Advanced Bokeh Tips

Combining flash with ambient light isn’t always an easy thing to do, especially when you have to balance the exposure in a way so that you get a nice bokeh going in the picture. The flash, even when it is fired at its lowest power, can produce a blinding amount of light. Gavin Hoey shows us how to use a flash coupled with a string of holidays lights for some beautiful background blur:


The tools Hoey uses for the shoot include a camera, a flash (Flashpoint Li-Ion Flash) and a shiny surface. He also used an incandescent bulb as the subject and some holiday light chains in the background for the bokeh effect.

Adjust the Light’s Power and Direction

The problem with using flash, as already described above, is that even when at its lowest power the amount of light produced can be overwhelming. The Flashpoint can go down all the way to 1/128 of its full power. But even then this is the result that is produced:

capturing holiday lights bokeh with flash

Flash fired at 1/128 of its full power

So, how do you reduce the power of the flash even further?

A bit of feng shui ingenuity is what is needed:

holidays lights bokeh

With light adjusted for power and direction

It doesn’t take a genius to note that the background lights are inconspicuous. This happens because the shutter speed is 1/200 of a second. It’s not enough time for the fairy lights to be recorded on the sensor and to appear in all their glorious glitter. The solution is in reducing the shutter speed. Hoey changes the shutter speed to ¼ of a second and this is the result:

slow shutter speed

Shutter speed slowed down to record the background light

Use a Shiny Surface

Another problem routinely faced by photographers is the lack of background circles. In this particular case Hoey has a background setup with some holiday lights but they are not enough. The solution is a black shiny surface. This helps him to not only capture a reflation of the subject but also increase the number of circles in the image without any extra effort.

using a black shiny surface for product photography

Capturing reflection of the subject and the background lights on a shiny surface

Make sure that the shiny surface that you’re using has been thoroughly wiped clean. Otherwise you will have an image full of dirt and dust and a lot of work in post processing.

Change the Bokeh Shape

Changing the shape of the bokeh is a ingenious way to add a bit of spice to your photos. All you need is a black card with the bokeh shape you like cut out in the center of it. Take a picture and voila! You have a new bokeh shape!

Changing the shape of the background bokeh

Background bokeh shape changed!

Watch the rest of the video for some cool editing tips for your holiday lights photos.

Like This Article?

Don't Miss The Next One!

Join over 100,000 photographers of all experience levels who receive our free photography tips and articles to stay current:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

New! Want more photography tips? We now offer a free newsletter for photographers:

No, my photos are the best, close this forever