In the simplest terms, bokeh (pronounced BOH-keh) is out of focus light. Those little floating circles of light you get in blurred out backgrounds…that’s bokeh!

You can get some incredible shots using this technique, and the best part is that it’s easily achievable – even on a smartphone.

With all the twinkling lights and shiny tinsel, Christmas is the perfect time to have a go at bokeh photography. Here’s a quick and easy step by step guide for both DSLRs and smartphones to help you create your own beautiful bokeh shots.

Bokeh shots using a DSLR camera

Use your camera to capture beautiful bokeh shots of the festive fairy lights, both at home and out and about.

Bokeh Christmas trees

Step 1

Find yourself some lovely twinkly lights.

Step 2

Set your camera to aperture priority and choose the largest aperture setting you can, so anything from f/1.8 to f/4 will work, but the lower it can go the better the results.

Step 3

Step back! The further away you are from the light source, the bigger your little bokeh circles will be.

Step 4

Set your camera to manual focus, zoom your lens in as far as it will go and manually ‘un focus’ the lights… you should see your little bokeh circles begin to form.

Bokeh Christmas trees

Step 5

If you’d like a focal point in the foreground bring your camera close to the subject. Use your manual focus setting to get the subject sharp, and snap away! Step 3 still applies even with a focal point. The further away your subject is, the bigger your bokeh lights will get.

Bokeh shots using a smartphone camera

You don’t need a DSLR to have a go at bokeh photography. You can get impressive results with a smartphone too!

Bokeh Christmas decorations

Step 1

It’s a little trickier to get that lovely bokeh effect with smartphones because the lens was created to get as much in focus as possible, and of course we don’t want the lights in focus! So ideally you’ll need some lovely twinkly lights with plenty of distance between you and the lights. You’ll also get a better result in low light situations, particularly at night.

Step 2

Now you’ll need something to focus on so we can trick the camera into blurring out the lights. Find your subject, and position it in front of the camera, making sure you can see the lights in the background. Keep your subject a fair distance away from the lights and as close as possible to the camera.

Step 3

Now use focus lock. Simply tap and hold on the screen whichever part of the shot you’d like in focus. This keeps your phone focused on the subject and stops it trying to focus everything else.

iPhone bokeh tree

Step 4

Once you’ve focused on the foreground subject, you should see your twinkly lights turn into beautiful floating bokeh balls! Hold the camera as steady as you can and snap!

If you’re not getting the desired effect, try adding more distance between yourself and the lights. Streetlights and outdoor Christmas lights are great because there’s plenty of distance.

One step further…

Have you ever seen those little custom bokeh shapes and wondered how on earth they do it? Well it’s actually a lot simpler than it looks!

Bokeh Christmas tree with added dog

It’s basically a mask for your lens. All you need to do is cut out your desired shape in the middle of a piece of card, fix the card to the front of your lens (with the cutout shape in the middle) and get snapping.

Bokeh heart filter

And there you have it, beautiful bokeh photographs of your lovely Christmas decorations. It’s easy when you know how!