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How to: Holiday Lights Bokeh Tutorial

‘Tis the season: pine trees, ornaments, carols and jingle bells, stockings hung by the chimney with care, and Christmas light bokeh in your holiday photos. So how can you get these gorgeous orbs in your images?

Peppermint Mocha Bokeh - how to make beautiful blurry Christmas lights bokeh

How to get beautiful blurry Christmas light bokeh:

Tip 1:
Choose your lens with the largest aperture possible. You need a low aperture number which equates to a wide open aperture. f/1.4, f/1.8 is good. f/4+ is not good. I used an 85mm f/1.8 and shot at f/1.8.

Tip 2:
In order to get circles, your lens’s aperture must be at its most open. If not, you’ll get hexagons. Those are pretty, too, but a bit different. Depends on what you’re going for.

Hexagon Bokeh created with increased aperture

In this example, the aperture is f/2.8 – not all the way open at f/1.8. So the lights look hexagonical. Is hexagonical a word?

Tip 3:
The farther away your subject is from the lights, the larger the orbs will appear. If you want tiny sparkles, put your subject close to the lights. If you want big glowy orbs, pull the subject away from the light source.

Tip 4:
With a little craftiness, you can make shaped bokeh. Stars, hearts, snowflakes – anything you want. Rather than reinvent the wheel, go check out Amanda’s tutorial at Kevin & Amanda.

Now it’s your turn!


On Thursday, I will be having a Holiday Bokeh linky party! The linky goes up on Thursday (late Wed at midnight central!). You have a few days to practice and get those Bokeh shots ready. Anything is game – Menorah Lights, Christmas tree lights, pick your poison!

Sweet Shot Tuesday will run as usual this week, but Thursday’s linky is created just for you to show off your lights.

Here is a post-sized graphic for you to use in your blogs. Feel free to invite your friends to participate.

boken party at http://my3boybarians.com

See you there!


  1. Hi. Found you through Amanda’s site. Love your white bokeh shots. Thanks for the how-to. 🙂

  2. I’m going to try this with 3 kids in the picture. I’m shooting with my 50mm so i need to keep usually around f/4. Would this work to keep kids in focus and give bokeh effect?


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