From on High - Official Music Video (with DIY Bokeh update!)


This is the video I shot for the talented Jimmy Wong using both purchased and home-made bokeh kits! I'm going to do a write up later on TODAY on how we did it, but for now, enjoy!! If you like it, show it around!

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?


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.

Then I went to the lovely people at Fedex Kinkos and made it into a transparency!

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!


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.


Praestigium said...

Awesome, was waiting for this!

Great job by the way.

Ellenhar said...

Fascinating and creative!

Anonymous said...

Woh, Great jobs, Great techs, wonderful outcomes!!! Thanks for sharing!!!

Anonymous said...

will this work on apertures over f3.5

LH said...

Most likely not, you need a very wide aperture, under a 2.8 or 2 is best.

Puck said...

so how'd you change them mid shot? just have someone pull one and place the next? or string them on a strip and pull it across?

very cool.

Anonymous said...

Any possibility to get a copy of the PSD template?

Anonymous said...

Love this tutorial! You guys are so creative and resourceful. For some reason it made think of MacGyver LOL!

ana.gr said...

Have you got any pictures using the templates with words?
Excellent tutorial, btw.

Ars Reflex said...

Great works and good idea to design DIY bokeh filters !

Any chance to get template ?

Thanks in advance :)

Jim said...

While it's SUPER expensive for a roll, you can sometimes find someone nice at 3M to send you a sample roll of their optically transparent adhesive. It comes in rolls and I got a 12" roll by asking for a sample (was expecting a sheet not a whole roll!) You could use that to attach the multiple copies together to make them more opaque.

alpharon said...

I love the idea of using transparency paper to create the bokeh discs. I tried this out myself and printed my own discs on transparencies and a laser printer, but the in is easily smudged or scratched off. I'll have to to find a way to get the ink to stay on the paper for this to work.

shayne gray learns photography %$#! said...


Can't wait to try this out - thanks for sharing!

Great blog you're running here by the way....

shayne gray learns photography

Anonymous said...

GREAT JOB! I like it sooooooooooooooooooo much!!!

Looking forward to your next piece.

nikolaus.ph said...

very nice job! My tip would be using a black sheet of paper and cutting them with a laser cutter. is not too expensive and you don't get the blur of the transparent paper...

LH said...


Thanks! We originally considered using plastic and a laser cutter. However, I needed a way to keep the text intact. If you cut a "A" or a "B" out of paper, the holes in the B or the little triangle of the A fall away, so you just have the outline of the letters.

The original idea for words as bokeh came from Kaleb Wentzel-Fisher... his way of doing it was to stick vinyl die-cuts of the words onto glass filters that you can attach to a matte box on your camera. More expensive, but it clears up the problem of the blur.

@ Everyone else... I'll probably post the template soon! Unfortunately I haven't had any regular internet access :(

Danielle and Colm said...

Loved, loved, loved your use of Bokeh in that video!

I'd never even thought of how that was done nevermind been inspired to try it - but you've got me wanting to now!

Found you thanks to a link from Jason Hwang's FB page - and really thankful I did! Love your work!

And thanks for the Bokeh lesson!

Anonymous said...

Love this post. I have it book marked for inspiration..
I have tried it (not clearly as "high tech" as you) but got ok results..
Will follow your example with the transerancies..
Thank you for sharing

chuck said...

Great and cool.
I had the same idea a while ago, but haven't figured out the photoshop file. Is it vector images?

Could you darken the black ares with a wide tip marker?

RFH said...

Would you mind telling me what the diameter of the disk is?

Anonymous said...

Awesome tutorial!

I wanted to share my tutorial on how to lasercut bokeh filters ... even if you don't own a laser cutter!



Anonymous said...

Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
thank you :)