Everyone wants to be able to capture sparkling bokeh circles (also known as bokeh balls) when they first start shooting because being able to do so skilfully will make your photos appear more professional. However, there are probably still quite a number of people who haven’t mastered how to do so. Here, I will introduce 4 simple steps that could help you create bokeh circles with ease. (Reported by studio9)
Creating bokeh circles is actually a cinch!
The appeal of a DSLR is in being able to create a large blur when shooting. With some thoughtful devising, you too can create sparkling bokeh circles (bokeh balls) with ease!
An example of this is the photo above that shows a camellia illuminated by the setting sun. Simply follow the 4 steps that I will introduce here to easily create brilliant bokeh circles like these.
The bokeh circles have been circled out as shown. They make the photo seem to sparkle, and are a photographic effect that anyone would want to capture at least once.
Anyone with a DSLR can shoot such a picture without having to prepare any special tools or expensive equipment.
Step 1: Look for ‘sparkle spots’
Bokeh circles are actually sparkling points of light. By creating a large blur when shooting such a light source, you can create a jewel-like bokeh effect. That’s why it’s most important to start by looking for areas that sparkle. Without such ‘sparkle spots’, even the most experienced professionals would not be able to create bokeh circles.
Possible sparkle spots close to you could be a waterfront on a sunny day, or leaves that are illuminated by the setting sun. Try finding a place that reflects sunlight and is sparkling from it.
The area circled out in the foreground is where the water’s surface is glittering. Look out for such locations.
The leaves of the flowers glitter when they are hit by the setting sun, which also results in bokeh circles.
On a bright sunny day, sparkle spots are waiting to be discovered wherever you go, so observe your surroundings carefully.
Because you’re looking for the reflection of sunlight, it is a good idea to search while facing the sun to find places that appear backlit. If you face away from the sun, you will have trouble finding such areas.
Step 2: Set the smallest f-number
Once you have found a sparkle spot, all that’s left to do is to create a blur! The larger the blur you create, the larger the bokeh circles.
To create a larger blur, set the smallest f-number. Select Aperture-priority AE for the shooting mode as you will need to control the aperture.
For example, the photos below illustrate the difference in the size of the bokeh circles when using aperture values of f/4 and f/8. To create large bokeh circles, set to the smallest possible f-number.
Taken at f/4 using a lens with a focal length of 85mm. The glittering light in the background is captured as large bokeh circles.
Taken at f/8 using the same lens with a focal length of 85mm. The bokeh circles are smaller as compared to those at f/4.
Step 3: Capture with the telephoto end where possible
To create a large bokeh, it is also important to capture the image in the telephoto range. If you’re using a zoom lens, try capturing the image at the maximum telephoto end.
For example, the photos below illustrate how much of a difference there is in the size of the bokeh circles at focal lengths of 105mm and 50mm, even when shot with the same aperture.
Taken at f/4 with a focal length of 105mm.
Taken at f/4 with a focal length of 50mm. To capture this image, I changed the distance from the subject so that the flower in the foreground appeared to be the same size as that when shot at a focal length of 105mm.
You can see that even with the same f-number, the bokeh circles are larger at a focal length of 105mm.
However, because the range of capture is narrower when shooting in the telephoto range, it may be difficult to do so depending on the subject that you want to capture. The minimum 35mm film-equivalent focal length we recommend for capturing photos with bokeh circles is 70mm. For cameras equipped with an APS-C sensor, the minimum focal length we recommend is 50mm. With these focal lengths, you will be able to create a lot of bokeh.
Step 4: Focus as much as possible on the foreground
We also have a little tip for where to place (line up) the focus when shooting: Focus as much as possible on the foreground.
When the area of focus is near the camera, you can achieve a better bokeh effect by ensuring that the area where you want to create a blur is as far as possible from the camera. Therefore, when you find a sparkle spot, place the focus on an object in the foreground, as close to the camera as possible.
For example, if you want to create bokeh circles from the glittering background (sparkle spot!) shown in the second example of Step 1, you should place the focus on the flower in the foreground, located adjacent to the sparkle spot (which appears blurry in this photo). Approach the subject until it just comes into focus.
To form bokeh circles from the sparkle spot (B), place the focus on a flower (A) which is located adjacent to the area and is also near the camera.
When you find a sparkle spot, place the focus on a flower as close as possible to the foreground.
By doing so, you should be able to take a photo that looks like this.
A: Focus as much as possible on the foreground
B: The sparkling area appears as bokeh circles in the photo
An ordinary shrub by the road has been transformed into a small work of art! It’s that simple!
FAQ: What if there is nothing in the foreground to focus on?
There may be times when you find a sparkle spot while out and about, but there is nothing in the foreground that you can place the focus on. In such a situation, use Manual Focus (MF) to deliberately shift the focus.
Switch the focus mode from AF (Auto focus) to MF (Manual focus) (Note that this is not the M mode in shooting mode!), and manually turn the focus ring on the lens.
Turn the ring in the direction that will place the focus as near as possible to the camera (e.g. clockwise for Canon lenses). If you are not sure which direction to turn the ring, have a glance through the viewfinder or at the Live View image on the LCD screen while turning the ring to see which direction creates a larger blur.
If you do so, you should be able to take marvellous photos like the one below.
In the picture above, I created a large blur of the sparkling waterside that I introduced at the beginning.☆
As nightscapes tend to feature points of light, you can also apply the same method! Once you have mastered MF, you will be able to create bokeh circles with just about anything.♪
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