A Great Lens for Bokeh

By Kate Riley December 13, 2012

On Tuesday night I was having a nice chat with some blog friends (Marian, Maria, and Cathe) at Marian’s book signing in my hometown and we were discussing blogging and photography, and the consensus was a that a 50mm 1.8 lens (or the more expensive 1.4) is a great blogger tool for those desirable beauty shots.

The 50mm is a fixed focal length (or “prime”) lens with wider aperture capability (refer to this post for a more in depth explanation on aperture.)  I bought my 50mm lens last December as an early Christmas present because I wanted the ability to snap pretty close-ups and to take Christmas tree bokeh pictures like this.  The ones with those pretty twinkle light orbs!

twinkle light bokeh

This image was taken with the little bowl of ornaments 7 feet away from the tree of twinkle lights and me positioned another 4 feet away from the bowl.   Camera settings with 50mm lens:  f/stop 1.8,  shutter speed 1/40,  ISO 800.

If you don’t know how to use or change the Manual setting yet, get ready to learn how with these fabulous online videos for visual learners that I’ve mentioned before offered by Shoot Fly Shoot.  Once you know how to change the aperture (or f-stop) to a wider setting, you’re all set to take great holiday bokeh shots, but it only works when you have a lens with that capability.

Kit lenses don’t go below a 3.5 f-stop, so you’ll achieve beautiful bokeh and shallow depth of field when you invest in a lens that allows you to go to a wider aperture of 2.0 or lower numerical setting.  A really nice affordable version is the 50mm f/1.8, offered for both Nikon and for Canon and for less than $125. 50 mm for canon and nikon


The lens isn’t just great for those pretty orbs in the background at Christmastime, it’s perfect for all those beauty shots where you want to achieve shallow depth of field beyond your subject matter (where the background or foreground beyond your focal point is blurred).


business card box cg


I use my 50mm for many of my tablescapes and closer room shots.

white dishes and grapevine accent

The 50mm f/1.8 is also really nice for food photography.

lemons in wood bowl


The only thing you have to adjust to with the 50mm is the fixed focal length.  You can’t zoom in or move out with a fixed 50mm prime lens, you have to physically move back and forth, up and down, and around your subject, but with practice you can grab some lovely images with this lens.

And for fun, I tried out this custom bokeh technique to make heart and star bokeh and it worked!  I didn’t make a cover for my lens, but here’s what I did do.  I cut out the heart and star shapes on pieces of black cardstock.  I set my camera with the 50mm lens at these settings:  f/stop 2.0,  shutter speed 1/13,  ISO 640.  After I focused on the ornament, I held the cutout over my lens.  It actually turned the bokeh effect into little hearts and stars, how cool is that?

heart and star bokeh


So for those of you who want to move beyond your DSLR kit lens and start taking some beauty shots, especially the ones from 1 to 8 feet away from your subject, consider the affordable 50mm!  You might want to put it on your Santa List this year.  :)

Other Photography posts from 2012 you might enjoy:

Why You Should Learn to Shoot in Manual

Experimenting with Focal Length

Styling and Shooting: Five Things I’ve Learned




  1. I LOVE my 50mm f1.4!! I also just upgraded my camera to the 7D which has made a world of difference {from the Rebel}. There’s always something new to learn about photography and it has become addicting to do so!

  2. I literally just purchased my first DSLR (canon T3) and 50mm lens this morning. I turn 30 in February and my wife said she was planning to get me one for my birthday, but with Christmas and all just around the corner she said we might as well get it a little early.

    My research of a lot of blog discussions led me to the 50mm lens as well, for all the reasons you state. I’m very excited to see this post today right after I made my purchase. I actually went for a body-only camera, which leaves out the normal kit lens, so I could save some money starting off. I figure if I find I’d like a zoom lens down the road I can buy it then. In the meantime, it sounds like the 50mm can do everything I want really well.

    (PS – the canon 50mm lens is on sale for $110 on amazon. Free shipping for Prime users too – not bad at all.)

  3. Great post! I got a 50mm lens for my birthday this year and it’s been really fun playing with it and experimenting with the low f stops. I need to remember to take some bokeh shots with our Christmas tree this year. Thanks for the reminder! :)

  4. I was just playing last night w my new Canon 50mm lens (and my new T3i!). Actually got the lens for free (and a memory card and a carrying case) with just the camera body — B&H was having a package deal for two days in late November and what’s a girl to do…

    Thanks for the mini-tut as to what the lens can do — I’ve bookmarked this!

  5. Shut up with the hearts and stars!!!!!! OH MY WORD I LOVE THAT! Your post is making me smile b/c I remember when you posted last Christmas (I was new at blogging then) and you showed your bokeh pics. Well this year, I thought of you again in the beginning of December b/c I bought a nikon 50mm 1.4 lens as an early Christmas gift to myself b/c I wanted to try and take some cool pictures for Christmas this year! ha. I took Kevin’s class and I am waiting for the next one to come out b/c I love how your shots have the cool crisp look to them and I am fairly certain you must adjust your white balance outside of “auto”. I actually bought some white card stock paper and set my preset using that method for our recent bathroom reveal and I think they came out ok but I know I can do better. I need some white balance help. Anyway, great post!

    • Ha! I so want a 1.4 Jessica, don’t have one YET! I’m also thinking about a 35mm… oh yeah! I don’t really adjust my white balance much and I’m still learning about it, but I do sometimes pull some of the yellow saturation out with Photoshop Elements, you know the ones that lean a little warm? Or yellowish? I should probably write about that!

  6. We really wanted christmas-light bokeh for our cards this year, and it sort of worked…. We had to shoot at night time (because my husband leaves for work before the sun rises and I get back after it sets). Do you have experience taking bokeh shots at night? Ours looked really odd–part of that could have been the fact that we have colored lights on our tree, or maybe we didn’t string enough on… ideas?

  7. You’re speaking Greek to me, and it took me a minute to see the hearts and stars (duh!), and I am now amazed! Now I am going to figure out this photography thing so I can understand you. :)

  8. I am DYING for a really nice camera to take tons and tons of photos. Sadly, it doesn’t look like it’s going to make it under my tree this year. Doesn’t mean I’m not saving for it though ;) Thanks for the post!

  9. Your post is perfectly timed since my new 50 mm lens f1/8 should be waiting for me when I get home! It was a late birthday present to myself. :-) I got mine for less than $100 on Amazon by waiting for it to be discounted by one of the many sellers that have it listed. Can’t wait to try my hand a bokeh.

  10. Thank you so much for taking the time to post this! My photography is really hit or miss when it comes to inside shots. I do so much better with outdoor photography, yet still have SO much to learn. One of the reasons I stopped blogging so much is due to the time it took to get “decent” shots. I don’t usually make New Year resolutions but this year I am- It’s to become a much better photographer and learn all about every aspect of my camera. I am a visual learner so I am going to click on that online course-Thank you, Merry Christmas!

  11. I completely agree! I purchased my nikon d90 several years ago, and just purchased the 50mm 1.8 earlier this year, what a difference that cheap little lens makes. For the price, you really cannot beat it, and I leave it on my camera 99% of the time for pictures of my little guy. It is such a great lens!

  12. So glad you posted this! I own the 50mm f1.4mm, and it produces beautiful photos, especially portraits and macros. Just remember folks, this is not a lens for tourist shots or snapshots.

  13. Hi Yanet, I don’t have a 35 mm yet, but let’s just say it’s on my Christmas List!

  14. Thank you for the wonderful explination and idea!
    At first was thinking “what? how does that work?” But I tried it ut and… Ta, Da!!!
    Super fun idea :)


  15. Thanks so much for these tips. I have a wonderful Olympus camera that does much of what a bigger one does, but even though it drops to 1.8 I cannot blur backgrounds which makes me think I need one that allows lenses to be changed.

  16. Fantastic post. Loved it. I’ve been out of town and missed you. You changed your blog.you no longer can print which is sooo upsetting for those of us ADDers who like to touch and feel the reading paper.
    I like to take your info with me to the park to photograph, hardware store grocery etc. now, when I print, I have to print all responses and sooo expensive.
    Go back. It was so great!!!!!

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