Want to make the most of your Holiday photographic experience? Get out those lights and gear up to take some excellent bokeh shots!
Bokeh comes from the Japanese word “boke,” meaning blur or haze. Bokeh is used to describe the out of focus part of a photograph. Bokeh, then, is a function of depth of field, which is the section of the photograph that is considered to be acceptably in focus that starts from the focal center (what you focused on) and extends in front of and behind the subject. The distance in front of and behind the subject that is considered acceptably in focus is controlled by the size of the aperture; the smaller the aperture/the bigger the number of the aperture, the larger the depth of field and vice versa. The numbers for apertures are derived from the depth of fields they represent instead of the size of the hole they make, so the largest apertures have the smallest numbers. Depth of field also depends upon the distance at which you are focusing, depth of field is a function of the distance at which you’re focused. Both of these things are going to be important for the 2 methods we are going to explore.
We are going to do two methods to get nice bokeh from your holiday lights:
- Shoot a camera with variable aperture at a very large aperture
- Use a close up/macro lens at a medium aperture)
What you’ll need: a camera with a variable aperture (fully manual or aperture priority preferable), film of any kind, a string of lights, a tripod (optional), and a cable release (optional). This also works best if you have a camera with a light meter built in or a hand-held one, but you can always try a few exposures at different settings of the same shot. A 35mm camera at f2.8 or smaller and a medium format at f4 or smaller will give you the bokeh you need. You then want to find some lights (like on a Christmas tree or some lights stapled to a board) and put them behind your subject a good distance (1m or more would be fine if you are close to your subject). Try to do this in a rather dark place, so perhaps you could flash your subject if you are using slow film, although I prefer to use faster film (800 and up) and not use flash at all. Again: small aperture, lights behind subject, focus on subject, shoot. If you need to, use the tripod and shutter release to give yourself access to slow shutter speeds. You should get results like this:
Alternately, you can always try taking photos of lights at a large aperture and as out of focus as possible and double expose over them.
What you’ll need: a camera, a macro/close up filter, film, a string of lights, a small subject, a tripod (optional, but highly recommended), and cable release (again, recommended but optional). For this method, we are going to manipulate the fact that using a macro filter artificially shortens the depth of field so much that even at larger aperture (remember: numbers, not the size of the whole), the lights even a few centimeters behind the ornaments on a Christmas tree will appear as fun circles. So, set up your camera (preferably on a tripod, slow exposures indoors are easier to do when using a Diana F+ or Holga with their close up/macro lenses), measure out the distance if you’re using a toy camera, and take your pictures. If you do it right, they will look like this: