Everything You Wanted To Know About The Magical Shaped Bokeh

Shaped Bokeh is that magical thing that happens when you place a hole in-front of a lens. Then every shiny dot turns from this to that.

Regular and Shaped Bokeh

The word Bokeh comes from a Japanese word and for a lack of better translation we can refer to it as blur. In photography bokeh refers to the quality of blur in the unfocused background, and in this tutorial, Shaped Bokeh refers to a mysterious quality that happens when you place a non circular hole as a new lens filter. If you want to see some great examples you can check here and here.

Creating Your Own Bokeh

Custom Bokeh

One of the cool things about shaped bokeh is that you can create this effect at home using nothing more than a black piece of card board and an Exacto knife or a shaped puncher. You can find the full instructions for shaped bokeh here.

Everyone who tries creating their own bokeh shapes has a few similar questions:

  • How Can I make sure the hole is in the middle of the card?
  • How big should the hole be? 
  • Can I pull this off with a point and shoot?

The answers to all those questions and more can be found here. There is a bit of math involved, but nothing to a third grader can’t handle.

If you prefer to absorb all this with a video, we have that too, courtesy of make magazine.

And lastly, if you wanna better understand the relations between aperture size and how significant is the bokeh effect, you should check out this post and the video below.

Commercial Options

If you rather buy the effect than make your won there are two commercial solutions:

  • The Bokeh Masters Kit is a fun utility that is specially tailored for Bokeh lovers. it carries 21 Bokeh shapes and 8 blank disks to create your own. It also comes with a cool box to store the discs.
  • On the high end, there is Lensbaby creative aperture kit. It is mounted on the Lensbaby system so you get the soft focus and awesome tilt as part of the deal.

Shaped Bokeh In Movies and Videos

If you thought that shaped bokeh for stills rocks, wait till you see what it can do with videos.

In the last few years I am spotting more and more shaped bokeh in mainstream media like the Black Eyed Peas Just Can’t Get Enough video clip or a sneak shaped bokeh peek at Scott Pilgrim Vs The World (see video below)

But not only big movies use shaped bokeh, the ease if using this technique bought a place in the hearts (no pan intended) of your videographers and video clip directors like Relax To Paris‘s OH OH OH (below) and a dope typography clip from Light Works.

Advanced Shaped Bokeh

printing shaped bokeh on transparenciesSo, by now you are totally hooked on shaped bokeh and want to take it to the next level. No problem!

One of the things that comes up quite often is how to make mode delicate or precise holes. Of course, one way is to use scrap booking hole punchers. Yet another more creative way is to print them on transparencies.

If you plan on abusing your system, you may want to mount your shaped bokeh on a lens cap. This will keep it from folding and bending.

And if you find yourself switching lots of different shapes on the go, you should definitely consider using a strip of shapes called The Bokeh Shape O’ Matic.

Shaped Bokeh Lenses

Shaped Bokeh Lenses

It would be true to say that shaped bokeh works best with wide aperture lenses like 1.4, 1.8 and 2.8, yet with the right hole, it can be adapted to almost any lens. Unsurprisingly, the lenses that give great bokeh are the ones that work best for shaped bokeh too.

Here is the list of lenses that we found to work best.

  • The 50mm f/1.8 A.K.A the nifty fifty is by far the best bang for the buck for a lens in general and this is not different when it comes to shaped bokeh. They cost about $100-$150.
  • One step up, are the 50mm f/1.4 lenses. as with the 1.8, they provide superior sharpness and quality for shaped bokeh or otherwise.
  • Shaped bokeh will also work with zoom lenses as long as the aperture is wide enough. see the tut we posted above :)
  • Last and not least are the 85mm 1.8 lenses. Those are a bit pricier but well worth the investment.

Sharing The Bokeh Love

If you love Shaped Bokeh, help us spread the word. Mail this page to a friend, like it on Facebook, make a tweet or tumble us. (links above)

As with any DIYP project, we would love to see your work on our Flickr Group. Make sure to mention that this is a shaped bokeh pic and link to one of the tutorials above or to this link in the captions. Or just share your work in the comments.