4 Easy Steps to Capture Those Elusive Bokeh Circles!
It’s every beginner photographer’s dream to capture sparkling bokeh circles (also known as bokeh balls) beautifully. They are certainly one way to make your photos look more professional! For best results, follow these 4 simple steps. (Reported by studio9)
Creating bokeh circles is actually quite simple!
Creating images with bokeh circles, like the ones in the shot of the camelia flower in the setting sun above, isn’t as hard as it seems. You don’t need any special tools or equipment—just your DSLR or mirrorless camera.
The bokeh circles have been circled out as shown. They make the photo seem to sparkle, don’t they?
Step 1: Look for ‘sparkle spots’
Bokeh circles are actually formed from sparkling points of light (point light sources). When you use a shallow depth-of-field to blur (i.e, create bokeh from) these points of light, they become circles. That’s why it’s most important to start by looking for areas that sparkle.
Possible sparkle spots close to you could be a river on a sunny day, or in leaves that are illuminated by the sun. Look for something that reflects sunlight and is sparkling from it.
1. Glittering water surfaces
2. Leaves reflecting light from the sun
On a bright sunny day, sparkle spots are waiting to be discovered wherever you go, so observe your surroundings carefully.
Tip: Search for sparkle spots while facing the sun
Sparkle spots are basically spots that reflect sunlight. You will usually find them in areas that appear backlit, so face the sun when you look for them. If you face away from the sun, they won’t be as easy to find.
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.
Tip: The smaller the f-number, the larger the bokeh circle
Both examples were shot with the same lens at focal length 85mm, but see how the f-number makes a difference!
Shot at f/4
Shot at f/8
The bokeh circles are smaller as compared to those at f/4.
Step 3: Use a longer focal length where possible
Using a longer focal length helps you to create larger bokeh circles. If you’re using a zoom lens, try capturing the image at the 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 f-number.
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 moved closer to 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 105mm.
Note: The longer the focal length, the less of the scene you can capture due to the narrower angle-of-view. Find the focal length that best suits your subject.
Tip: Focal length recommendations
We found that using at least 70mm on a full-frame camera, or at least 50mm on an APS-C camera results in relatively large bokeh circles. Give it a try. If it’s not quite what you want, you can adjust accordingly.
Step 4: Choose a subject that is as close to the lens as possible
Here's a tip: You get the best bokeh when the following two conditions are met:
- Your subject (where you place the focus) is as close to the lens as possible, and
- Your sparkle spot (the area/thing that you want to turn into bokeh circles) is as far away from the subject as possible.
Solution: When you have found your sparkle spot, make sure that the subject that you want to be in focus is as close to the camera as possible. You might have to physically move closer to the subject to achieve your shot.
To form bokeh circles from the sparkle spot (B), the subject that you focus on should be somewhere close to the camera, but also relatively near (B). For the image above, this would be the flower marked (A).
This is what happens when you put the focus on (A):
A: Located close to the lens, is in focus
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 front of the sparkle spot to focus on?
There may be times when you find a sparkle spot while out and about, but there is nothing in front of it that you can place the focus on.
Solution: 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.
Remember the glittering water surface from Step 1? This is what I got when I created bokeh circles from it.
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.
Learn more about what you can do with bokeh circles here:
How to Create a Sparkly Background with Bokeh Circles for Pretty Trinket Pictures
Telephoto Lens Techniques – Creating Multiple Layers of Bokeh
Photographing Flowers: How to Create Brilliant Bokeh Circle Spotlights with a Macro Lens
Flash Techniques #6: How to Create Magical Bokeh Circles on a Rainy Day (uses the built-in flash)
Camera FAQ #20: How Do I Photograph Flowers More Dramatically?
How to Photograph Dreamy Images of Decorative Lights
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A photography website established in Japan in 2011. With the slogan “Bringing photography closer to you”, the site provides content that is useful for everyone who enjoys photography. Besides web content, studio9 also conducts seminars and workshops.