What's a bokeh you say? It's that oh-so-wonderful fuzziness in the background of photographs with a shallow depth of field and accompanying starry highlights. You can create you own bokeh effects with a little craftiness. The term bokeh is an anglicised version of a Japanese word used to describe the portion of a photograph that is out of focus behind the area of principal focus in a picture. When you see a portrait that has a creamy soft background and a nice crisp focus on the person being photographed, you are seeing bokeh. The shape of the highlights—sometimes round, hexagonal or other geometric shapes—is determined by the shape of the aperture in the lens.
Over at the photography enthusiast blog DIYPhotography.net, an interesting DIY project outlined in simple steps can create custom shapes for the highlights in your bokeh. By creating a combination lens hood and cap out of black card stock and then cutting out the shape of the desired highlights, novel shapes can be created in the final photograph.
In the top/first photograph, the author of the tutorial photographed the same scene with and without the the heart shaped filter pictured at right. In the photo at left, Flick user trazomfreak, used the same technique to create snowflakes. If you'd like to see more interesting examples of custom bokeh in action check out the follow up to the tutorial with user-submitted samples. One thing to note is that the wider you can set your aperture, the more intense bokeh effect you can achieve. If you don't have a lens capable of some of the wider aperture settings, like f/1.8, don't despair. We've previously discussed how to use pre-digital camera lenses on modern DSLR bodies, so picking up an old 50mm F/1.8 lens on eBay or at your local used goods shop is easy and great for this sort of experimenting. For more details on construction methods and tips, check out the full tutorial below.