How to make custom bokeh shapes (DIY bokeh filter)

If you like to make things, here’s a step by step tutorial for creating your own custom bokeh shapes. It’s much easier than you think and a super cheap, creative photography idea for a different look to your photos!

There’s an easier way if you don’t want to DIY interesting custom bokeh shapes – you can buy bokeh filters on Amazon (affiliate link) to fit to the end of your lens. Just make sure you buy a size that fits the diameter of your lens. Then read my tips below for how to photograph bokeh shapes with a bokeh filter.

Easy peasy DIY bokeh filter tutorial

Here’s my 5 step “recipe” for creating your own custom bokeh filters in whatever shape you like.

Step 1 – bokeh filter material

Get a piece of black paper or thin card. The key requirement to a successful bokeh filter is that it is black.

Trace lens shape on card to make bokeh filter

Step 2 – create lens filter

Place your lens face down on the paper and trace the outline of the lens so that you have a circle the same size as the front of your lens.

Draw four 2cm x 4cm (ish) rectangles at regular intervals around your circle. These will be the tabs that’ll hold your DIY bokeh filter in place on your lens.

DIY custom bokeh shape filter

My DIY heart shaped bokeh filter, ready to fit to my lens.

Step 3 – create custom bokeh shape

In the middle of your circle draw the bokeh shape you’d like to create, for example a heart or a Christmas tree.

Experiment with sizes, but don’t be tempted to make it really big. A small (1 – 2cm), but not tiny shape in the center of your DIY filter works best. You’ll find that the smaller you make it the more of a vignette you’ll have in your image, as you’ll see the image at the bottom of this tutorial.

If you’re looking for inspiration on what shapes to create, have a look at these bokeh filters you can buy on Amazon. Then make your own!

Step 4 – cut out your bokeh filter

Cut along the outer lines of your DIY filter and then carefully cut out the shape you drew in the middle of the cardboard.

A sharp craft knife would be best, but as I don’t have one, I used a pair of scissors.

Fix DIY bokeh shape filter to lens

Unless you’re super organized, the hardest part of making a bokeh filter is probably finding a rubber band to fix your filter to the lens!

Step 5 – fix your DIY bokeh filter to the lens

Place your DIY bokeh filter on the end of your lens, making sure that you position it the right way up.

Then fix it in place with a rubber band. (I did mention your new custom bokeh filter is a super low tech and cheap camera accessory!)

DIY heart shaped bokeh filter

If you’re eagle eyed, you’ll have noticed that my filter is on sideways. Don’t do this – you’ll see why in the photo at the end.

Photographing with a bokeh shape filter

Experiment with your new bokeh filter!

Bokeh is the out of focus spectral highlights in a photo, it’s not just a blurred background.

So the easiest way to capture bokeh in photos is to have out of focus lights in the photo background (or foreground).

  • Point your camera at an ideal bokeh subject, like fairy lights
  • Set your exposure, making sure you use the widest possible aperture for a shallow depth of field
  • Start photographing

You’ll see that as you change camera settings, especially focus, as well as aperture and focal length, the size of your bokeh changes.

I’ve photographed a Christmas tree out of focus. If I put somebody or something in the foreground and focused on them with the tree out of focus in the background, it would make a great holiday photo!

Effect of focus on custom bokeh shape sizeThe image on the right is more out of focus, so the shapes are bigger. My aperture setting for both images was f2.8. In case you want to know, my focal length was 66mm on my 24-70mm f2.8mm lens.

Quick summary of how to create bokeh backgrounds

  • Pick a background with small light sources for lots of bokeh shapes
  • Position your subject in the scene with the lights far behind them
  • Get close to your subject and focus on them
  • Or, to photograph the lights only, without a subject in the foreground, switch to manual focus and try different levels of out of focus(ness)
  • Make sure your bokeh filter is on straight
  • Photograph with a wide aperture

Heart shaped bokeh filter not straight on lens

Before you take the shot make sure that your bokeh filter is fitted onto your lens properly. My filter was on sideways, so I created sideways heart shaped bokeh by accident. Also, the heavy vignetting is actually the bokeh filter (aka black card), which happens when your cut out shape is too small. Luckily, I had plenty of card, so simply made another one with a bigger heart shape.

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If you have any questions about making a custom bokeh shape filter, let us know in the comments.

Also, I love good news, so if my DIY bokeh filter tutorial has inspired you to try this fun photography idea, share that too.

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