Portrait photography

Portrait photography hack: customize the shape of your blurry highlights

Watch Video: Portrait Photography Hack – Customize Blurry Highlights

If you’ve been interested in photography for a while, you’ve probably come across the term “bokeh”. This is the word of Japanese origin that we use to describe the quality of out of focus areas – especially specular highlights – in the foreground and background of your photos, often in portraits taken with wide apertures.

The shape of your highlights is determined by the shape of your opening, which will be circular if the opening has enough blades. However, lenses such as Canon’s original EF 50mm f / 1.8 “nifty-fifty” lens use a five-sided aperture, giving the highlights a distinctive pentagonal appearance.

Some people prefer circular shaped “bokeh balls”, and maybe that’s why the latest version of Canon EF 50mm f / 1.8 STM has a seven blade aperture to smooth that out and make it look more circular.

In the normal plane (on the right), the reflections are circular, but with our hack, they turned into hearts (on the left) (Image credit: Avenir)

When shooting at your widest maximum aperture value, such as f / 1.8, you push the aperture blades completely apart so that the shape becomes circular anyway, as it is then defined by the circular lens barrel. .

In this technique, we’re going to shoot wide open but add our own patterned aperture shape to the front of the lens – and this will completely transform the shape of the blurry highlights in the image. We’ve gone for a classic love heart, but you can go for any design you want to help add to the story.

It’s easy to do, just taking a few household items that you probably already have with a black card. Then all you need is a healthy dose of creativity and imagination – here’s how to do it …

• Find out more: Photography tips

Household Items You Will Need …

(Image credit: Avenir)

Black card
This is what you will use to create a single aperture hole of any shape you want, which will become the shape of the aperture when placed in front of the lens. It will also change the shape of your blurry highlights.

Ribbon, scissors and pencil
These are a few household items that you will probably already have – you will need the pencil to make your marks on the black card, then the tape and scissors to cut everything out and glue it together so that it stays in one piece when you. are shooting with it.

Tape measure or ruler
You will need one of these to determine the center of the circle you are drawing, as this is where you need to position your new “opening”. Find the diameter of the circle and draw lines horizontally and vertically – their meeting point will be the center.

Sharp craft knife
You’ll need a very sharp craft knife or scalpel blade to cut out your design and get crisp lines – any rough edges from a dull blade will show up in the bokeh of your final images. Also be sure to use a cutting mat to protect your furniture!

Fast fixed focal length lens
A fixed focal length lens is a fixed focal length (no zoom) lens such as a 50mm, which is ideal for this project. Many prime numbers have super-fast maximum apertures such as f / 1.8 or f / 1.4, which will make it easier to create large shapes of bokeh.

01 Draw around the circumference of the lens

(Image credit: Avenir)

Place your black card on a hard surface like a table and place it in the middle of the card with the front element facing down. Any fixed focal length lens such as a 50mm f / 1.8 will work well. Hold your goal with one hand and with the other, draw around the circumference of the goal on the map with a pencil.

(Image credit: Avenir)

Use a ruler or tape measure to draw the diameter of the circle in two directions – they will meet in the middle and this is where you need to draw the shape you want to see in your bokeh highlights. We went for a simple love heart – it should be around 1.5cm to 2cm high and wide, although you may need to tweak it a bit depending on your goal.

02 Add tabs and cut it out

(Image credit: Avenir)

Now you need to make another bigger circle around the one you just drew. This will be where you will bend the tabs inward, to fold them neatly around the lens and hold it in place when assembled. Use a tape measure or ruler to make marks 2 cm further than the existing circle, then connect them. Now cut around this larger circle, then make cuts from the outer circle to the inner circle every inch or so to create the tabs.

(Image credit: Avenir)

In the excess card that you have left, draw a 2-inch wide strip that runs along the long side of the card and cut it out. This will bypass the side of your model and stick to the tabs you just created.

03 Build your custom bokeh pattern

(Image credit: Avenir)

Now is the time to carefully cut out your bokeh pattern – in our case a love heart – with a craft knife or sharp scalpel for crisp lines. Now place the circular part of your template over the front element of your lens and bend the tabs down so that they are flush with the lens barrel. Then carefully wrap the long rectangular piece of card around the tabs and secure it in place with a few pieces of duct tape as below.

(Image credit: Avenir)

The end result should fit your lens perfectly, but can be pulled out if needed, and your bokeh shape should be perfectly in the middle of the lens. It should also be fairly light-tight, so that the only incoming light goes through your custom shape.

04 Install your camera and get started!

(Image credit: Avenir)

Use aperture priority mode and select the widest available aperture (such as f / 1.8). This will make it easier to blur your background and create a lot of bokeh – getting closer to your subject will also make it easier. Then attach the bokeh pattern to the front of your lens and adjust the ISO until you get a shutter speed of around 1/100 sec, which will eliminate camera shake when shooting. handheld shooting.

(Image credit: Avenir)

Use a single AF and place the active point in the middle of the frame, and use it to focus on the eye closest to your model to make sure it’s in focus. The resulting image can be a bit dark, so be sure to take raw photos so you can easily pick up deep shadows in post-production.

More videos:

Videos of photography tips and techniques
How to portrait photography: how to take pictures of perfect people
The best 50mm lens: which “standard first lens” is right for you?


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