Create a Double Bokeh Effect for Portrait Photos

Create a Double Bokeh Effect for Portrait Photos

Create a double bokeh effect for portrait photos - sample image-1

In this post we will look at how to create a double bokeh effect for portrait photos with a simple technique. The term “bokeh” is used to refer to the soft, blurry parts of a photo. This isn’t an accidental out of focus but a deliberate way to soften the scene and draw more attention to your subject. It is easier to get a smoother bokeh using a wide aperture and a longer (telephoto) lens. I call this a double bokeh effect because we will create both foreground bokeh and background bokeh. Our subject will be sandwiched between a soft, blurred foreground and background.

Sharelle with double bokeh effect

First of all, you need to create background bokeh. To do this, use a wide aperture on a telephoto lens with your subject a good distance from the background. For more detail on how to blur your backgrounds successfully you might like to read our post on how to take great portraits outdoors. To create foreground bokeh you need something between yourself and the subject. It needs to be very close to the lens so that the camera sees it as fully blurred when you are focussed on your subject. Normally this is easier to achieve with bunches of flowers rather than trying to use a large block of colour like a large leaf or a single flower.

Create a double bokeh effect for portrait photos - sample image-2

Make sure that you leave a gap in between the foreground bokeh so that your subject is clearly visible. A little overlap is fine, but you don’t want their face obscured. You may also like to think about which colours work well. Bright green, especially on a face, risks making someone look less than healthy! Choose colours that will complement your subject and their clothing if at all possible. Good candidates can be flowers such as lavender, rapeseed, bluebells, rhododendrons, etc.

Create a double bokeh effect for portrait photos - sample image-5

You may wish to alter your angle for shooting in order to make the most of low level flowers. For example, bluebells can provide a lovely colour but a clearly very short plants. To make the technique work with this type of flower you often need to lay down on the ground to get a different type of angle.

Create a double bokeh effect for portrait photos - sample image-7

To make the angle towards your subject more flattering, it is often a good idea to get them to come down to ground level as well. If you are shooting upwards at too steep an angle it often won’t look right. Instead, get them to sit or lay down. You may need to bring something to sit or lie on for you and your subject.

Create a double bokeh effect for portrait photos - sample image-6

If you are struggling to find nice flowers to use then there are other things that can work well with this double bokeh technique. For example, try shooting portraits along a wall. This can also be an easier prop to help subjects to pose. Think creatively and I’m sure you can find all sorts of scenarios where this technique will help you create more interesting portraits. It doesn’t have to be limited to portrait photography either. You might like to try photographing different subjects with a double bokeh.

Here’s a summary of tips to help you get the best out of this technique:

  • Use a long lens (ideally 100-200mm)
  • Use a wide aperture (f/2.8 or wider if using a mid-range telephoto)
  • Get your subject a good distance from the background for the background bokeh
  • Have your lens almost touching the flowers for the foreground bokeh
  • Leave a gap between the flowers to get your subject clear and sharp
  • Using clusters of smaller flowers can be easier than one large one
  • Don’t forget to experiment with angles – especially low angles for short plants

So, that is how to create a double bokeh effect for portrait photos. It tends to work best on images of girls and ladies as it gives a soft, dreamy quality to the image. Enjoy!

© Joe Lenton, June 2017

Creative Bluebell Photography

Creative Bluebell Photography

At certain times of the year there are seasonal displays of flowers that many of us are tempted to photograph. However, all too often, everyone’s images can end up looking rather similar because most people take the same basic approach. I encourage you to play around with creative bluebell photography so that your photos of bluebells don’t look the same as other people’s. Much of the time, the main approach people take is to try to convey just how many bluebells there were in the woods. So, you might have a woodland shot with lots of spots of blue, something along these lines, maybe:

Creative Bluebell Photography-6

Yes, you can get more interesting versions if you go early or late in the day when the light is better, but essentially you see lots of this type of shot. If you’re anything like me, you might start to get bored with this. Also, why take the same shots using your DSLR and expensive lenses that anyone can take using a smartphone? Instead, I propose that we start to think more creatively and find other ways of exploring the bluebells. So, let’s take a look at some creative bluebell photography ideas…

Some of these suggestions you will like more than others. I am simply trying to encourage you to explore creatively and find your own style and ideas. For example, here is a shot of bluebells taken using a wideangle lens from the bottom of the plant looking up:

Creative Bluebell Photography - bluebells from below

This is not the sort of thing you are used to seeing so it stops your viewer in their tracks and makes them look. It also offers an unusual take on a subject, showing the sort of perspective insects might have from the ground. It isn’t the sort of thing that really excites me, but it is a fun thing to explore. You might like to try something inspired by impressionist paintings such as this:

Creative Bluebell Photography - impressionist bluebells

This is achieved by using a slow shutter speed and deliberately moving the lens up and down whilst taking the photo. This creates an intentional blur that almost makes it look like the image is constructed from daubs of paint like an impressionist painting. If you can’t get a slow shutter speed, try using a polariser or other ND filter to darken your scene. It is quite a counter-intuitive technique to use to begin with. After all, normally you are working hard to get things sharp and in focus. So, intentional camera movement (ICM) may feel odd. But, it is worth a try to see if you connect with it. You might also be interested in my blog posts on deliberately out of focus abstract photography or creating blur using movement.

Creative Bluebell Photography-1 Creative Bluebell Photography-2

The above 2 images are very common approaches to more creative bluebell photography using a DSLR. They are achieved by using a telephoto lens (somewhere in the region of 50mm to 200mm) with a wide aperture (f/2.8 or f/1.8). The idea is to make one set of flowers stand out clearly and turn the rest into just colour and texture in a blurred background. If you use a very wide aperture there is the risk that you can’t make anything out from your background at all, so sometimes it is worth experimenting with backing off a bit to strike a balance between softness and giving context to the scene.

Creative Bluebell Photography-5

This image shows what you can do when using a wideangle lens with a wide aperture. You can go really close to your main subject and throw some of your background out of focus. This gives a real sense of space and context but also highlights a clear subject. This works best if your subject is a little way in front of the rest of the scene to give some separation. If you like this sort of wideangle approach you might like to read my article on garden photography using a wideangle lens. The next images have been taken from very low down – lying on the ground in fact! One of them has also been processed rather differently:

Creative Bluebell Photography-9 Creative Bluebell Photography-8

These were taken using a 105mm lens with a wide aperture (f/3.2) to enable me to blur the more distant plants. The second image has been converted to monochrome and then toned using blue. This is almost reminiscent of the oriental paintings you sometimes see on china dinner plates and so on. As you can see, the processing changes the feel of the image completely.

If your camera has a built in function allowing multiple exposures, you can try layering them to create interesting effects:

Creative Bluebell Photography-7

To finish, here are a couple of my favourite images I’ve done recently using bluebells. The first is a variation on the familiar theme we spoke about above – using a wide aperture. The second is a fashion portrait using the bluebells to add colour and interest.

Creative Bluebell Photography-11 Creative Bluebell Photography-12

So, I hope you’ve enjoyed this introduction to creative bluebell photography. This is by no means fully exhaustive. There are other possibilities both in the taking stage and for processing that you can try. Let your creativity free and see what you can come up with!

© Joe Lenton, May 2016

Christmas Portraits using Christmas Lights

Christmas Portraits – create festive images using Christmas lights

Christmas Portraits have that festive sparkle about them. All you need is some Christmas lights to get started. You can use outdoor lights, such as those hanging in displays in cities and towns. For example, these two were taken in Norwich. One is in front of Jarrolds, the other is outside John Lewis. Both have a festive fashion feel to them because of the lights in the background.

Christmas lights portrait tips

Christmas lights fashion portrait

To get the lights to appear as circles of light rather than seeing the lights themselves they need to be blurred slightly using a shallow depth of field. This means using a wide aperture. Most of the images on this page were taken using a 50mm f/1.8 lens on a DSLR. The wide aperture blurs lights that are in the background or foreground, making them seem like circles of light. This makes them sparkle and looks better than if you can see the actual bulbs. It is a lovely effect to try indoors with your own Christmas decorations as well. The next image was taken with the Christmas tree lights on in the background behind the young girl. The blur also helps to remove distractions behind her and I’ve converted it to black and white to simplify things further and draw attention to just her face and the sparkling lights.

Christmas portraits tips

To get more blur, have your lens closer to your subject and your subject further from the background. If they are too close together then you will not get much blur and so the circles of light will be very small. You can also create Christmas portraits with a twist by shooting through the lights. The image of the harpist below was taken from behind a Christmas tree. The lights were right up close to the lens and she was a few metres away behind the tree. By focussing on her the foreground has blurred. You can also see the green haze of the tree branches near me. The circles of light are large and their different colours have also shown up nicely. This was taken using a longer lens at f/2.8. If you don’t have a very fast lens (one with a wide aperture) then this is an alternative method that might work better for you. Just make sure that your camera focuses on the person and not the lights! When working behind a tree, make sure your flash is switched off or your camera may try to light up the tree, which can spoil the effect.

Christmas portraits - harpist through tree

So, to add a bit of sparkle and festive magic to your Christmas portraits of friends and family, simply look for the lights. Then, either go behind them and shoot through, or get your subject in front of them and use them as a background. Have fun!

© Joe Lenton, December 2015


Creative Photography – deliberately out of focus abstract photography

Deliberately out of focus Abstract Photography

Why would I do that? What is the point in photos that are not in focus? Ok, this is perhaps not for the faint hearted or those who aren’t too sure about “arty” things. But, if you love abstract art then this could very well be for you. We are going to consider creating images where little or nothing in the image is in focus. This may seem a bit odd, but you can create some interesting effects which may possibly work as images on their own or be useful as backdrops in a composite image created using layers in Photoshop. I don’t really do the latter, so I won’t go into detail on that. I do, however, enjoy creating abstract patterns with colours and light. It can be a refreshing thing to do every so often to break out of a rut or just to do some more creative photography.

If your camera does all the focussing for you then you may not be able to try out what I’m about to suggest. You need to switch off your autofocus – this may be on your camera or on the lens itself. Yes, this may be uncharted waters for many, but please do try it if you can! Now, using manual focus see if you can get everything in your image out of focus. Take a picture and see what it looks like. So far, you may not be very impressed, but it is about to get better. Autumn is a great time to try this, but other times of year can work too. Go and find a place where there are various different coloured leaves on a tree (if possible), maybe with a little light breaking through between them in places, but not necessarily. Now, try out of focus images of the leaves from closer up and further away. You should start to see soft patterns of colour emerge. To soften them even more, use a wide aperture if you can (A or Av mode on Nikon or Canon – select the lowest F number you can).

When light emerges between the leaves you should get bright circles. The various colours of the leaves can appear as overlapping circles of colour. Experiment a bit until you find a composition that you like. Try and think more about colours and possible patterns and ignore the fact that you can’t really have a “subject” in the image. You can also experiment with how much your image is out of focus – from complete blur to just partial. This is abstract photography, there are no “right” or “wrong” answers – the only thing that matters is whether you like it. Here are some examples of images I’ve come up with recently:
Deliberately Out of Focus Abstract Photography-1  Deliberately Out of Focus Abstract Photography-3  Deliberately Out of Focus Abstract Photography-5

The above images were created using autumn leaves on a tree, cyclamen and bamboo. The brighter spots indicate where there was light shining through. As you can see, the effects are similar, yet different. Some images are softer, whilst others are a little more defined. Experiment until you find a balance that you like. You can alter things further afterwards in your image editing software, increasing the softness or vibrancy of colours, for example.

Here are some more examples of out of focus abstract photography, this time the subject was lights shining through a window.  I didn’t really want to see the detail of the window. I was more interested in the colours and I found that defocussing helped me to achieve the effect I was after.

Lights at the window Abstract-1
Lights at the window Abstract-4
Lights at the window Abstract-5
Lights at the window Abstract-6

Another time we will look at creating blur in an image with movement. Until then, I encourage you to give this technique a try. It might not be your thing or you may find that you love it. Each person can find their own way of expressing themselves and not every idea will appeal to everyone. I hope that this has helped inspire your own creative photography. If you do try your hand at deliberately out of focus abstract photography please do get in touch and show us some of your images!

© Joe Lenton, October 2014

How to take great portraits outdoors – Part 1

You don’t need a photography studio to take great portrait photos. Outdoors there are many different backdrops to choose from, many different locations and opportunities to take pictures of people. In this article, I share some of my tips for creating portrait photos that you’ll love.

The first thing to remember about portrait photography is that it doesn’t always need to be carefully posed and formal. You can often get photos that look more natural and reveal more of the person’s character when you take what are known as “candid” pictures. At its simplest, the idea is to take pictures while someone is doing something, simply getting on with life! It is not staged in any way and hopefully they are not really aware of the camera or waiting for the photo to be taken. This type of photo can capture true smiles rather than forced ones. It means waiting and watching with your camera in your hands. Look out for moments of emotion and expression.

But suppose you want something a bit more posed or formal, what then? Here are a few key steps that you can follow to help improve your portraits outdoors:

  1. Look at the person’s face – can you see large amounts of contrast? If the sun is shining you will see bright spots and dark shadows, which generally doesn’t lead to getting a great photo. If possible, find an angle where the person’s face is in light shadow. This might mean looking for a little bit of shade on a very sunny day. You don’t want it to be too dark, but an even, light shade gives more even lighting for portraits.
  2. What is behind them? Generally speaking, you don’t want a cluttered background for a portrait photo as this can be distracting. Check that the things behind them don’t look like they are growing out of their head. Also, make sure that the background isn’t really bright as your camera will struggle to cope with the contrast. This ends up with either the face being too dark or the background too bright. So, try to find a balance so there isn’t too much contrast.


Portraits Outdoors - Sam by the wall

The next step for outdoor portraits is to think about how much of the scene you want to be clearly in focus. Do you just want their face in focus with a soft background? This is probably the most common thing to aim for when taking portraits outdoors. The soft, out of focus background helps to draw our attention to the person’s face. But, how do you get a soft background? Here are a few tips to help:

  1. Use a wide aperture – some lenses have wider apertures than others so make it easier to blur the background. Ideally, you’ll probably want something around f/2.8 or wider (e.g. f/1.8 or even f/1.4, but those lenses are very expensive!). Not all cameras can have different lenses and not all lenses go as wide as others. But, if you do have the option, choose a wide aperture using Aperture Priority Mode instead of Auto (A on Nikon, Av on Canon cameras). The smaller the number, the wider the aperture. Don’t worry, though, if you can’t get a really wide aperture as the other steps will help too.
  2. Keep your subject as far from the background as you can. You will notice that your camera changes quite a bit in the lens setting (or you do if you are doing it manually) to move from focussing on something nearby to something far away. If your subject and the background are very close, there won’t be much difference for the focussing. If you keep a bigger gap between the two then there is a bigger gap between one being in focus and the other being out of focus. Thankfully, when taking portraits outdoors you can often create quite a lot of distance between your subject and the background! This will help to blur the background, but you will also need to take the next steps into account as well.
  3. Move closer to your subject. This has a similar effect to step 2 above. You are increasing the difference needed to focus on your subject and the backdrop. This is also particularly useful if you don’t have a long zoom lens. Very wide angle lenses may risk distorting your subject’s facial features if you get too close, so watch out for that. If you combine this and the previous step you can often create quite a lot more blur than you would otherwise manage. Try, for example, having someone stand against a wall with you about 10m away. Then, move them about 4m from the wall and go a few metres closer to them. Yes, you will probably need to change your zoom settings, but you will also notice that even using the same aperture setting, you will create much more blur in the background. The more you can exaggerate these distances, the more blur you can achieve. Remember, though, that we still want their face to be nice and clear and sharp!
  4. Use a longer lens. Now, I’m not just talking about the physical size of your lens. A long lens is one that you normally use to make things look closer than they are. So, this could be anything from around 85mm onwards. Longer (telephoto) lenses naturally create more blur in the background. This can be done using compact cameras or bridge cameras by zooming in close. Combine this step with the steps above and your portraits should have a nice softness to the background, helping to highlight your subject.

Portraits Outdoors - Sian

These simple steps can be used almost anywhere with most types of cameras and they can bring instant results to your outdoor portraits. On another occasion we shall look at other tools or techniques for improving your portraits outdoors. Practise as much as you can and experiment to see how your image is affected by changing things.

I process my portraits using Portrait Professional. This is relatively easy to use and very effective. You can often get a good offer on it, especially as a member of the SWPP.

I hope you’ve found this helpful. Do let me know if so! Also, do share any of your own tips for others to use as well.

© Joe Lenton, September 2014