I absolutely love this time of the year. All of the lights, the greenery, the berries...it just makes me happy and it gets my creative juices flowing. I love taking pictures of the holiday decorations and documenting the changes to our home over the years.
One of my favorite things to capture is Christmas bokeh. Do you know what that is? One of my wittiest students asked me once, "How do you get those dazzle balls?" After I got done laughing, I realized she was talking about those beautiful balls of light that you see in the background. That's called bokeh (or dazzle balls as it will forever be known to me!)
The Urban Dictionary defines it as "a trick in photography where one part of the photo is in focus and the rest isn't, so attention is drawn to the subject. That out-of-focus area is called bokeh."
Christmas Bokeh step-by-step
It is really quite easy to create Christmas bokeh. There are three things to think about when you are trying to do this. 1) Your aperture, 2) your distance to the subject, and 3) how far your subject is from the background.
Let's take a look at the following example. I am using an ornament but substitute this ornament for anything (your child standing in front of the tree, your pet, a favorite decoration...anything.)
1) Set your aperture
Shoot in Aperture Priority mode (Av for Canon, A for most everything else on your dial.) Turn the dial until the number gets to the smallest number that it will go to on your lens. For example, if you have an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, want you to zoom in to 55mm and lower the aperture to f/5.6 (the dial will not go lower than this when it is zoomed in to 55mm.) If you are using a 50mm f/1.8 lens, I want you to turn the dial to f/1.8 (this will be different for everyone based on what lens you are using, the idea is to go to the lowest number you can go to.)
In this example, I am using my Sony A7rii camera with a Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 lens. I zoomed in to 75mm and turned my dial down to f/2.8.
2) Check your distance to the subject
To get closer you can do 1 of 2 things. You can physically move closer to your subject (with a 50mm prime lens, you literally have to zoom with your feet...as in walk closer or walk further away,) OR you can zoom in closer to your subject.
In my particular case, I guess you could say I am doing both because I am zoomed in to 75mm AND I am physically close because this lens allows me to focus quite close to the subject. Again, lenses will vary. I say get as close as your camera will allow you to focus to start with and then experiment until you get the look you want.
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3) separate your subject from the background
Many times, when my students try to create blurry backgrounds, they are stumped because they have their aperture set really low but the background is not blurry. 99% of the time, it is because there is no distance between the subject and the background. The further away from the background, the MORE blur that you will get. To create Christmas bokeh, make sure that you aren't placing your subject right next to the tree.
Envision that you are taking a photo of your kids on Christmas. You stick them right up next to the tree. You might get a cute shot, but you probably won't get any Christmas tree bokeh. They need to be further away from the tree.
4) purposefully go out of focus
One thing that is really fun to do is to put your lens in manual focus mode. To do this, most lenses have a switch AF (autofocus) and MF (manual focus.) Just switch it to manual focus. On my Sony, this has to be done in the menu. If you don't have a switch on your lens, check your menu to see if you have to do it there. If you still can't figure it out, google "how do I manually focus my <insert lens make/model here.> I guarantee you, someone has made a YouTube video on the subject.
Point it at your tree (or any Christmas lights) and turn the dial. Watch the Christmas bokeh get bigger and smaller depending on how out of focus you make it. This is a fun way to get the shape of the tree just in lights. Or you can just play around and get cool light balls (there's those dazzle balls again!) Play around, have fun, and be creative.
steps to Christmas Bokeh
Need help shooting in low light? Download my free "Low Light Getting Started Guide." It will give you a starting point, then walk you through your settings based on whether the photo is too dark or too light.
Andrea Ferenchik, Founder
Andrea started The Big Girl School because she loves sharing her passion of photography with other women. As a former trainer at Microsoft and current professional photographer, she has the unique ability to break down technical jargon of the camera into easy to understand language. She loves nothing more than to see her students grow and thrive in their photographic journey.
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