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Photography: How to make fun shapes out of light

November 27, 2011

This is a little trick I remember reading a long time ago, but I just now decided to give it a try! It’s the right time of year since it works so well with Christmas lights.

(There are a lot of better tutorials out there for this, but I haven’t looked at any of them to make this post, because I’ll just compare and worry too much about my own instructions. Feel free to Google for more thorough and accurate information.)

Here’s how I did it:

1. Cut out a shape. I happened to have a decorative punch (for scrapbooking) in the shape of a butterfly. Any shape will do–I’ve seen examples with hearts and stars, for instance. I’m interested in experimenting with some hand-cut creations. Cut the circle large enough to fit over your lens. I traced around my cap for sizing. It doesn’t have to be perfect (or even circular), I just tried to make it semi-neat for the photo.

2. Attach it in front of your lens. I just used tape, knowing I’d be removing it after a few minutes.

3. Take a picture of some Christmas lights! The important thing is that the lights are as blurry as possible. Basically, what you’re creating is shapely bokeh. You can either manually take the lights out of focus, or you can force the camera to focus on something at a different distance and hold down the shutter so it won’t refocus on the lights.

Some places sell little plastic lens caps that have shapes pre-cut for this purpose. This is just the cheap, DIY version of those.

In the above photos I focused on my little hummingbird decoration and a butterfly Christmas ornament so you can see that the lights are just strung up in the background and blurred (into the shape of butterflies). The more lights the better, and it still works in a brighter image, it just doesn’t have the same vibrancy. Experiment with it, because I certainly haven’t done much experimenting and I am sure there are lots of cool things you can do with this. Also, I don’t know how well it works with non-SLR cameras. Anyone want to try and get back to me?


From → photography tips

  1. Thank you for this! This seems so fun!!! I have a number of shapely hole-punchers so I am definitely going to try! Sorry about the excessive !!!!!!, I just really was THAT excited to read this post. 🙂 Fun, fun, fun!

  2. Thanks! Wow, you're hyped! You should definitely post your results in your blog. 😀 I'm eager to see more samples.

    Also, I didn't want to go on and on in my post, but as you can see my images are very dark. I manually changed my settings to a faster shutter speed so they would be darker. (Also, I turned out the lights aside from the Christmas lights.) So you may want to switch to manual just to give that a try. 🙂

  3. Sorry for being so stupid, but how does one cutout shape make so many different little shapes in the pic?

  4. Dan, that's not stupid at all…I don't really know why. Basically, each out-of-focus light source is repeating the shape, just like it normally would (but it would be round or polygonal without the cutout attached, depending on the lens quality). Each butterfly is one of the Christmas lights. I know that doesn't explain WHY it does that, though.

    I just did some research and can't seem to find a page that explains why the bokeh shape gets repeated over and over with each point of light. It's some photography/lens phenomenon.

  5. Oh ok, I basically understand. Each light source is coming through the lens and making its own impression. I don't need anything more technical than that : ) Thank you!

    Oh and very cool pics too : 0

  6. Dan – well said! Thanks. 🙂

  7. I want to try this! How would you recommend doing it with a point and shoot? Maybe setting it to macro?

  8. Brenda, I'm not sure. I guess I should try it. I only have my cell phone (my point-and-shoot broke) to try with, though. Macro might help.. the important thing is to just make the lights as out-of-focus as possible. Also, the larger the aperture, the better (if you can control the f-stop then set it to a low number). My concern is getting the shape small enough to fit over the little lens on the camera, though.

  9. Anonymous permalink

    Wow! I'm going to have to point this blog out to your dad. I love the special affects.
    Love, Mom

  10. Totally cool!! I def. want to try this soon. Your little tutorial is great, btw. Easy to understand and I should have no problem following the steps. 😉
    I think i have that same butterfly stamp!

  11. Now that our Christmas tree is up, I should try this. When I do, I'll definitely post any “good” results. 🙂 Thank you again.

  12. Thanks, Samantha, Mom and R! R, have you tried it yet? What about you, Samantha?

  13. Fayelle permalink

    What. The. Heck. This is amazing!!! I need to get some color film for my manual camera… Wait, do they even make regular film anymore? I NEED to do this!!

    Then I need to find what box my camera is packed in…

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