IT'S UP, YOU GUYS!!!
This is the video I shot for the talented Jimmy Wong using both purchased and home-made bokeh kits!
On Shooting With Bokeh:
All the light and bokeh effects for this video were done in-camera for cheap. And this is something you can easily do yourself. (Skip down a little if you already know the basics and just wanna know how we did the words!)
Bokeh is basically how your camera lens renders out of focus points of light created by shallow depth of field. You've all seen it before, mostly in out-of-focus picture of car lights:
The shape of your bokeh is created by the shape of your lens' aperture. What a bokeh filter does is change the shape of your aperture to something other than a circle.
"Aperture", in its most basic form, is an opening to let in light. A camera lens has two. The actual front of your lens, and the adjustable aperture inside your camera that you can make smaller and bigger to let in less or more light. We're changing the size and shape of the front aperture, so the inside aperture needs to be as wide open as possible in order for us to see that shape. This means you need to have a lens with both a wide aperture, and a longer focal length to hide any masking effect the filter may have. This brings us to what lenses we used:
Bokeh works best with 50mm lenses, with apertures f1.8 or wider. The Canon EF 50mm f1.8 is great for this— it's under 100 bucks, has a wide aperture (making it a fast lens) and perfect for bokeh. (Note: If you want better glass, the Canon 50mm f1.4 is also fantastic, but pricier.)
This made us have to deal with problems early on: shooting photos with just a 50mm is great and all, but an entire video? 50mm lenses are not very wide. We'd have a LOT of close ups and possible problems of not having enough space to get the shots we wanted.
18mm lens vs 50mm:
Turns out it was pretty restrictive and we had to be creative with our angles whenever we needed to be on a 50mm for bokeh. We tried attaching our bokeh filter to a 35mm lens with poor results. The length of the lens is too short, and the bokeh shape gets split in two.
So! Now that we knew we had to be on 50's, we had to get a filter!
We looked around the net on various DIY bokeh filters, but we decided to check out the Bokeh Masters Kit. It seemed simpler than creating an entire lens hood, and it had interchangeable shapes— we knew that for the video we would have to be switching out a lot of different shapes and words, so easy replacement of the bokeh filter was key.
We liked the kit's design for the matte (the thing that covers the lens and holds the filter in place), but we were going to have multiple cameras going, and we didn't want to shell out more money for filters. So Jimmy whipped out his xacto knife skills and replicated it using cardboard. (You can easily make this yourself just by measuring the size of your lens.)
And he even had the genius idea to improve it, creating a backing for the matte to ensure no light could enter through the tabs that hold the filters:
Then you place the filter flush against the lens (if it's not exactly flat, it's not really a huge problem) and secure it with a tight rubber band.
Put the filter into the matte and center it.
Fantastic! Throw open your aperture as wide as it can go, set your exposure using ISO and shutter speed, and you've got a great start.
However, Jimmy and I weren't interested in the usual run-of-the-mill bokeh. We needed something that would make this video stand out. It was a music video with a great song— why not have the lyrics in the bokeh itself?
CREATING WORDS WITH BOKEH
I found this video a while back by Kaleb Wentzel-Fisher. They made a bokeh rig using a matte box, glass filters and vinyl die-cuts of the words they wanted. I thought this was brilliant— it looked FANTASTIC. They solved the main problem of creating cut-outs of words: the letters with "floating parts" like R's and B's and O's. However, I didn't want to have to rent the matte box and create glass filters or die-cuts. Like most of us, I'm broke. So here was my not-so-elegant solution.
I created a bokeh filter template in Photoshop based on the ones in the Masters Kit. I made one with the words we needed (placed specifically in the center, making sure it was small enough to fit inside the hole in the matte) and I added more shapes for fun.
However, the first problem we ran into was that the transparencies were... too transparent. You could see a faint glow around the words of the circle in the matte:
So I made a few more copies and we doubled them up to make them more opaque. Here's the original, then doubled up:
The problem of actually getting them to stick together was interesting. Super glue didn't work (it never fully dried and ruined the ink), so we eventually resorted to tape and staples. High-tech, right?
We made a lot of them:
REMEMBER to place word filters on the matte "backwards" so the it will read correctly in the viewfinder!
OKAY! SO! MORE PROBLEMS!
The disadvantage of using cheap little transparencies over nice glass and vinyl die-cuts, is that transparencies are not completely "clean". Once we got outside into less controlled light, the fogginess of the clear part of the transparency appeared much more distinctly. You can see it here:
We actually ended up pulling out ALL THE STAPLES AND TAPE from the doubled up filters and just using the singles! The fuzzy circles didn't show up as much when we were outside in the dark anyway. It led to all of us sitting in Jimmy's car, shivering from filming out on the beach near Santa Monica, trying to pry the filters apart with freezing cold fingers. Hilaaarious.
Anyways, we learned a lot. Cutting shapes out of filters gives you a crisper look, but the transparencies did the job, and only cost me about 3 bucks at kinkos. Plus, the foggy look gave the video a more dreamy feel, which I felt was appropriate this time around. If I were to do this again, I'd definitely spend the time to make a better rig and do some more tests. The depth of field needed to get really clear bokeh can be tricky. Getting both Jimmy and Meghan in focus with clear bokeh at the same time was nearly impossible unless we were super close up.
So that's it! All in-camera! Hope you guys liked it. I learned a ton.