The holidays are upon us and it’s time to take out your camera and make some fun images. I thought I would share how I take pictures of out of focus highlights and change them into different shapes using cardboard, scissors, tape and a pencil.

Creating the cap

First, we will create a cap that will go on top of our filter sleeve. The easiest way to do this is by tracing the lens cap of the lens that you will be using to create your images. Next, draw a fun shape in the center of that circle. If you aren’t the artistic type, a fun paper punch would work great too. Use the scissors or X-ACTO knife to cut everything out.

This next step is optional, however, I think it makes everything a little bit easier to hold. You are going to want to create a sleeve for your lens by cutting a strip of paper to wrap around your whole lens. From there you attach your circle to the lens sleeve. This will allow you to slide your shape over your lens and shoot hands free. If you choose to step this skip you will just have to hold the circle in front of your lens while shooting.

Camera settings

You are going to want to use an aperture of wider than f/2.8. To do this you need to have a prime lens. If you don’t have a prime lens, don’t stress, you can still get this same effect. Using a zoom lens with a higher aperture is great as well.

I recommend setting your camera to Aperture Priority mode. Then turn your dial to its widest aperture and set your ISO to Auto. When doing this you will want to watch your shutter speed. If is it 1/100s or slower I would recommend using a tripod to avoid camera shake.

When focusing need your focus point to be as close to your camera as possible. When you are shooting with any lens it has a limit on how close you can. If you are too close the camera won’t be able to focus. Decreasing the distance between you and your subject more will allow the background to fall out of focus. Creating more distance between your subject and the background will also increase the effect.


When all your settings are correct and ready to go switch your camera into manual focus. Then you are going to turn your focus ring to the closest focus distance. I actually would prefocus on my subject before and then slide my shape sleeve onto the lens, allowing me to get a tack sharp image.

Keep in mind throwing a black circle with a small cutout over your lens will cause the overall exposure of your image to be darker due to the lack of light you are letting in through your tiny cut out. It seemed that my images were a whole stop to a half stop darker with the sleeve one.

The fun

From there you take your cut out shapes and place them in front of your camera. While doing this you might notice that your shape is too big or too small, causing you to have to do some tweaking from there to see what size your shape cut needs to be. But once you have gotten that done, it is all fun and games from there on out. The great thing about this technique is there is no limit to what you can create.