How To Photograph Shaped Light Bokeh

Do you love photographing the lights of Christmas?

The blurred look in the background of a photo is called bokeh. Adding twinkle lights gives bokeh a unique, artistic look. Your camera’s aperture determines the size of the circular light effect. The wider your aperture (smaller the  f/ number), the larger the circle of light.

Christmas tree bokeh


Create the best bokeh by using:

  • A wide aperture (small f/ number)
  • Distance between your subject and the lights; the greater the distance the larger the bokeh circles will be.
  • A longer focal length (the mm number on your lens)

The more lights, the more glowing circles you will have. Multi-colored lights work especially well.

Get even more creative by creating shaped bokeh! A black piece of paper and a few easy steps are all you need!



Create Shaped Bokeh

  1. With your black paper, cut a circle about  3 inches larger than your lens. You want to have enough to fold it around the lens.
  2. Using a craft knife, cut a heart no larger than 1/2 inchin the center of the circle. You want the heart to be smaller than the size of your camera’s aperture.
  3. No craft knife? You can also fold the paper circle in half, cut half a heart, then reopen the circle. A paper punch can work as well.
  4. In manual mode expose for your subject, using spot metering. You will need to then overexpose one stop, as the paper will block some of the light into your lens. You can also give this a try inaperture priority mode.
  5. Using Auto Focus (AF), push the shutter halfway down to focus on your subject.
  6. Switch your lens to Manual Focus (MF).
  7. Place the black paper over the front of your lens. Secure it with a rubber band , tape, or hair scrunchy. Center the heart.
  8. Shoot!


You can also purchase a Bokeh Masters Kit with several fun shapes included.


Have fun! Link your results!



  1. I’ve been struggling with this, but determined to conquer! Even after the community has advised I’m no closer to being successful. Thank you for the article maybe this is just what I need. I’m excited to give shape bokeh another try. Yay!

  2. Melissa Eisenhauer

    I love this idea. I have been wanting to try it. This helps me a lot.

  3. Here is a video demo of this technique at DPS. I DO like your hairband idea to attach it. Much easier! I will try it tonight — if it works, tomorrow night I’ll use it at my friend’s house. She’s having me over to photograph all her Christmas decorations. Thanks Katrina!

  4. So cool! I’ve never seen that done! Love it!

  5. Thanks for sharing. I remember reading about the shape technique before but couldn’t remember how to do it.
    I did achieve a similar look by holding some holiday glasses in front of me lens. They look like 3d glasses, but change light into shapes. You can see the picture here:


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