How to make more interesting portraits using front bokeh

Mar 1, 2017

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

How to make more interesting portraits using front bokeh

Mar 1, 2017

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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Most of us shoot portraits with bokeh behind the subject. But what if we reverse the position of lights and the model? In this video, photographer Mark Wallace shoots portraits with front bokeh to create more playful indoor portraits. All you need is a camera, a model and a string of Christmas lights. It’s a  simple trick and gives really good results.

This technique in a way emulates the look of being outside. It’s not exactly like this, but it does add some depth and interest to the photos. And it’s definitely fun for playing when it’s dark and cold outside. After watching the video, I tried it out myself for a few quick test shots. I made some portraits that are definitely more interesting than they would be with plain white background. And I had tons of fun, too.

YouTube video

You will need:

  • A camera with a wide aperture lens
  • A tripod
  • Christmas lights
  • A model

You can shoot with any available light. Mark used LED panels he had in the studio. I used only window light and a reflector on the opposite side of the model.

As for the lens, you should use a wide aperture lens. Mark’s is 50mm f/1.4. My camera is Nikon D7000, and I attached a 50mm f/1.8 lens (which is basically 75mm as I have a crop body and a full frame lens).

Settings

Mark sets the camera to f/1.4, 1/90 and ISO 400. Of course, your settings will depend on the lens, and the amount of light you have available. Mine were different, but more about it later. You should set the camera on a tripod to avoid camera shake, but also not to lose focus because of your own movement. Use a remote to trigger the camera. Or a self-timer, if you’re like me and you’ve left your trigger back at mom’s place.

It’s important to shoot in manual mode because you wouldn’t like your camera to automatically adjust the exposure based on bright LED lights in front of it. Also, if your camera has live view mode – use it. It will be easier.

Now that you have it all set up, you can play with the lights and shoot portraits. Move them closer to or further away from the camera, use more or less of them in the frame… It’s up to you. You can also use a Bokeh Masters Kit to create shaped bokeh. I did this with some of my photos, and considering my boyfriend was the model – I think heart-shaped bokeh is quite suitable. :)

Here are some of Mark’s photos:

And here are some of mine:

1/60 s, f/2.5, ISO 640
1/60 s, f/2.5, ISO 640
1/60 s, f/2.2, ISO 640 & Bokeh Masters Kit

Have you tried this technique before? How do you like it? Feel free to play around with it a bit, and I’d like to see your results in the comments below.

[Front Bokeh Portraits: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace | Adorama]

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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2 responses to “How to make more interesting portraits using front bokeh”

  1. Matthijs Jonker Avatar
    Matthijs Jonker

    I have been fiddling with this ’round X-mas to create attached kind of photographs. It’s a lot of fun, especially with an f1.2 lens :-) https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/00c3661f6327a8926cfb91484bc00021d68ba503f66a20ac710f0313b9c791e5.jpg

    1. Dunja0712 Avatar
      Dunja0712

      Awesome, really Christmass-y! :)