This little photographic trick works any time of the year, but it’s particularly suited to the holidays. And unless you’re hiding out somewhere warm, well… what else are you gonna do?

Christmas Tree

Bokeh.

Bokeh (“boh-kah”) refers to the out of focus elements rendered by your camera lens. Better said, bokeh is blur. Normally your blur’s shape is determined by the shape of your lens’ aperture blades. More expensive lenses generally have more blades and therefore more circular bokeh. Cheaper lenses typically have fewer aperture blades and more pentagonal bokeh. But who needs aperture blades when you can shape your own blur!

What you’ll need

A DSLR and a lens with a wide open aperture. You don’t need to spend a lot of money – Canon and Nikon’s 50mm f1.8 lenses are both right around $100. They’re great lenses in their own right, and they’re particularly well suited to low light photography. You’ll also need a tripod as well as Photoshop and a basic knowledge of how to use it.

Then, make this:

Bokeh Cover

It’s pretty easy to make. Just get a piece of paper, fold it in half, cut out your heart (or star or whatever you want…), and wrap it around your lens. Use tape to form the circle and cut away the excess paper. Here’s what it looks like on my camera:

Heart Shaped Bokeh on 5D III

Take your pictures

Set up your tripod and take two pictures: a normal picture and a blurred picture.

Your normal picture should be a low ISO, high f-stop picture that has everything in focus. Leave your paper heart creation off the lens for the normal picture. I used a 5 exposure HDR for my normal picture, and after I merged the HDR it looked a bit like this:

Normal Picture

Your blurred picture. Set your aperture to it’s most open value, f1.8 if you’re using the 50mm lens. Make sure not to move the tripod as you do this. Throw the focus into manual mode and defocus the lens. The more out of focus the picture, the bigger the hearts will be. Put your paper heart creation on the lens and take a single blurred picture. My blurred picture came out like this:

Blurred Picture

Edit your photos

Use Photoshop to edit your normal picture. Increase the saturation, add a vignette, do whatever it is you usually do when you edit your pictures. Get it looking the way you want, then open your blurred picture. Here’s what it will look like in Photoshop with both the normal and blurred images open at the same time:

Normal and Blurred

Now you’ll need to switch to your blurred image and select the hearts. Do this in Photoshop via Select->Color Range… then selecting the “+” dropper. Click on your hearts to select those specific colors. Here’s what it looks like:

Color Range Select

Once your hearts are selected press OK.  Now press CTRL+C to copy the hearts. Switch back to your normal picture and go to Edit->Paste Special->Paste In Place. This pastes your hearts onto your normal image, and it looks like this:

Pasted Hearts

Now go to Layer->Merge Visible. This merges your hearts with your sharp, in-focus tree.

There you have it! Heart shaped bokeh!

Happy Holidays!