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Christmas is the perfect time to grab your camera and sharpen your bokeh photography skills. You can photograph candid moments, vibrant landscapes, and many happy faces.

Thanks to all the lights, you can create spectacular Christmas bokeh wherever you go.

Photographing bokeh is a simple process. All you have to do is understand a few technical settings and inspire yourself with exciting Christmas ideas.

Creating Christmas Bokeh – Technical Tips

Almost anyone with a camera can create bokeh. However, the size, shape, and roundness of your bokeh depends on your camera settings.

Here are a few things you should know before you start taking photos.

Aperture

Aperture is also called f-number. I’ll use this term because it’s straightforward and easy to understand.

The smaller your f-number, the blurrier your photos will look, and the more bokeh you’ll be able to capture. For the softest results, I recommend using the smallest f-number possible.

For example, f/1.4 will make your photos look like this:

A soft, dreamy images of a person reading, beautiful christmas bokeh ideas

Small f-numbers create soft, dreamy, and bokeh-rich images.

A large f-number will result in sharper backgrounds. This photo was taken with an aperture of f/4.0:

A brightly lit Christmas cityscape in London

Large f-numbers are ideal for atmospheric landscapes shots like this.

Distance

A person taking a smartphone photo with beautiful Christmas bokeh background

If your subject is the bokeh itself, you can skip this part. This is a tip for those who want to photograph a subject in front of bokeh.

During your photo shoot, experiment with various distances. The closer you are to your subject, the blurrier the bokeh will look.

Another factor to keep in mind is the distance between your subject and the bokeh. Bokeh won’t stand out if it’s close to you or your subject.

Make sure your subject is a significant distance away from the background. That will give you the best results.

To make this easier to remember, keep this in mind: only you should be standing close to your subject. Everything else should be a few metres away.

Lens Type

Your lens type will have a significant impact on your results. I use a 50mm f/1.8 lens. It’s quick, affordable, and perfect for nighttime shoots.

If you can switch to an f-number that’s at least f/2.8, you won’t find it difficult to create stunning bokeh.

For the best bokeh results, your aperture should range between f/1.2 and f/2.8.

If you don’t have the appropriate lens, you can create fake bokeh. Try free stock photo websites like Unsplash. These are full of resources that you can use to enhance your Christmas photos.

Here’s a great photo by Sharon McCutcheon that anyone can use for free:

Soft and dreamy bokeh lights

Not every bokeh photo will look great in your image. Be patient, remain open to experimentation, and don’t be afraid of making mistakes.

A black and white portrait of a model with bokeh lights background

The bokeh in this portrait is fake! Without it, the photo looked too simple and uninteresting.

Adding bokeh gave it a festive feel and filled the empty spaces with something worth looking at.

Lighting

A nighttime portrait of a girl holding a cat surrounded by coloful Christmas lights

Though nighttime shoots can be very colourful and unique, they’re not the only way to achieve beautiful Christmas bokeh.

Many Christmas bokeh photos are taken in the dark. Christmas bokeh photography is associated with low light and high ISO numbers.

Despite the popularity of low light, you don’t have to take photos in the dark to capture beautiful bokeh.

The kind of lighting you choose depends on the atmosphere you want to create. Here are a few rough guidelines that might help you figure out what exactly you want:

  • For festive portrait photos, use as much light as you want. The more bokeh there is in the background, the more eye-catching your photos will look.
  • For moody portrait photos, shoot in the dark. Make sure your model is lit by a soft light source, such as fairy lights.
  • For photos of bright objects, like candles, shoot in the dark. Their light will complement the bokeh.
  • For photos of simple objects, like ornaments, make sure you have as much light as possible. If you don’t, your subject will be overshadowed by the bokeh.
  • For silhouettes, place your subject in front of bokeh in a dark location. Make sure they’re not too close to the light source. This will create a striking outline.

ISO

Most modern cameras can handle a large amount of ISO. Before your actual photo shoot, experiment with test subjects in various lighting situations.

Only you can determine how much noise is too much for your taste.

Keep in mind that most editing programs have effective noise reduction tools. If your results look too grainy, don’t delete them immediately.

You can use a program like Photoshop or Lightroom to reduce their intensity.

Diptych of a star filled sky before and after noise reduction

I removed a significant amount of noise within minutes using Lightroom’s noise reduction tool.

To achieve the same effect, go to the Develop module in Lightroom. Scroll down until you reach the Detail panel. There, you’ll find a lot of noise reduction options.

For the most realistic results, move the Luminance and Detail sliders to the right. This will preserve the details in your image without creating unnatural smoothness.

41 Fun Christmas Bokeh Ideas & Examples

Alright, we’re done with the technical bit. Now onto Christmas bokeh ideas! Use these for inspiration, and share your own bokeh photos with us in the comments.

1. Christmas Tree Bokeh

Focus away from your Christmas tree to create a delightful triangle of bokeh.

You can even photograph it through something festive. Try decorations or another tree’s branches, to frame your image.

A christmas tree with beautiful bokeh effect background

2. Photograph the Decorations

For those classic Christmas photos, photograph your decorations. The closer you are to your subject and the smaller your f-number is, the larger your bokeh will be.

Photographing decorations are a great way to preserve details that are often forgotten.

An ornament on a Christmas tree

3. Toy Pictures

If you like taking photos of objects, photograph your family members’ gifts! Like the idea above, this will give your future self a better idea of what your Christmas was like.

It will also give you a chance to work with macro photography, which often features a lot of large bokeh.

Beautiful Christmas bokeh lights in the background of a small car

4. Christmas Figurines

If you’re not into photographing presents, use Christmas-themed objects instead.

A pair of snowman ornaments with bokeh lights background

5. Capture an Image Within an Image

If you want your image to be both sharp and soft, photograph a smartphone in front of your background.

This will reveal the scene and create beautiful bokeh at the same time.

Taking a smartphone photo of a Christmas tree

6. Sillhouettes Against Bokeh

If you want to create mystery, outline an interesting figure, or make your subject anonymous, create silhouettes!

A persons silhouette with blue Christmas bokeh lights background

7. Christmas Costumes

Santa Claus + bokeh = the perfect Christmas photo! The holidays are full of  joyful people in costumes.

If you want to get better at portrait or candid photography, take photos of them.

Santa portrait with bokeh lights background

8. Couple Photos

Christmas is the perfect time to have a romantic couple photo shoot.

For the best bokeh results, photograph your subjects outdoors during the day.

A couple embrace in front of a Christmas tree with bokeh lights background

9. Bokeh Rich Background

Sometimes, photographing bokeh is enough. If you find a place filled with bright lights, use them to create a bokeh-rich image.

You can even use these photos in future diptych or double exposure projects!

Christmas bokeh lights

10. Christmas Puppies and Kittens

To make your Christmas photos glow with cuteness, photograph your pet in front of Christmas lights.

The mini Santa hat is optional, but it will definitely make your pet portraits stand out.

A cute dog portrait with bokeh lights background

11. Capture Atmospheric Portraits

To create an atmospheric portrait like this, use several light sources to light up various sides of your model’s face. A soft window or artificial light works very well.

The farther away the lights are, the softer the effect will be. To make the bokeh even larger, use a small f-number like f/1.8.

A female portrait in front of a Christmas tree with bokeh lights background

12. Tree-Shaped Bokeh

Bokeh doesn’t always have to be round. Show off your smartphone snapshots in front of an exciting, tree-shaped background like this one.

Decorations with bokeh lights on a Christmas tree in the background

A female potrait at night with bokeh lights background

A person taking a smartphone shot of beautiful bokeh effect Christmas lights

13. Create Your Own Custom Bokeh

Custom bokeh is a popular lens technique that involves cardboard and good cutting skills.

Use it to transform normal bokeh into hearts, stars, or letters.

Ornaments on a Christmas tree with bokeh lights background

Ornaments on a Christmas tree with bokeh lights background

A santa figurine with Christmas bokeh lights background

A nativity scene with Christmas bokeh background

A person holding a cat with Christmas bokeh background

Heart shaped Christmas bokeh lights

14. Photograph Fairy Lights

If you don’t have anything else to photograph, take photos of fairy lights in front of other fairy lights. Your results will shine!

Christmas lights with bokeh effect

15. Glitter Bokeh

Instead of using a light source, use glitter to create bokeh. For the best results, use a macro lens.

A pile of Christmas ornaments

16. Custom Bokeh Shapes

Use fairy lights to create custom bokeh outlines like this heart.

A Christmas card with bokeh lights background

17. Christmas Treats

Cafés are full of beautiful lights during the holidays. Use them to photograph indoor Christmas-themed cups and decorations.

A pyramid of takeaway coffee cups with a beautiful Christmas bokeh background

You can make it seem like bokeh is coming out of an object, like a cup, by manipulating your light source.

The best lights to use for this are fairy lights because they’re small and portable.

A teacup with a beautiful Christmas bokeh background

Of course, don’t forget to take a photo of your favourite place, gift, or Christmas treats.

A bowl of hot drink beside gingerbread with a beautiful Christmas bokeh background

18. Photograph Reflections

Take photos of holiday-themed reflections in glasses, puddles, and windows.

Christmas lights reflected in a persons glasses

19. Creative Gift Wrapping

If you know someone with superb gift wrapping skills, show off their work in front of a crowd of bokeh.

A hand holding a gift, with a beautiful Christmas bokeh background

20. Christmas Portraits

If you’re a portrait photographer, don’t forget to take candid photos of your subjects.

Photograph them enjoying a firework show, having fun with their loved ones, or sipping on a cup of hot chocolate.

A portrait of a girl drinking hot chocolate, with a beautiful Christmas bokeh background

21. Take Photos of Children

Since children adore Christmas, they’ll make your photos glow with joy and curiosity.

Photograph children in front of Christmas trees, outdoor decorations, and fairy lights.

A young child decorating a Christmas tree

22. Christmas Dinner

Before everyone sits down to celebrate, take a few photos of your table and food.

All the candles and Christmas lights will make them stand out.

A table set for Christmas dinner with a beautiful blurry background

23. Create Christmas Bokeh With Candles

Candles make perfect subjects and background bokeh. If flames don’t interest you, use them in your backgrounds to create warm Christmas bokeh.

Beautiful Christmas bokeh lights in the background of a lit candle

24. Christmas Lights

Look for lights in unexpected locations. This miniature Christmas set has lots of tiny lights that are perfect for sharp Christmas bokeh photos.

Beautiful Christmas bokeh lights in the background of a festive ornament

Other Christmas lights and decorations also come with hidden bokeh opportunities.

Beautiful Christmas bokeh lights in the background of a festive ornament

Beautiful Christmas bokeh lights in the background of a festive ornament

Beautiful Christmas bokeh lights in the background of small nativity figures

Beautiful Christmas bokeh lights in the background of a pine tree

Beautiful Christmas bokeh lights in the background of a festive ornament

Beautiful bokeh lights on a Christmas tree in low lights

Beautiful Christmas bokeh lights on a bridge

Beautiful Christmas bokeh lights

Conclusion

This article has shown you both the technical and creative sides of Christmas bokeh photography. You can confidently capture all of December’s festivities.

Don’t forget to try out the ideas above, and experiment with different apertures. Go out there and make the most of this season’s creative opportunities.

Happy holidays!

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

Thank you for reading...

CLICK HERE if you want to capture breathtaking images, without the frustration of a complicated camera.

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Thanks again for reading our articles!

Taya Ivanova

Taya Iv is a curious bookworm, portrait photographer, and admirer of nature. Her photos have been published in international magazines and featured on book covers.

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