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Create Photos with Heart Shaped Bokeh

by Erin Peloquin on August 7, 2010 · 6 comments

Nighttime Photography is the latest class hosted by Austin Photography Workshops that I’ve participated in.  I love it and have learned lots of juicy tidbits about getting great shots at night, some of which I’ll share next week.

The lights at night have so far been my favorite subject for photographing, and this past week I tried something new.

Ok, so clearly my technique needs a little work, but I really love this idea.  Here’s what I did:

  • I cut circular pieces of black poster board and black foam that were exactly the same size as the UV filter I leave on my 50mm lens.
  • Punched shapes into the poster or foam
  • Placed this new filter snugly inside a 2nd UV filter, which I put on top of my normal UV every time I wanted this bokeh in a shot.  Essentially, I had a sandwich with my bokeh filter between two UV filters.
  • I used my largest aperture lens, which is my 50 mm f/1.4.

These are good resources for more info:

  • The first one, here at Pompo Bresciani Photography, suggests starting by cutting a hole in an extra lens cap.  I tried this, but it was just too much work.  My Exacto knife didn’t stay hot long enough to make more than a tiny hole in the cap.  However, I think with a more sophisticated tool, this would be the best method.
  • DIY Photography illustrates a different technique for making the filter.

The problem for me with the paper filter taped onto the lens is that I didn’t want all my images to have this bokeh, and it wasn’t practical to walk around on a shoot taping and untaping a filter from my lens.  This is why I like the idea of a lens cap with the filter cut into it.  Not being able to manage that, I decided to use poster board or black foam (like you see everywhere kids make arts & crafts these days) to make a filter that fits snugly into my UV filter.

I like the durability of the foam filter, but the foam was too thick to fit into my heart punch.  So I made the heart filter out of poster board and the star filter from foam.

The other supply I needed was a punch – your shapes have to be perfectly crisp to make this bokeh work.  I bought a medium sized heart and a tiny star. As far as the sizes go, you might try something like this for the heart and this for the star.  My star was much too small.

These punches that you make in your filter are actually creating new apertures for your lens.  So, the smaller it is, the more you are going to have to rely on long shutter speeds and high ISO to bring light in.  The hole needs to be as large as possible, but remember that the filter won’t work if it’s too big.  That’s where this DIY Photography tutorial came in.

One of the hardest things about using this method was getting the focus right. Part of my problem was using a double UV filter stack.  I learned to clean the UV filter after changing from the star to the heart because I got lots of finger smudges from switching them out.  This is why I’d prefer to use the lens cap method, once I figure out which tools I need.

Another thing to for me to do better next time would be to focus on a subject as close to me as possible, with the lights I want for Bokeh as far away as possible.  That will help in getting great bokeh as well as great focus on the subject. Keep in mind that this bokeh will only appear in the parts of the image that are out-of-focus.

I also think that this technique isn’t perfect for really low light situations.  Obviously, you need enough darkness so that lights “glow”, but you also need to have good lighting on your subject.  I’m thinking that little holiday lights in a room with just-before-sunset light might be great.  Can’t wait for the holidays to try it!

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

TJ McDowell August 16, 2010 at 10:13 pm

So I’m pretty sure you’re trying to get results similar to what a lens-baby lens would do, but in a shape that you define. Interesting idea. I guess if all else fails, this should be relatively simple in Photoshop, right?

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Trina November 14, 2010 at 8:41 pm

I have seen these bokeh kits for a few months now and haven’t bought one. I like the idea of DIY and I think I will make a couple of these tomorrow! Thanks for sharing :)

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Marie March 23, 2012 at 9:55 am

My husband and I spent an evening constructing this out of black construction paper. It was marvelously fun playing with it along with a strand of Christmas lights.
Great idea! Thank you!!!

So love your blog. <3<3<3

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Erin March 23, 2012 at 10:52 am

So glad you enjoyed it!

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aimeeberrett October 9, 2012 at 12:47 pm

My only question is how do you do this without changing the frame of the picture to be the same heart shape instead of the normal circle. I don’t have my camera with my right now, but I tried making a lens with a heart in the middle on a cheap camera at work and it just made a heart shape around the edges, granted I couldn’t figure out how to lower the aperture but it is a DSLR camera and it was at 3.8 which isn’t very high, and it didn’t change the shape of any lights. I really want to figure this out. I think it would be AWESOME for christmas tree photos.

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bhavin November 15, 2012 at 9:52 pm

Hi. I tried this DYI on sony dsc-hx200v but was not able to get anything. My photo was just like a heart frame where everything inside a heart is visible and outside is black. Please tell me what am I missing. Thanks.

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