DIY Photography Hacks: make custom bokeh shapes and get creative with blur

How to make a bokeh portrait

Get creative with your photography and learn how to make your own custom bokeh shapes by making your own template at home. Our latest DIY Photography Hacks series post shows you a quick and inexpensive way to produce fun and exciting background blur effects.


The word ‘bokeh’ comes from the Japanese word ‘boke’ meaning blur or haze. This photography slang term relates to the aesthetic quality of the out-of-focus areas of an image, which in turn is determined by the way the lens renders those areas.

In this tutorial we’re going to show you how to create your own custom bokeh shapes, by making a template that fits over your lens. To do this you’ll need nothing more than some card and an elastic band.

We’ll guide you through the process of drawing and cutting out the template, and fixing it over your lens. We’ll then show you how to compose a subject with a backdrop of fairy lights, which will look really striking when blurred. Finally we’ll show you how to set up your camera to capture the bokeh effect.

Step by step how to make custom bokeh shapes

1. Draw your custom Bokeh shape


Place your lens on the card, and draw around it with a pencil. Next, draw a shape in the middle of the circle to create the desired bokeh effect – we’re using a heart shape. You need to keep the shape fairly small – roughly the size of a penny.

2. Fit the bokeh shape template over your lens


Next, draw a larger circle outside the first circle, so that the custom bokeh template will overlap the front of the lens like a cap. Using a cutting blade, carefully cut out the heart, and then cut around the outer circle. Fit the card over the lens, and fasten it in place with an elastic band.

3. Set up the backdrop

Hang up a dark piece of material for your backdrop – we hung ours over a radiator. Next, arrange the fairy lights in front the backdrop, making sure they’re evenly spread out. Place a small table 4-5ft in front of the backdrop to place your foreground object on. Close the curtains to darken the room.

4. Set up your camera

Set your camera to Manual mode, set Quality to Raw, and set the ISO to 100 for noise-free images. Open up the aperture as wide as it will go – we set ours to f/1.4, which gave us a shutter speed of 1/80 sec. A flashgun produced too much light, so we used our on-body fl ash. Set your lens to Autofocus, focus on your foreground object, and start shooting.

Final Tips!

– A good bokeh effect requires a wide aperture, ideally f/2.8. Prime lenses are great for this technique as they tend to be faster lenses. Position your camera as close to the subject as it will focus and the greater distance between the foreground and background, the more the lights will blur and the greater the effect will be.

– By using multi coloured fairy lights you’ll get a much more colourful and fun effect. If you use white fairy lights you can adjust the colours in Photoshop CS or Elements with a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. See below…


Play around with the colours – You can change the look and feel of your bokeh image using a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer in Photoshop.

To change the colours of your image, add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, and select a colour from the menu above the sliders so that only those tones in the image are altered – for our image we chose Blue. Now simply drag the Hue slider to adjust the colour; you can also adjust the strength of the colour using the Saturation slider. Alternatively, you can leave the menu set to Master, so colours throughout the image are altered, then adjust the sliders to suit. You can also graduate the effect to combine the altered colours with the image’s original colours. To do this, select the Gradient tool, click Edit, select Foreground to Transparent and click OK. In the Options bar select Linear, and set Mode to Normal and Opacity to 100%, and check the Transparency box. Target the mask by clicking its thumbnail, and draw gradients of differing lengths and directions on the mask to partially reveal the colour change.



DIY Bokeh – Destroy it yourself!

If arts and crafts aren’t your strong point, you can buy ready-made pre-cut bokeh shapes. The ‘Better Bokeh Kit’ consists of 24 bokeh discs in a wide variety of designs for every occasion, and comes with both a universal lens mount and a ‘P’-series adaptor for use with filter holders. See for details. The same company also manufactures an‘ Immature Bokeh Kit’ with rather cruder designs – you have been warned! See


Read more…

Make a fake bokeh effect in Photoshop Elements

Make the ultimate bokeh portrait