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How To Shoot Heart Shaped Bokeh (the Easy Way!)

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Related course: Wow Factor Photography

Getting creative with bokeh can help you take unique photos and show you how to find artistic potential in everyday things.

If you don’t know where to start, try using heart-shaped bokeh for a simple, romantic, or conceptual photoshoot.

What You’ll Need for Heart Shaped Bokeh

  • A prime lens – this isn’t 100% necessary, but it will help you take soft photos of bokeh without worrying about surrounding light. Prime lenses are great for nighttime and low light photography.
  • Paper – a thick sheet of paper is enough for this project. You can use black or colored paper. The colored paper will give your photos a tint, which is great for colorful photography.
  • Scissors
  • Pencil
  • Colorful lights – these will help you create that delicious bokeh. You can use Christmas lights, candles, nighttime city lights, or any other light source that stands out to you. The more lights you can work with, the more heart-shaped bokeh you’ll be able to make!
  • A dark backdrop – since you want your heart-shaped bokeh to stand out, use a very simple backdrop. You can use a sheet of paper, a door, or a table.

A close up of a person holding a DSLR camera - heart shaped bokeh tutorial

Creating Your Heart Shaped Bokeh

Adjust Your Camera Settings

If this is your first time working with DIY lens filters, you need to make the shooting process as easy as possible. To ensure this, set up your DIY studio and adjust your camera settings before you do anything else.

For the best results, use a large aperture. The larger it is, the softer and bigger your bokeh will be. To remember this, just associate a large aperture with small numbers like 1.2 and 1.8.

If you want the focus to be on your bokeh, underexpose your photos to get rid of surrounding distractions and light.

If you’re going to include other subjects in your photo, take test photos of them beforehand to adjust your exposure correctly.

Also, don’t be afraid of slightly increasing your ISO if your photos end up looking blurry or shaky. To avoid shakiness completely, use a tripod.

A close up of a person holding a DSLR camera - heart shaped bokeh tutorial
Heart shaped bokeh is difficult to create with small apertures. An aperture of f/4.0, as pictured here, isn’t as ideal as f/1.2, for example. However, don’t let this discourage you from experimenting. Some artists prefer to use small apertures because they let them take crisp photos of bokeh.

Prepare Your DIY Studio

Once you’re comfortable with your camera settings, make sure your DIY studio looks good.

Place your lights on, or in front of, a dark backdrop. I put mine on a dark brown table.

You can also hang your lights on a door or wall. Spread them out so that the bokeh fills your frame.

If you want to be more creative, you can place your lights in a jar, make them float over a cup, or have someone hold them above their head. You can also use this as a concept for Valentine’s Day photo shoots.

Make sure your studio can be changed whenever you like. Avoid permanently sticking your lights to a wall or creating a complicated system.

Your aim is to experiment with different angles and distances, so make your space as flexible as possible.

A close up of a DSLR camera set up on a tripod to shoot heart shaped bokeh
If you want to include your hand in your photos, you might want to use a tripod. A flexible tripod like this one will help you take creative photos of heart shaped bokeh. Tripods like this also ensure that your equipment doesn’t get damaged when you shoot in unusual places.

Draw a Few Circles That Match Your Lens Size

You can measure or trace your lens to ensure that the circles end up fitting it. To be safe, always cut out circles that are slightly larger than your lens.

The circles don’t have to perfect. As you can see in the image above, mine ended up looking slightly crooked. The point is for them to work.

three paper circles with a heart shaped hole - heart shaped bokeh tips

Cut Out Hearts in the Centre

To make the heart symmetrical, fold your circle in half and draw half a heart on the edge, as pictured above.

I experimented with three different shapes and sizes. What worked best for me was the largest heart. I used a 50mm 1.8 lens with an aperture of 1.8.

Make sure your hearts are all centered so that your heart shaped bokeh effect works properly.

Cutting out heart shaped lens filters for diy bokeh photography

Safely Attach Your Paper to the Lens

For this step, you can use tape or your hand.

Tape the paper to your lens. Avoid taping anything directly on to the lens or any moving part. My 50mm prime lens has a ring that I use for manual focus. Taping it to it stopped me from efficiently focusing away from my subjects.

If you want to avoid sticking anything to your lens, simply hold your DIY filter in front of it. This will significantly limit the way you take pictures, though.

A roll of tape on blue and yellow background for making heart shaped bokeh photography

Focus Away From the Lights

Once the paper is on your lens, focus away from your subjects.

The more you focus away, the larger and softer the heart shaped bokeh will look.

Don’t take photos close to your subject. The farther away you are, the easier it will be to determine the shape of the bokeh.

pretty heart shaped bokeh lights on dark background

Experiment With Different Heart Sizes

If your results don’t look great, don’t give up immediately. Depending on your lens, you might need to cut out smaller or bigger hearts.

Some photographers take incredible photos with small heart cut-outs. Personally, I found more creative freedom with a larger and wider heart.

Here are a few examples of different heart-shaped filters.

pretty heart shaped bokeh lights on dark background
My smallest and narrowest heart cut-out resulted in small and sharp bokeh. Heart-shaped bokeh like this is perfect for conceptual photos that include other subjects, like jars and hands. On their own, they don’t fill up enough space in the frame.
pretty heart shaped bokeh lights on dark background
My wide, medium-sized filter resulted in slightly larger heart bokeh. This size is perfect for general photos of heart bokeh. It’s also great for simple Valentine’s Day shoots.
pretty heart shaped bokeh lights on dark background
My largest heart cut-out resulted in the largest bokeh. Like the medium-sized ones, there are ideal for simple bokeh photoshoots.

Keep in mind that distance, aperture, and lens type all play an important role in bokeh photography.

Easy Tips to Remember

To have a successful photo shoot, remember these quick tips:

  • The farther away you are from your subject, the larger your bokeh will be.
  • Use large apertures for large and soft bokeh. Examples: f/1.4 and f/2.0. The smaller the number, the better.
  • Experiment with different cut-outs to find the best shapes and sizes for your lens.
  • Use a tripod to avoid shaky results.

pretty heart shaped bokeh lights on dark background

Conclusion

While it might seem complicated, bokeh photography is an easy and fun way to take creative photos of lights.

Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to take conceptual and romantic photos using the simplest tools!

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