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As a Brookhaven Newborn Photographer, understanding my camera settings and how they affect the image I am making is crucial.  Since it’s Christmas time, I thought this would be a great opportunity to explain how one camera setting – the f/stop (also known as aperture) – can work to create a magical thing we call “bokeh.”

Bokeh is the way a lens renders out of focus points of light. These are the pretty sparkly areas of light we see in the background of many great photos.  They are an especially fun element to add to your images around the holidays!

If you would like to learn more about how to control your camera settings, join us in Atlanta Moms with Cameras.  AMWC is a private Facebook group for local moms who want to improve their camera skills.  We have great tutorials in the group on learning to use your camera settings to get better photos from your camera.


F/stop (or aperture) is a camera setting that determines how much of an image will be in focus.  A low f/stop number, like f/2.0, will render the background more blurry than a higher f/stop number like f/5.0.  A lower f/stop number will also make the points of light in the background (such as those on a Christmas tree) appear larger.


Let’s look at some examples – notice how as my f/stop number gets larger, the size of the points of light on the tree gets smaller:



Brookhaven-Newborn-Photographer Brookhaven Newborn Photographer

Your Lens

The lens you have will determine how low you can take your f/stop number.  Some lenses may have a maximum aperture of 3.5.  This is usually the case with the lens that comes with your camera.  This is a limiting factor, but there is a way to overcome your lens’ limitations.

Add Distance

Adding distance between your subject and the holiday lights will maximize the size of the bokeh.  Below you can see two images with the same f-stop (f/5), but larger bokeh points are achieved by moving farther away from the lights.

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And of course, being further from the lights and using a lower f/stop number will have an even more dramatic effect:


How blurry you want the points of light to be is a matter of taste of course – there’s no right or wrong, but knowing how to utilize your cameras settings to achieve the effect you want is powerful.

Camera Settings

If you normally shoot in auto mode, I recommend switching your camera to Aperture Priority Mode.  On a Nikon camera, choose “A” on the mode dial.  On a Canon camera, choose “AV” on the mode dial.  In this mode you can select the aperture you want.

I recommend starting at f/3.5, or as low as your lens will allow.  Just be aware that your camera will automatically choose your shutter speed for you.  If your shutter speed falls below 125 you will most likely have blurry photos.  If this happens you will need to raise your ISO setting.  Check your camera manual for how to do this.  Raising the ISO setting will bring more light to your camera’s sensor so that your shutter speed will stay high enough to get a sharp image.  You will also need your f/stop setting to be high enough to get your subject in focus, so play with it until you have a good balance between your subject being in focus and your points of light being blurry.

Go give it a try!  I would love to see what you capture.  Join us in Atlanta Moms with Cameras where we are sharing our holiday bokeh images this month.

If you found this tutorial helpful, please share it on Facebook.  And if you are looking for a Brookhaven Newborn Photographer, I would love to hear from you!  Please hit the contact button on the menu to get in touch.

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