Analogue Girl About Town: DIY Filters for Bokeh Shapes


This week on Analogue Girl About Town, I thought I’d show you some of the nighttime bokeh photos I’ve taken of the LA skyline from some of the best spots in the city and write a tutorial on how to make homemade bokeh filters.

No one in my family loves the holidays more than I. I get all festive crazy, offering to wrap everybody’s presents, singing Christmas songs at the top of my lungs in the car, and even re-watching Love Actually and reruns of A Charlie Brown Christmas on TV. As soon as the holidays are over, my thoughts turn to the next one so I could do it all over again.

Pretty much anything that has to do with Christmas, I get excited about. So when I saw that festive article about bokeh shapes by hannah_brown just before Christmas, I was over the moon and has since been obsessing about them. And rightly so as they’re not only festive, they’re also obviously fun and just so damn adorable.

Christmas is long over (I cannot believe we have to wait an entire year!) but I’m still constantly thinking of different ways (check this and this out) to use this awesome technique. So, while I’m sure a number of tipsters (see here and here) on making bokeh shapes have already been published here, I thought I’d use my series to write my own little tipster and share how I make my bokeh filters with you wonderfully creative bunch. After all, this series is called ANALOGUE Girl About Town and homemade bokeh filters are as analogue as they get.

However, since this series is essentially about Los Angeles, I thought I’d show you first some of the nighttime bokeh photos I’ve taken of the LA skyline from some of the best spots in the city so that next time you’re in LA, you’ll know where to go for those scenic views!

View of the east end of the Valley from North Sunset Canyon Drive in Burbank
Famous view of Los Angeles from Griffith Park
This is one of my favorite views of downtown LA from the overpass on Figueroa and 2nd.
One of the favorite haunts of photographers in LA, which offers a great view downtown LA, is the DWP Building.
Gorgeous view of LA at the end of Buena Vista View Drive in Elysian Park
View of the freeway and the distant downtown LA from the bridge over Arroyo Seco Historic PKWY
San Fernando Valley at night from the Universal City Overlook on Mulholland Drive

And now that you’ve gotten a crash course on the best overlooks in Los Angeles, let’s get on with the tutorial.

We will, of course, need a few cheap materials for this project before we start:

  • Black construction paper
  • Ruler
  • Pencil for tracing
  • A film camera with a 50mm lens and a very large aperture (f/1.7, f/2, or f/2.8)
  • Paper hole punches with different shapes (I’ve seen cupcake-, cake-, and rubber duck-shaped holes!), which you can get for less than $5 each at Arts and Crafting stores like Michael’s (one of the best places on earth!)
  • A pair of scissors
  • Any kind of tape that won’t leave a mess on our precious lenses

Now that we have everything we need, let’s get started.

  1. The first and most important thing you have to do for this project is to find out exactly how big you can make your filter hole. Remember that if you make it too big, it may not work.
  2. So, before you go crazy and buy all those cute paper punches (trust me, they are irresistible!) at the store, you need to calculate first the right diameter of the hole. Yes, calculate. Don’t worry. I won’t be giving you a complicated College Algebra equation.
    Just take your lens, find out it’s largest aperture, and then divide its focal length with its largest aperture to get the right diameter (FOCAL LENGTH / LARGEST APERTURE = RIGHT DIAMETER). For example, I am using a 50mm lens and setting the aperture to 1.7 so the right diameter for my hole is 29.41.
    50mm / 1.7 = 29.41
    Easy enough right? Once you have your diameter, you can go ahead and buy your paper punches. Just make sure that the hole your paper punch makes fits into that diameter.
  3. Now get your construction paper and your lens. Turn your lens upside down so that its front is facing the paper and then carefully trace its shape with a pencil. When you’re done, draw 3 tabs on the outside of the circle. These tabs will later on help hold the filter in place when it’s attached to the lens. Cut the circle along with the tabs. This will now serve as your filter!
  4. It’s now time to make the filter hole. Using a ruler, find the filter’s center then punch a hole in it using your fancy paper punch! I am using a butterfly hole punch and a leaf hole punch for this project. What are you using? By the way, congratulations! You’ve just made your very own bokeh shape filter! Yay!
  5. Finally, slap that awesome filter onto your lens. To attach and secure it to your lens, tape it on the lens over those three tabs that you made earlier. If you’re using an SLR, you will immediately see those circular bokehs magically transform into whatever shape you chose!

So now, there’s nothing left to do but go out into the night and take your new filter out for a test drive! I’m sure you will have so much fun! I know I did!

All photographs by Michelle Rae. She lives, breathes, and haunts in the City of Angeles.

written by blueskyandhardrock on 2013-01-23 #gear #tutorials #diy #analogue #project #nighttime #skyline #los-angeles #filter #bokeh #tipster #city-lights #shapes #christmas #night-photography #overlook #analogue-girl-about-town


  1. dida
    dida ·

    love your series Analogue Girl About Town ;)

  2. blueskyandhardrock
    blueskyandhardrock ·

    Thank you @dida! You're so wonderful!

  3. mafiosa
    mafiosa ·

    Great. Thank you for listing the locations. The next time I'm in LA, I will be sure to visit these areas. I also appreciate your formula for the diameter. Is it possible that the diameter can be too small? I think that may have been my problem when I attempted this technique, but failed, at Christmas.

  4. blueskyandhardrock
    blueskyandhardrock ·

    Thank you, @mafiosa! I'm glad to share them. I hope you can visit these locations soon. Let me know when you come, we can go for a nighttime lomo walk!

    I have thought about the possibility of the diameter being too small but I haven't really tested it. I think that maybe the bokehs would be too small that they would just come out looking like regular lights???

  5. sobetion
    sobetion ·

    Wowwwwwww!! Thank for great technique :D

  6. stonerfairy
    stonerfairy ·

    WOW!! Will try this for sho!

  7. totodile
    totodile ·

    this is the best custom bokeh guide here!

  8. kissa310
    kissa310 ·

    Hi! I want to do some bokeh with my Diana F+, how can I do it? because as far as I know its apertures are approximately f11, f16, f22, f150; hope ypu can help me! =)

  9. blueskyandhardrock
    blueskyandhardrock ·

    @kissa310 bokeh shots are mostly achieved with bigger apertures - I would say f/5.6 would be the minimum to achieve good results, unfortunately. so I would say that the Diana wouldn't be the best camera to do it. but you should still go ahead and try it - use the Sunny aperture (since it's the biggest) and just follow the instructions in my article ;)

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