The Eclipse Inspired Us To Play With Bokeh Effects—See What Happened

Kasey, Adam and Olive looking up at the eclipse on August 21, 2017.

This week, the nation’s attention looked skyward as our country came together to witness something spectacular—the total solar eclipse. Families and friends gathered together to witness this rare celestial event. Of course, as photographers, we couldn’t resist gathering our little KKP family together to watch the event and capture it.

Since we were in Atlanta, we didn’t quite get to totality, but we did have some fun creating a composite of how Atlanta saw the eclipse.

Atlanta Eclipse composite

Rippling out in the days since, other photos like ours are emerging as photographers edit their work and publish. If you’d like to see our favorites, we are collecting them over on Pinterest.

We will be sure to add more in the days and weeks to come, so don’t forget to follow KKP Photography!

eclipse shadow effects

Photo courtesy of Buzzfeed.

One photo effect caught our photographer’s eye in particular—the shadow effect the crescent sun casted on the ground.

Earlier this summer, we had played with changing the shape of light with a simple paper insert on our lens. The photos emerging this week from the eclipse inspired us to toy with it more, and show you how to use light and control its shape, just like the sun and the moon did on the sidewalk to the left.

But first, a little lesson in photographer lingo.

The photography term for these shapes of light is called bokeh (pronounced BOH-kə where the ‘bo’ is the same as in bone, and the ‘keh’ sounds like ‘ke’ in Kenneth). Bokeh refers to an aesthetic quality in certain types of photos where light is blurred into shapes and colors.

Newborn with mother with bokeh effect in the background
You’ve probably seen lots of photos like this, as it’s a technique professional photographers love to use, most commonly seen by placing your subject in focus and blurring the background into blobs of light using shallow depths of field.

For instance, you can see to the right how this newborn photo we shot this spring uses this effect.

Here, the mother and baby are in focus, and the dappled lighting in the trees behind is blurred into a beautiful bokeh.

The interesting part here is that the bokeh effect is controlled by the circular shape of the lens itself. Normally, your lenses are round, and so the little whirls of lights are typically in circles, just like your lens.

To change it, all we need to do is to insert some black paper with a shape cut out over the lens. You may be concerned this could obscure your total image, but it shouldn’t. As long as the center of your lens is clear, it is only going to shape the bokeh blobs in the background.

Of course, the lens itself is critical to achieve a bokeh quality in your pictures. Your lens needs to be capable of very shallow depths of field using a very large aperture. We used a Canon Lens EF 50mm 1.8 II, set wide open to a 1.8 aperture to maximize the shallow depth of field.

To create a bokeh effect, we recommend setting the f-stop to 2.0 or lower, so it does require a lens that is capable of such a wide aperture.

Using the lens as a guide, we used an exacto knife to cut black paper into circles that would fit inside the lens. Being adventurous, we cut five different shapes, being careful to ensure there was a wide enough space in front of the aperture itself so we could shoot a clear picture.

To the left, you can see a Pinterest friendly visual of how we created the bokeh inserts for our camera lens.

Next, we ventured outside to test our bokeh inserts! For simplicity sake we cut a single rose from the garden to use as a subject. It could easily move with our backgrounds, and provided some consistency for our experiment. The focus after all was the background.

First we sought out some natural lighting bokeh effects. This may take you some trial and error to get right. In general, to get the shapes to pop in nature, look for solid shade with areas of broken light in the background. In our case, we found a shady corner in the yard that also had some dappled lighting in the trees behind.

Shade is a photographer’s friend, keeping your subject smooth. Especially when shooting people, shade helps to avoid those squinty eyed and crinkled face photos. Dappled lighting on the subject or any direct sun also creates a LOT of extra work in editing too, so always aim to shoot in shade!

For our experiment you can see our shade kept our subject, the rose, in focus while the flecks of light in the background creates that beautiful bokeh quality. It also kept our editing of each photo down to about a minute a piece.

Here are the first results—so cool!

The effect in a natural setting is subtle, so to illustrate it more sharply, we used a setup of christmas lights hung on a wall. This helped the shapes really pop as light is forced into the bokeh.

Of course we have the eclipse inspiration from this week, but there are so many usages for this type of photography effect. We have done several photoshoots in the past month using the heart shape. We used it to show the love between a man and his dog, a subtle effect around Stacey’s dog Lucy, and even used it to change the shape of the moon into a heart for a spiritual picture.

There can be many more uses for this. Certainly, hearts could be used for Valentine’s Day photos, engagement photos, newborn photos, or even just family photos. The stars could be interesting for headshots or holiday themed photos for Christmas, New Years or Fourth of July. The lightning one was inspired by Kasey’s love for all things Harry Potter, and could be fun if someone was dressing up at Halloween as a character from the Harry Potter series. Triangles, crescent suns, diamonds, starbursts, flowers, octagons and any other simple shape you can dream of can be easily created to add an interesting new dimension to your photo.

For our clients, we are always down to create and experiment with you. If you’d like us to incorporate this type of photo effect into your next session—please just ask!

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