Anytime I hear "images of broken light" in the Beatles song Across the Universe, I think of bokeh. One of my favorite songs ever btw. So what's bokeh exactly? It's the result of blurred images of light - which in turn take on this magical, dreamy quality when you're shooting wide open apertures.
You can achieve bokeh in nature, from the bits of light peeking through trees, with strands of lights and even stained glass. BTW some people say it as bo-kah, others um... I don't know? I say it as bo-kah.
This bride and groom portrait of Holly and Phillip has just the slightest amount of natural bokeh from the sun behind them. Shot with aperture f/2.8
One of my favorites is the bokeh behind Chris as she says her vows... it's actually a mix of light filtering through trees as well as colors from flowers and the guests. Shot at f/2.8
Here's an example of "framing your subject" with a strand of Christmas lights. The lights were actually about 10 feet away from the bride and groom, and I was also shooting as close to the lights as possible in aperture f/3.5 to achieve this look. I simply focused on my subject, set my exposure and tada, bokeh framing.
The bokeh behind this detail shot of an ornament at a December wedding was not that far away. They were actually on the same tree as the ornament. Since I was shooting with an aperture of f/2.8 very close to my subject (almost macro) I was able to get a significant amount of bokeh. That's the big benefit of lenses with wide open apertures. You don't have to have your subject so far away to achieve the look.
I'm obsessed with stained glass windows, and the ones at Jana and Stephen's wedding were no exception. Shooting with the veil about 5-10 feet in front of the window, I was able to capture the delicate detail of Jana's veil while creating a gorgeous amount of color bokeh. This was shot in aperture f/4.
But get this, you don't have to have a subject to capture images of broken light! This set of purple and white bokeh was actually a Christmas tree at TCU. To get the shot, I chose the settings (aperture first, then the others accordingly) and then I put my camera lens in manual focus. This is not the same thing as the focus points in your camera. It is the auto focus / manual focus on the lens itself. Then I deliberately turned the barrel on the lens to get an image of lights not in focus. Instant bokeh.
Note how this bokeh (above) is much more defined than the previous image. You can actually see some of the hexagon shapes of the lights. That's because I decided to use a smaller aperture to get a different looking bokeh. Again, shot with the lens in manual focus, deliberately set to be out of focus.
image (above) shot with f/2.8
Last but not least, here's one of my favorite images taken of a strand of regular colored lights. I actually had the lights hanging on a window (in a dark room) about 10-15 feet away from me. I chose my aperture (in this case very wide open f/2) adjusted my other settings and then set my lens to manual focus. Again I deliberately made the shot out of focus to create blur without an immediate subject to focus on. This wasn't the final result, in editing I made the darks much darker and tweaked the colors.
So that's just some of the fun you can have shooting bokeh. Next time you're shooting, try your hand at creating these images of broken light.