Brewing a Cup of Bokeh

A friend of mine briefly showed me a photo equipment catalog one weekend and in it was this really colorful image of a cup “bubbling” with bokeh. Although I forgot how the original image looked, I recall that the colors in the image just spoke to me. I resolved to make a similar colorful image some day.


It turns out that for a hobbyist photographer with a family, full time job and a television set in the bedroom, the gap between resolution and action tends to be long. It took many months before I could bring together all the elements that make this picture.  I knew that a bright mug would be an essential component. None of the mugs in our kitchen passed the auditions. Friends did not take kindly to my rummaging through their cupboards examining their beverage containers. Then one day while shopping at the Crate & Barrel, I spotted the bright yellow mug in the picture and instantly knew it was the one.

The next required item on the list was a small string of Christmas lights. As luck would have it, I had just gotten rid of my 10 year old set of Christmas lights with the intent to replace them in the next season with the more energy efficient LED kind. Since it was a few months past Christmas already, stores didn’t stock them either. I managed to coax a friend to fish out and lend me a small strand of lights from their stowed away holiday stash.

Next I had to find the right black backdop. I had played around with poster boards and determined that they were not ideal (prone to reflections) based on some preliminary experiments. I figured I need some kind of cloth background. Even though I am loathe to go shopping with my wife, I tagged along on one of her visits to the fabric store and snagged myself a black rag of suitable size and texture.

Having now acquired all the components, all I had to do was find a place to set them all up together and make time to shoot. Finding a place to shoot was not a slam dunk either. As a hobbyist, I don’t have a studio or anything.  What I needed here was a dark room with a wall to hang the backdrop and a fair amount of distance between the backdrop and the mug as well as between the mug and the camera. Then I needed to position a couple of flashes around the mug as well.

It was clear that the garage was the only place I could make work. Since I needed it to be dark I waited for night time, moved one of our cars out and made space for my setup. You can see my setup in the picture below. I had to improvise all around to position and line up the mug in relation to the backdrop and the camera. Then I setup two flashes with umbrellas and wirelessly configured them to trigger from my Nikon D3S using Pocket Wizards. An AC3 zone controller helped me dial-up and dial-down the flashes as needed. With that it was time to shoot.


After months of planning this mentally, the shoot itself didn’t take too long.  I played around a bit with different flash intensities and positions, but that was it. As far as post-processing goes, I darkened the background just a tad – nothing else. While I was happy with the results for the most part, next time around I plan to play around more a bit with light placements and reflections.

Anyway, that was how I brewed this cup of bokeh.

P.S. I realize this post doesn’t go into the technical details on the camera and flash settings. I plan to do a better job of documenting the settings for future shots.


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