Reindeer Bokeh {Or, Putting Pretty Lights Behind Your Photos}

One of my absolute favorite things to do this time of year is to take photos using the "bokeh effect" - i.e. pretty, out-of-focus lights in the background of a photo with a sharp subject in the foreground. Christmas trees packed with little lights make a perfect backdrop to experiment with this effect.

To do this, you're going to need a DSLR camera or a point and shoot with manual settings, but don't be scared away by the idea of switching into manual mode. I promise it's not very complicated :). I explained this technique in lots more detail in a post I wrote up last year, but the basic idea is to place an object (or a person!) several feet away from the lights you want to look blurry in the background, set your camera to a low f-stop (wide aperture), focus your camera on the object in the foreground, and shoot away.

For these shots, the regal reindeer from my mantle was kind enough to volunteer to himself as a model. He's a nice-looking model isn't he? You know what would've been cuter than a reindeer though? A chubby baby, or a smiley kid. So if you have one of those at your disposal, I'd suggest you try that :). A silver reindeer works pretty well as a substitute though, ha!

I took a bunch of photos, but I think the following three are good examples of the different looks that the bokeh effect can have on photos.

I took all of these photos with my 50mm lens set on an f-stop of 1.8, and adjusted the shutter speed accordingly. The only thing I truly changed was the distance Mr. Reindeer stood from the Christmas tree.

From about five feet, the lights look like this:

(Mr. Reindeer thought it was a good idea to hang out in my festive tinsel-filled bowl for this shot.)

The lights are pretty twinkly here, but I personally like for my subject to be more like 7 to 12 feet away from the lights. The farther the object is from the lights behind it, the blurrier and more abstract they look.

Here's what I got from about 7 feet away:

I just love the contrast between the sharp foreground object and the blurry lights in the background.

Then finally, here's Mr. Reindeer about 12 feet in front of the tree:

Of course, our baby Christmas tree is much smaller from this far away and takes up less space in the shot, but the effect of the lights is mighty lovely. Just think of what it would look like with a huge tree in the background!

Big thanks to Mr. Reindeer for being such a good model for indulging me in this little experiment. Again, if you want to read more of the technical stuff about the bokeh effect and how to achieve it, head to this post. There are also more photos there. If you have any questions, let me know! I'm always happy to help :).

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