Creating Christmas-tree-shaped bokeh

By Ted Colegrove, Olympus Designer and Professional Photographer

Every year I try to take photos of my dog near our lit Christmas tree. Unfortunately, she hates it, so I have to resort to finding something else to photograph. Inanimate objects work perfectly! They don’t need treats to sit and they take direction easily. Unfortunately, they’re not as interesting. To spice up your holiday photos, especially of inanimate objects, try modifying your bokeh with a few easy steps:


You’ll need a heavy piece of paper. I use card stock, but you can use construction paper as well. Regular printer paper can often be too flimsy for good results.

You will also need an Exacto knife, or sharp box cutter, to cut the shape into your paper. Make sure that your edge is sharp. If you have a duller edge and tear your paper, or the cut has jagged edges, it appears in the bokeh shape once you shoot.

pen or pencil is also advised, to trace the shape onto your paper before you cut.

Lens choice

I find the best way create bokeh is to use a prime lens and to shoot “wide open,” at at least f/1.8. This means shooting at the largest aperture that your lens will allow. In my sample photos, I’m shooting at f/1.2 using the new M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.2 PRO. The higher the f-stop you’re using, the smaller the modified bokeh will be, so keep your f-stop as wide open as possible.

Cutting out your shape

Tracing your shape
Cutting your shape

Stage your scene

It is helpful to make sure that all of the elements in your photo work compositionally before you start modifying your bokeh. The larger the bokeh is, the better the modified bokeh will look.

Take your photo

Place the cut out piece of paper over your lens so that the cut out is in the middle. You’ll immediately see the transformation of the circle bokeh in the background, to your shape! Play around a bit until you find your perfect capture.

Tree Shaped Bokeh
Tree Shaped Bokeh

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