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How to create heart shaped bokeh

So you want to create heart (or star, or any other) shaped bokeh with your camera? Then you’ve come to the right place, because that’s exactly what I’m going to teach you in this blog post. Surely it is possible to add such bokeh to your photos with post processing, but that’s not the same anymore.

Take a look at the video below to see how bokeh works on my camera, and see what you will be able to achieve with this tutorial.

Creating bokeh with your camera

To be able to create heart shaped bokeh, first you need to learn how to create bokeh with your camera.

Bokeh bubbles created from fairy lights

What you’ll need to create bokeh with your camera

You will need the following things to create bokeh with your camera:

A camera

I own a Nikon D5200, but you can use any camera that allow you to attach a lens on. Probably it is also possible to do this with a smartphone, but since I have not tried that, I don’t promise anything.

A lens that has either large focal length or small f/ number

There are two things that create bokeh – a wide open aperture (small f number) and large focal length. If you have the latter one, you need to take in mind that you’ll have to be more far away from your subject to have it fit in the frame (since large focal length means that the camera have zoomed in). The advantage of the first option (small f number) for lenses with 50mm focal length and less – is that you can get pretty close to the subject and have the subject fit in the frame nicely.

For this experiment I use a Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G lens, which gives me bokeh thanks to the small f number.

Fairy lights (or any other Christmas lights)

To make bokeh bubbles, you will need a light source.

I use fairy lights, but you can use any other Christmas lights that you own.

Your subject

The main and most important thing – your subject that you want to be framed with your bokeh bubbles.

I used heather that I had recently picked from nearby forests. I placed them on the windowsill to have some natural light shining into the frame from outside. I used curtains to set up the background behind the vase (you can see that in the result photo).

How to achieve big bokeh bubbles

There’s one main thing you need to know – the more out-of-focus the lights are – the more blurred they will be, therefore the bigger the bokeh bubbles will be.

For the bokeh to be more noticeable, you need a shallow depth of field. You can achieve that by setting your f number to the lowest (f/1.8 in my case) and by zooming in to the max (if you have a zoom lens).

If you focus on something further away – everything in the foreground will be blurred, so place your lights there.

If you focus on something close to your camera, and you have free space behind the subject (a room, for example), then place your lights in the background, as far away as possible. The longer the distance from the subject and lights – the bigger the lights will be.

Don’t be afraid to experiment to fully understand how the bokeh gets created. Place the lights close to your lens, place them in the background. Focus on close subjects, or focus on something further away.

If you’re new to manual mode (and changing the settings manually), you can take a look at the manual photography guide for beginners that I have created.

Changing shape of the bokeh to heart

Now that you understand how you can create the bokeh with your camera, the next step is to understand how to change the shape. Your camera’s sensor and lens is round, which therefore makes the shape of your bokeh – which is round. To alter the shape, you need to change the shape through which the camera sees the subject. And you’ll need a paper, pen and scissors for that.

Cut out your shape

Take a square-shaped paper, fold it in half (to find the center) and draw a heart. Afterwards cut out the shape to have a heart shaped hole in the center. See the photos below on how I did that.

Apply the shape

To apply the cutout, place the paper at the end of your lens. I used a rubber band to hold it in place, but you can also use adhesive tape.

Take in mind that the paper needs to be near the glass of your lens. I made a mistake with this experiment by placing the paper this way, because my lens does not have the glass at the end of the lens, rather than a couple of cm inside. Making this mistake will have the paper ruin your photo by adding a hazy overlay and reduced clarity all over the photo that’s quite challenging to fix with editing.

The result

In the result you should have the bokeh in your desired shape with your chosen subject. In my case it’s heart shaped bokeh. Take a look at my result below.

In case parts of your hearts get cut off, you have made the cutout too large. I didn’t get the right size at first too, so prepare multiple papers to find the right cutout size. 🙂

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