set up your photograph with an in-focus subject in the foreground to really push the creative limits.

If you're looking for a way to add an extra touch to a music video or a photograph, creating shaped bokeh may just be what you're looking for.

The camera iris is responsible for creating the circular- or hexagonal-shaped bokeh (depending on the lens).

The camera iris is responsible for creating the circular- or hexagonal-shaped bokeh (depending on the lens).

How Does It Work?

Normally, the shape of the bokeh comes from the iris inside of your camera. This is the little gear that opens and closes to let light in. If you're using a manual lens, this is your aperture wheel. If you turn your lens around and look through the front end, you can actually see the iris open and close as you turn the aperture wheel.

In order to change the shape of the bokeh, you'll place a piece of paper over your lens with a new iris (whatever shape you have cut out of the paper), and the light sources, when out of focus, will take on that new shape. The reason why you want a low-light lens is that the piece of paper you'll be putting in front of your camera will be small and will block a lot of the light from getting into your camera, so in order to expose your image correctly, you'll need wide-open aperture, to begin with.

What Do You Need to Create the Shaped Bokeh?

In order to do this effect, you'll need a camera lens that has a low f-stop number. A DSLR camera is best, but there has been some success doing this trick on an iPhone with a lens adaptor. Try to find a lens that has an f-stop around 1.8.

Shooting with a subject in the foreground opens up the possibilities of shaped bokeh.

Shooting with a subject in the foreground opens up the possibilities of shaped bokeh.

What You'll Need

  1. DSLR camera with a low f-stop lens
  2. Pencil
  3. Scissors
  4. Tape
  5. Paper
  6. Christmas lights or lights to test out your shaped bokeh on
Rectangular strips are used to change out the shapes.

Rectangular strips are used to change out the shapes.

Creating the Bokeh Shape for Your Camera

In order to create the different shapes for your bokeh, you'll need to draw and cut out the shapes you want from a piece of dark paper. You need it to either be dark enough that light can't get through it, or you need it to be thick enough for light to not penetrate through.

If you're not good at drawing, or if you want a really crisp-looking shape, try finding those craft hole punchers. They come in all different shapes and will ensure you a professional-shaped bokeh look (I've included some to the side as an example).

Changeable Bokeh Shape Lens Tube Instructions

  1. Take your lens (with both lens caps on) and place your lens on its side against a piece of paper. You want to mark the width from one end of the lens to the other. *You could also measure the width of the lens and then use that measurement.
  2. Using a pencil, mark the width of your lens and cut out a strip of paper that is long enough to be wrapped around your lens.
  3. Wrap your strip of paper around your lens and tape the end of the strip to itself to create a tube that fits over your lens. You want it to be snug.
  4. Flip your lens over and, using your pencil, draw around your tube. This will be used to cover the top of your lens tube.
  5. Cut out the circle you measured.
  6. Find the center of the circle you just cut out and cut out a small square shape, roughly 1 cm by 1cm; depending on how big your lens is, you may have to increase the square a little.
  7. Tape your circle to the top of your tube, leaving two opposing sides untaped. You want to have room to insert a piece of paper from one end to the other so you can swap out shapes. (see pictures for clarification).
  8. Either measure the width of your untaped slit or roughly guess how big it is—it doesn't need to be exact—and cut out a long rectangle large enough to span the width of your lens and then some. Feel free to trace this and make more than one of them as you will be drawing and cutting out your shapes for your bokeh on these strips.
  9. Find the rough center of your rectangle and draw and cut out the shape you want your bokeh to be. A handy trick is to fold the rectangle in half and then cut out half of the shape you want (this will help make it more uniform.) You can also use craft hole punchers instead.
  10. Slip your rectangle into the untaped slits in your lens tube.
  11. Find some lights to test your shaped lens bokeh on! You're done.

* If you don't see your shape right away, be sure that when you're aiming your camera at lights that are out of focus.

Cokin and Lee filter holders allow you to use shapes without having to create a lens tube.

Cokin and Lee filter holders allow you to use shapes without having to create a lens tube.

Cokin Filter Systems, Lee Filter Systems, and Matte Boxes

If you have a Cokin system or any other system that allows you to use rectangular filters, you can simply use an index card cut out to the precise size of your holder. You can then cut out the shape you want in the middle of the card and position it in your holder over your lens.

This will easily let you swap out different designs without having to worry about attaching your card to your lens. Be sure to attach it close to the lens in order to cut out any light that may leak into your lens.

You may have to use thicker paper if you are having problems getting the shapes to work correctly.

Shaped Bokeh in Videos

Creating custom bokeh is not just for photographs. There are many musicians and artists that are using this camera trick to play around with their videos.

In order to properly light the scene after adding your bokeh card on top, you'll need to add a light source to your foreground subjects. This can easily be done by just adding an extra light to separate your subjects from the background or by increasing the distance between the foreground and background.


Noelle (author) from Denver on August 05, 2013:

@MJennifer - Thanks for the comment. Have fun experimenting!

Marcy J. Miller from Arizona on August 04, 2013:

What an interesting effect. I'll be trying this out when I get my camera back from repairs. Well done!

Best -- MJ

Noelle (author) from Denver on August 04, 2013:

Wow, thank you everyone for the comments and support! I'm happy to have shared what I know and to have inspired some of you to try your hand at this fun technique.

Brianna Stuart on August 04, 2013:

This is an awesome idea!

rose-the planner from Toronto, Ontario-Canada on August 04, 2013:

Congratulations on HOTD, well deserved! This is such an insightful article with easy to understand instructions. I also loved the images that you included. Thank you for sharing. (Voted Up) -Rose

Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on August 04, 2013:

Very interesting, have tot to have a go at this. Will probably try it out with my Cokin Filter system as that seems the easiest option. Voted up and congratulations on the Hub of the Day.

Anna Santos from Canada on August 04, 2013:

Hi, congrats on your HOTD! Your hub is so interesting. This is very creative indeed. I'm not into photos or cameras, but this hub makes me want to try doing it for fun! Very nice and artistic...I'd like to try it. again, congrats...

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on August 04, 2013:

Very interesting and way cool. I am sharing this with my daughter who is the real photographer in our family!!!

voted up pinned and shared

Congrats on HOTD

Angels are on the way ps

Kawika Chann from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place on August 04, 2013:

Nice job noelle - amzing effects. I especially enjoyed the video. Up/awesome/follow... and congrats on HOTD! Peace. Kawi.

Noelle (author) from Denver on July 31, 2013:

I don't have any experience using a handset camera, but if you can get your camera to show lights blurred out or out of focus, it's worth a shot. It might take some experimentation with the size of the shape and you might need some additional lights, but there's no harm in trying.

Noelle (author) from Denver on July 31, 2013:

@Natashih - Let me know how it goes! It's definitely just fun to play around with. I'm glad you liked the tutorial. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on July 31, 2013:

Can I do that on my handset camera?

Natasha from Hawaii on July 30, 2013:

I haven't played with changing my bokeh yet, but I really like your tutorial! I can get bokeh with my camera/lenses, so I could probably make shaped lights, too. I need to give it a try!