ok ok… so its 3 days before Christmas and you still haven’t gotten that beautiful shot of your kiddos with the blurred Christmas lights… look no farther! I’m going to share some SUPER easy tips to help you achieve this image so you can remember these moments forever. Christmas is one of my absolute favorite times of year…. the crafting, the wrapping, the baking.. everything festive (i’ve been listening to Christmas music since wayyyy before Thanksgiving!). The first photo Christmas card we sent out was my son snoozing in front of some lights with that beautiful bokeh.. and it continues to be one of my all time favorite photos of him!
(full disclosure – this image of Leo was taken by my forever photo bestie Lindsey – in her FIRST ever lesson to me on what the heck i was doing…but i just had to share its cute-ness!)
Comparison images in this post are straight out of the camera (or phone!) – no editing at all so you can see the importance of getting it right in camera to get the look that you’re going for.
so first things first… what is BOKEH!? according to Wikipedia, bokeh is “the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image produced by a lens. so basically is the beautiful blur created in the out of focus parts of your image, while the subject of your image is in sharp focus. This ‘bokeh’ and out of focus foreground or background is best achieved with a dSLR lens and my favorite lens to use for it is the my 50mm f/1.8…. BUT… you can even get this kind of image with your iphone! I am going to tell you with 100% certainty that you will be happier with the dSLR, but it can definitely be done with your iphone (especially the new portrait mode). So here we go….
Tip #1 : choose your lens with a low f-stop – when I am trying to obtain some beautiful creamy bokeh i will shoot wide open at f/1.4 or f/1.8. As long as you are able to nail your focus point this will give you the creamiest background. I prefer my 50mm f/1.8 but have used my 85mm f/1.8 as well… If you’re not using your dSLR then you’re choosing your iphone and you don’t have an option for a different lens! so lets move on.
Settings: f/1.8, SS 1/200, ISO 1250 — notice how much bigger the lights look in this one compared to below!
settings: f/5.0, SS 1/125, ISO 3200. Both images are a big dark for my liking – but you can see the affect of the aperture on the image.
Tip #2: the placement of your subject is SUPER important!!!! The farther they are away from the Christmas tree (or lights), and the closer to your camera, the more bokeh you will see. So put your subject close to you – and leave some space between them and the tree. If they are right next to the tree you will notice many of the lights will be smaller or more in focus since your subject is so close to it!
LOOK at the difference from the above images to when i got much closer to my subject… those lights are huge, and she is still in focus!! Settings here were: f/1.8 SS 1/200 ISO 3200
Tip #3: practice with an inanimate object before forcing your children into the frame!!! perfect the shot THEN bring them in. When I was learning how to play around with christmas light bokeh I often used my cup of coffee on a table. Move the cup closer to you and father from you and see how it changes the image. Play around with your f-stop… notice the difference between f/1.8 and f/6 (take the same shot… exposed correctly of course so you’ll have to adjust your ISO or SS when you increase your aperture) and actually SEE the difference! There’s no better way to learn than to understand how you changed settings on your camera to achieve the look that you want. The other thing that is really fun with Christmas light bokeh is taking an intentionally out of focus image… the lights on the tree look huge, and you can see the shape of the tree without haven’t any subject distinctly in focus.
and Tip # 4 (for iphone users!): if you have portrait mode – use it!!! In the editing you’re able to adjust your aperture AFTER take the shot so you can play around with that. Use the same tips as above – make sure your subject is placed correctly, and make sure that you are exposed for your subject and focusing on your subject (so click the face of your subject to get that right). it is a little bit trickier with your phone because you don’t have completely control of settings as you do with a dSLR, but you can still get your bokeh as shown below from my iphone!!!
these last 2 images were both shot on my iphone. When you are trying to get an entire subject in the portrait you will definitely have more of a struggle achieving that bokeh – but it can be done… if you have a bid space just pull your subject away from the tree enough to get them close to you! If you have portrait mode on your phone definitely take advantage of it… it doesn’t take the place of dSLR but it will help you get the creamier look than in regular mode.
Thats what I’ve got for today!!!! Hope this was helpful for you all – i would LOVE to see what you are able to do with Christmas light bokeh this year – grab your kiddos, heck grab a glass of wine and play around – and send me your attempts!! I’m happy to guide in any way I can so that you can snap your perfect shot of the kiddos in front of the tree, or even better decorating it or snuggling next to it!!!
In 2019 I’ll be offering some more classes to learn how to take control of your dSLR, and am also offering 1:1 mentoring… as a mom I KNOW how important it is to capture these moments (even the ones when they are driving me bonkers!!!!!), they grow up WAY too fast… and all of a sudden i’m here celebrating my sons SEVENTH Christmas… its insane. So don’t wait – take control, take the photos… and by all means… print them.