Bokeh Space Invaders

Space Invaders!

It was the early 80’s when the Saskatoon-born kilt-wearing pro wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper appeared on the WWF scene. While his tumultuous feud with Hulk Hogan gained him fame and notoriety over the years to follow, it wasn’t until 1988 did he truly make history.

It was then that Roddy stumbled across a pair of sunglasses that filtered light in such a way that allowed him to detect the historical space invasion, as explained by John Carpenter’s 1988 documentary, “They Live”.

It’s interesting how this technology has since been lost over the years; but having recently reviewed some archived footage on Netflix, I made an attempt to build my own Alien Detection Filter.

Cardboard Bokeh Filter

And so, armed with my alien bokeh filter, I took to the streets of Vancouver to see what lies the night lights had for me.  It wasn’t long before I came across suspicious activity downtown whilst peering around a bus stop on Cordova:

They Live!! Invaders on Cordova Street!

Basic Bokeh

Bokeh is a photography technique that messes with the way out-of-focus light is rendered. Generally speaking, the shallower the DOF and more out of focus the points of light are, the more exaggerated the bokeh effect will appear. By default, this will appear as large balls of light, as Bieber illustrates below:

Bieber Ball…yes, of course it is signed.

The reason for the circles of light is due to the shape of the aperture. But you’ll likely notice that, the smaller your aperture, the less smoothly circular the bokeh will be. In fact, say your aperture is made of 6 blades, then your bokeh will become more and more hexagonal for low apertures for exactly this reason.

Aperture Blades more apparent at f/2.8

Homebrew Bokeh Filters

Similarly, my very professionally-made, not-at-all-makeshift-nor-homebrew, (cardboard) bokeh filters essentially alter the shape of the aperture, rendering out-of-focus light into any shape that I’ve cut out! For example, take this blurryback of the Christmas tree and how it changes with the various filters:

Christmas Tree with Basic Unfiltered Bokeh

Christmas Tree with Star-shaped Bokeh Filter

Christmas Tree with “Space Invaders” Bokeh Filter

Christmas Tree with Dove-shaped Bokeh Filter

Random Examples

I find bokeh particularly effective when there’s an in-focus subject either in front of or behind the lights, but it also works without. Google “bokeh” and you’ll find some pretty amazing examples of what people have done. But if you’re looking for amateur attempts at learning this technique, you’ve come to the right place! 🙂 So on the note, here is a random collection of my past bokeh experiments for your perusal:

Kissing Reindeer with Star-shaped Bokeh Filter

Carousel-o-saurus with Christmas Tree Bokeh

My poor dog!



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