December 20, 2009

Must-Get Christmas Pictures Before the Tree Comes Down!

The Christmas tree can provide an excellent background for some really unique photos- here’s a tutorial on how to get some great shots before that tree comes down.

Christmas Tree Bokeh - Top Christmas Pictures to Get Before the Tree Comes Down!

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1. The Christmas Tree Classic Bokeh

Canon 85mm 1.8
1/40 sec
1600 ISO

To get those big, beautiful, blurry lights, use your lens with the lowest aperture- For this picture, I used the 85mm 1.8, but the 50mm 1.8 or 50mm 1.4 would also work nicely.

Place your subject as far away from the tree as possible- we moved some furniture around so Howie could be about 8 ft away from the tree. The farther away the subject is, the bigger, and better, the lights will look.

To take the picture, get as close to the subject as possible. You know how you can be so close to the subject that the lens won’t focus? I found that if I got that close, then scooted back just enough so that the lens would focus, the lights looked better. I have no idea why that is- I just preferred the ones that I took like that! :)

Christmas Tree Custom Bokeh - Top Christmas Pictures to Get Before the Tree Comes Down!

2. The Christmas Tree *Custom* Bokeh

Canon 50mm 1.8
1/15 sec
1600 ISO

Meep!! Little Howie surrounded by Christmas Hearts! :) Custom Bokeh is my favorite new technique. No, I don’t have little heart-shaped Christmas lights on my tree… and I didn’t have to buy any special lenses or filters to get this look, either! All I had to do was use a little tape, scissors and paper- all the stuff I already have in my scrapbook room. And the best part is, you can have custom bokeh in any shape you can cut out. Hearts, stars, mini Christmas trees.. I even tried a snowflake. You want to see something cool? Try this out. The original photo doesn’t change shapes.. Only the lights are affected! Come on, I’ll show you.


Supplies You’ll Need

1. SLR Camera
2. 50mm 1.8 lens
3. Black cardstock
4. Removable adhesive
5. Scissors / decorative shape punches
6. Pencil
7. Tape


1. To begin, take a strip of paper and form a ring around your 50mm lens- tape the paper together so that it fits snugly around the lens.

2. Take the ring off the lens, place it on a piece of black cardstock and trace a circle around the ring.

3. Cut out the circle

4. Cut a square in the middle of the circle. I used an Xacto knife, but you could just use scissors. It doesn’t have to look pretty!


5. So, now you have a ring and a circle with a square cut out of the middle. Tape them together like pictured above to form a “hood”. For the benefit of the picture, I put the tape on the inside so you can’t see it, but you could tape it on the outside instead. It’s easier and it works just as well.


6. Now it’s time to cut out your shapes! You can use scissors or an Xacto knife (or even a die cutting machine) to cut out any shape you can imagine. I had these little punches that made it really easy.

7. Cut out your shape, being sure to leave enough room on the edges so you can attach it to the “hood”. I used removable adhesive so I could easily switch between shapes on the hood.


8. Attach the shape to the hood and put the hood on your lens- when you’re all done, it should look like this.

Of course, I used a heart punch for the picture of Howie. I did have to use a tripod to take the custom bokeh pictures. Using the hood lets in less light, so you have to set your shutter speed slower to compensate- in my case, too slow to hand hold. But you don’t have to have a tripod. You could set your camera on a coffee table, tv tray, chair, bench, ottoman, whatever! Anything steady you can get your hands on.


Canon 85mm 1.8
1/8 sec
800 ISO

I loved how the snowflake punched turned out! Unfortunately by this time my models were thoroughly uncooperative, so I just had to take pictures of the tree. :P

To get this look, focus on something close to the lens, like your hand, with the tree blurry in the background. Then move it out of the way and take the picture.

Christmas Tree Bokeh - Top Christmas Pictures to Get Before the Tree Comes Down!

The size of your cut-out will affect size of your custom bokeh- so play around with different shapes and sizes for all kinds of neat looks.


I even tried punching out the letter “B”. The possibilities are endless! :)

I would LOVE to see your Christmas Tree Bokeh pics!! :) Leave me a link to your pics in the comments- or share with me on Facebook. I would love to leave a comment for ya!

Thanks for looking! :)

See More Posts About: Photography Tutorials


Tracey C December 4, 2010 at 8:30 am

I used your information about to take a picture of my Christmas tree this year. I could never get a pictre of the tree with the lights on the tree on. The flash always over powered the lights and it always looked like the treee lights were not on. The picture came out so beautiful. It could be a greeting card photo.

Thanks for your knowledge.


Pat December 5, 2010 at 9:13 am

Thanks for the excellent tutorial. I have always been intrigued by bokeh, and now having all these special effects in my repertoire, well, I just love it.


ginger December 5, 2010 at 3:03 pm

can’t wait to try this out!! just mad that mu christmas cards are already made!!


Sandy a la Mode December 5, 2010 at 3:33 pm

oh wow!! i totally need to try the heart shaped bokeh.. soo pretty!!!!


Julieta December 5, 2010 at 4:17 pm

WOW! L-O-V-E this tutorial. Thanks so much for sharing :)


Janet Cahow December 5, 2010 at 4:39 pm

You are genius!! I can’t wai to try this. I am new to photoraphy so I struggle with the whole aperture, f/ shot thing. Thanks for the instructions.


GabbyRM December 6, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Awesome! Our photo club did this, but I missed the meeting since the RSVP list filled up. Thanks!


Jenny December 6, 2010 at 6:40 pm

This is too awesome! Now if only I could get my cats to sit still for me to try this.


PatriciaD December 7, 2010 at 12:34 pm

I am right there with everyone else just AMAZED at the creativity and ingenuity of your photography. Do you ever get near Springfield, MO and want to spend an hour or twenty showing a bunch of us here some of your cool tricks!! SO AWESOME!!


Tiffany @ No Ordinary Homestead December 8, 2010 at 5:29 am

That is so cool! I was just looking at custom bokeh’s on photojojo and thinking how cool that would look…and now I find your tutorial on how to make them which is even cooler!

Thanks so much for sharing this. I am definitely going to have to try it out! :)


Evelyn Ball December 8, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Very cool. I have always wondered how people do that. Do you think it could work in other settings or just on lights?

Thanks as always for providing us with wonderful information.


pk @ Room Remix December 9, 2010 at 6:11 am

This is awesome! I already took some photos of my tree but now I’m going to have to take some more and try this. Thanks so much!


Maria December 9, 2010 at 9:01 am

You always amaze me! Love the photos!


Jen December 9, 2010 at 9:07 am

Great tutorial!!! Another new fan here! :)
I struggled a bit at first getting this to work.
Documented this on my blog. Maybe will help others! :)
Thanks again!!!


Sharon R December 9, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Love this, especially making the shapes–I also discovered that if all you want is the bokeh and/or there’s nothing for you to focus on in the foreground, you can just change your lens to manual focus and turn the focus ring until you get the effect you want before snapping your pic. You may have to experiment with distance to the lights etc. I did this with a panel of lights at the mall so I could use the bokeh for a texture.


Wendy December 9, 2010 at 9:06 pm

WOW! These are great! I am going to try to get a portrait of my girls in this style. I can’t wait to try. What is the best time of day to do this?


Wendy December 10, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Question…I want to get more lights in the background and my subjects smaller but in my pictures for some reason I just have a little bit of lights around the subjects, and they seem HUGE. If I back up more I get too much “junk” in the background and again less lights. Maybe my subjects are too far from the tree? Any other suggestions?


LCSmithSAVED December 14, 2010 at 5:24 pm
wow, this was fun to try! I haven’t made my custom ones yet, though


Lindsey December 14, 2010 at 6:27 pm

I am very much a beginner, but I had a lot of fun practicing! Next on my list: custom :)


Mimi December 14, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Holy moly, those pictures are awesome! So creative, fun, unique and personal… Plus the pups make good subjects!


Tiffany Harvey December 17, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Thank you so much for this tutorial! I had no idea this was possible. Here you can see some of the pics I took as well as a few tips I figured out (didn’t need a tripod).

Oh! And I used something like photo corners to attach the papers to the front of the paper hood, so I wouldn’t have to worry about storing little sticky pieces.


Daniele Valois December 20, 2010 at 12:15 am

oh my gosh, soooo excited I found this~ Thank you for posting!


Paulette December 20, 2010 at 3:20 pm




cheiron December 22, 2010 at 8:00 pm

This was an awesome tutorial..and so fun. I shared it on my blog:


Casey December 24, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Aha! One of the great mysteries of photography revealed! I could not for the life of me figure this one out. Thanks for a great tutorial! Now all I need is the right camera! Santa Baby?


Melissa December 31, 2010 at 12:21 am

Amanda- I had so much fun with this tutorial! I love it! Thanks sooo much!

Here are some of my results!

Thanks again!


Maopa Lutui January 2, 2011 at 12:20 am

that’s awesome! Can’t wait to try it out:)


Kat January 4, 2011 at 11:24 pm

I am leaving my tree up until I figure this out!!
I have a fuju finepix s700 point and shoot (saving up slowly for a Canon 60D or Ti2)…

I HOPE I get it!


Kendra Koski January 11, 2011 at 11:54 pm

Thanks so much for tutorial!!! I love the snowflakes and I can’t wait to try it out!!!


Noob Mommy March 21, 2011 at 11:42 pm

Love your tutorial and very easy to follow directions! The bokah is beautiful and have wondered how to get such lovely lights in my photos. Thank you!


Barbara May 30, 2011 at 11:22 am

I finally had time to try this out…and I love it! Your pictures are beautiful. I haven’t put a subject in mine yet, but here’s what I have so far

Thanks for the great tutorial!


Ashley Beolens July 30, 2011 at 8:35 am

I love doing this type of bokeh work, but I have always used a piece of foam cut to the size of the exit apperture of the lens with the shape cut in the center, your method seems more stable :)


Nicole September 24, 2011 at 4:56 am

This tutorial is literally AMAZING. Thank you so much! Fabulous pictures & instructions :)


Laura Jolicoeur October 28, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Beautiful Dog! As my sweet Tessie is sitting at my feet, I have to tell you that I have a soft spot for BT’s


Hanna November 30, 2011 at 8:24 am

Thank you SO much for sharing this. I made it last night and it’s amazing. I have 5 babies needing Christmas pictures this week and now they get to be spiced up! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! :)


Katie@MyDarlingDays December 2, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Hopped over from The Hollie Rogue, WOW – you are basically brilliant. LOVE this tutorial and can’t wait to try it out. Thanks so much for the inspiration. *New Follower!*


Mindy December 9, 2011 at 11:03 pm

Thank you so much for the tutorial, linked back to you here!


patty December 13, 2011 at 6:05 pm

hello! checking in just a few years later to say thanks for a great tutorial! :))
merry christmas~


Meagan December 25, 2011 at 2:39 pm

(long time blog-stalker, first time commenting!) You have rocked my world with this tutorial! This is amazing! Keep up the amazing blog.


Kaity December 25, 2011 at 11:30 pm

hi Amanda! I just tried this out a couple of nights ago. my pictures didn’t come out quite as well as yours did because I don’t have a lens with as low an aperture, but some of them look pretty nifty. I tried using my dog as a model, but she was thoroughly uncooperative. :]


Ali B. January 3, 2012 at 7:03 pm

Hi there. I absolutely love the ides of this tutorial. Bokeh is so beautiful when done right.
I was so intrigued when I saw this tutorial because I have always wanted to make my own bokeh shapes. I went through it and did everything exactly as it says. I even et my camera to the specifications as closely to yours as I could. However, it did not turn out at all like yours. I was wondering if I could email you the picture I took and see if you could tell me what I did wrong.
I would really appreciate it!



Melissa January 13, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Hi, I tried to do this and it didnt work. My aperture would only go to 3.5. does that make a difference? Also my camera wouldnt even take a picture with the hood on. Please let me know, i really wanted to do a valentine picture. Thank you!


Pesc May 12, 2012 at 9:28 pm

This is so cool! I have to try this :)


Silly lady! June 1, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Sorry I do believe I’m being most stupid and feel totally silly for asking but love the bokeh effect so much I have to. How do you take the photo. On the custom filter it looks like you have just cut out little hearts and nothing else. If the entire lens is covered up bar a single heart, how are you seeing any image out of the lens other than a heart shape outline of what the camera is pointed at?
I’m sure there are many people who think I’m a total thicky but I’m prepared to look that way in order to achieve such a beautiful look.
Ps. Howie is a star bar!!! Xxx


Charlene November 13, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Would this also work with a 50mm f1.8?


Christina November 24, 2012 at 9:19 am

I just got an early Christmas present yesterday…my first DSLR camera and I’m super excited to try this out. Thanks for the idea.


Mui November 25, 2012 at 11:08 pm

love this tutorial! It worked on my 24-70mm f/2.8 as well. I posted test shots on my blog Thank you so much for this fun bit of inspiration.


Camille November 26, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Did you have all the lights in the room off for this or do want the lights on? I’m trying to take our Christmas photos but I dont know if I should leave my indoor lights on…


Shug in Boots November 27, 2012 at 11:28 am

So excited to find this … however, my pics are showing the whole photo in a heart shaped frame … which makes me need to crop it … also, the lights are blurry, but not in a heart shape …. what am I doing wrong?


Hollie November 27, 2012 at 11:30 pm

I love photography, but never had the time or money to truly get into it, but I wanted to comment on your dog! Love him. I have a Boston, and just love seeing photographs of others.


Heather Kelly November 29, 2012 at 8:37 am

I am DETERMINED to get a custom bokeh pic with my 3 boys (9, 2.5 and 2 months). Of course, I am having some trouble with 3 squirmy little guys. I did some practice/ test runs last night. I got the bokeh shots, but once I threw the kids in front of the camera the results were rather terrible. I am thinking that I might be better off photoshopping the custom bokeh into a photo of the 2 boys….Any suggestions?


Heather Kelly November 29, 2012 at 8:38 am

*correction….3 boys

Hayley December 2, 2012 at 2:08 am

Hi my camera only goes to f3.5 is there anyway to achieve the same or similar look? Love the pictures by the way :)


Jenny December 4, 2012 at 3:24 am

Hi. I am going to attempt this tomorrow night and was wondering what kind of light you had in the room other than the tree lights. Thanks!


Marni Peters December 4, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Thanks so much for sharing this, It worked and I love it!


Brian & Susan Pitts December 5, 2012 at 9:18 pm

So much fun and endless possibilities! here is a little creative editing to go along with your trick.


Molly December 6, 2012 at 1:54 pm

I must be doing something wrong – I tried matching all your settings exactly, and all I get is a tiny bit of photo, whatever’s showing through the cut out shape, and my lights aren’t shaped at all.


Becky December 9, 2012 at 1:10 am

I’ve had my dslr for a year and am just now venturing into modes other than the preset ones. I only have the 55mm, so I set the settings to f4.5, 1/10 sec, ISO 1600. I got a totally different look with my kiddos, but I still love it. Not sure if you can see it on my FB page, but here’s the link. I’ll be posting it on my blog soon, so I’ll come back to share. Thank you for giving me courage to adjust settings on manual! =)


Becky December 11, 2012 at 1:33 am
Christi Hartwell December 12, 2012 at 10:31 am

I have always wanted to try this ! And I did once I was inspired by your post ! Thanks for the tutorial, I just tried this out & it worked .I’ll be photographing my children in front of the tree once they get home from school! I’ll add the link to the images once I post them ! Thanks


andrea December 12, 2012 at 11:52 am

Hi guys, this is an awesome blog! just came across it the other day and im loving the tips. My smallest aperature lens is is 18-55mm 3.5. I dont know if ill be able to get the bokeh effect, any adjustments for this lens to still get these awesome photos?


Pixies-Tips December 17, 2012 at 5:04 pm

So great, Thanf you for sharing! You can check my first try on my blog!


Grisel Blanco December 20, 2012 at 8:32 am

OMG, I enjoyed this tutorial SOOOOO much!!!! :D You make it sound so simple!!! (: Thanks for sharing this wonderful information. I’m starting to get into photography because I want to take better pictures of my cards, so I’ve been looking up basic photography tutorials on YouTube and many people use terminology that feels like a foreign language to me, but you explained things so well here. I will definitely be coming back to learn more photography tips from you!!! :D


Lucianna December 20, 2012 at 11:27 am


I’m a newbie and just bought my first Canon T3I over black friday…… and this blog is wonderful! So I tried this picture out both ways this morning and had to play around w it a little, but at the end was very successful. Here’s what worked for me, I used AF on my 50mm 1.8 canon lens, and I obviously changed my focus to the subject on the left. Both pictures look beautiful with the heart bokeh and with out.

Thank you for sharing all this information!!

F 1.8
Iso 1600


Joy Weese Moll (@joyweesemoll) December 22, 2012 at 8:09 am

Thanks for this! I used it for a photo that helped me get published on The Huffington Post! I wrote about the photo and linked to this post today:


Sheila Larson December 12, 2013 at 2:19 pm

I am looking for a new camera for Christmas, can you tell me which kind you used?!


Lindsey K December 19, 2013 at 8:18 am

Thank you for this great tutorial! I used it to create a stop-motion Christmas video for my university. I used different shaped-bokeh filters in over 5,500 photos to create the video. You can view it here:
Thanks again for your helpful instructions!


Rania January 13, 2015 at 9:32 am

I LOVE this tutorial!! I can’t wait to browse the rest of your website :D


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