How to Add Front Bokeh to a Portrait Using Christmas Lights

We’re all familiar with the fuzzy circles that bokeh creates usually behind our main subject, but this lesson is about creating bokeh in front of the subject. And that is what Mark Wallace is about to show us in the 6-minute video above. This episode of Adorama TV is about getting a kind of outdoor feel and adding depth to your indoor portraits.

You can use daylight or continuous light and an uncluttered background might be best. You will need 3 things:

1.) LED or Christmas lights

2.) Tripod

3.) Wide aperture lens

Frame your model in a loose composition, so that you have enough space on the sides to create the bokeh effects.

Use a wide aperture lens like f/1.4 or f/2 and shoot wide open, as you want the LED lights to go out of focus. The camera should be on manual settings for shutter speed as you don’t want the sensor to be fooled by the light coming in from the LEDs. Manual focus should be used, so that the camera does not focus on the LED lights as you wave them in front of the lens.

You can use white or colored lights depending upon the effect you are creating. A tripod is certainly useful but if you don’t have one you may still be able to get by, but it will be more difficult. When you are shooting at wide apertures like f/1.4 the depth of field is very shallow and even slight movement can make your subject out of focus. It will help to draw a line on the floor so that your model stays fixed in one spot. When you are on a tripod your model has already been focused, so you have to look only at the placement and position of the lights. If you are hand-holding you will have to look at 2 things simultaneously: model focus and light position.

Move the lights in front of the lens to get the best effect and remember not to overpower the face with too many or large soft blurs. The closer your light is to the lens the larger will be the bokeh.

Here are a few of the example photos captured by Wallace in the tutorial video above:

Another way to add front bokeh to a portrait is to spray some water drops onto a sheet of glass that you then shoot through.