Bokeh is the Japanese name given to aesthetically pleasing, out-of-focus light, and the festive season provides a better time than ever to practice capturing this stunning effect. All you’ll need is some fairy lights, your Olympus camera, and a lens with a wide aperture…
Go wide, get shallow
When shooting using a wide aperture on your lens, you’ll get a shallow depth of field in your images; meaning the subject closest to you in the foreground is in focus, but the background behind it blurs away nicely. Using the same method here, we’re looking to make sure that you have a light source like fairy lights in your background, which – when focussing on a foreground subject – will be rendered as beautiful blobs of soft, out-of-focus light. The smallest F-number your lens is capable of will create the widest aperture, so choose the lowest you have.
Set up your subject
What I’ve done here is set up a Christmas tree decoration on a table, and moved it away from my tree fairy lights, by about a meter. I’ve got the M.Zuiko 25mm F1.2 PRO lens on my OM-D E-M10 IV and I’m shooting wide open, using Aperture Priority at F1.2. I didn’t need to use a tripod for this thanks to the excellent stabilization, but you can pop your camera on one if you feel more comfortable doing so.
You can see the difference in the above images by using a different aperture. The first is shot using F5.6, which is allowing more of the background to be in focus than I’d like, and creates a more distracting, and frankly, unremarkable picture. The second shot is much more pleasing, using that beautiful F1.2 aperture, but the subject is a little dark thanks to all that lovely light being behind it – so what I did here was add a little light to my subject using a small LED panel, but the light on your mobile phone works just as well on a small subject, so give it a go!
Capture the magic
If you’ve got a Christmas tree up this year, you can apply the same technique to capturing subjects in-situ. The closer the subject is to the light source, the smaller the bokeh effect will be, but you’ll still be able to capture some lovely shots of your festive decs. Try playing around placing fairy lights in different positions in your shot, or use coloured lights for a different vibe.
Get abstract, using manual
And for something a little different, here’s where the rules go out of the window to create something artistic and abstract. You’ll need to switch your lens to manual focus for this technique. On my M.Zuiko 25m F1.2 PRO lens this is done by pulling back the snap function on the lens itself (so handy!), but if you’re using a lens without this function like the M.Zuiko 25mm F1.8, you’ll need to head into your camera settings by clicking ‘OK’ to activate the Super Control Panel menu, then scroll to AF Mode and select MF, for Manual Focus. Next, use the focus ring and twist it while pointing at your subject until you’re happy with the effect. Try moving closer and further away, or even semi-obscuring the lens with a piece of paper, decoration, or light to achieve different results.