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How to get that perfect blurry Christmas light look from your Android camera

We've all seen those incredible photos where the background is a series of soft, blurry lights that come together to form the iconic Christmas tree. The truly great versions of these photos are usually taken with very nice professional cameras, but you can also get this effect with the camera in your Android phone. With all of the great cameras on phones running Android this year, there's more than a couple of you out there looking to take these photos whenever the opportunity arises.

Here's a quick tutorial on capturing these photos with your phone, and the apps that will help make it easy.

First let's get some language out of the way. The kind of photos you're trying to capture are called Bokeh photos, and they happen when you capture something by focusing on something in the foreground with the lights you want to look blurry in the background.

Bokeh

On a professional camera, this process involved adjusting your lens until you get the desired effect and taking the photo. On a phone you have no big lens, so you either need to force focus on something in the foreground or use an app with manual focus. You can probably do this with the camera app that came pre-loaded on your phone, but if you want the most control over your focal points and don't have a manual mode baked in to your native app you can install Manual Camera (opens in new tab) to get the desired effect.

You'll need to be a couple of feet away from the tree to get the look you want with your phone, so pick a good spot and open your camera app. Auto-focus is going to grab the tree and bring it into focus, which isn't what you want. If you are taking a picture of something in the foreground, make sure that something is close to the camera and not the lights. At this point you can either tap to focus on the subject in the foreground or use manual focus until the lights look the way you'd like. In Manual Camera, you can adjust the focus to Macro Mode, which will let you shoot very close to the lens on your phone, though if you're taking a picture of a person with the lights in the background you'll want to adjust the focus to a more appropriate distance.

Groot Bokeh

The key is to be a reasonable distance away from the lights, and to focus on the foreground. You'll see in the viewfinder through whatever app you choose to use that the lights are blurred to the effect you want to create, and once that happens you tap your shutter button and capture your photo. Congrats, you just captured a fun holiday photo worthy of all your social networks.

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

35 Comments
  • Or.... just use the Bokeh mode on your Axon Pro. Now I know why I bought this phone, you can never have enough blurry Christmas tree pics. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Unrelated but staples has the new Chromecast on sale for 25 after coupon code with a 20 Google credit:) Google Chromecast (2015 Model) + $20 Google Play Credit for $35 - $5 with coupon code 40585 - $5 with coupon code 96181 when you select 'Pickup in Store' = $25 Get em before they're gone! Posted via the Android Central App
  • Here's how to do 2 for 50 plus 40 bucks Google credit 2-Pack Google Chromecast (2015 Model) (Add a Quantity of 2x to cart) + 2x $20 Google Play Credit for $70 - $15 with coupon code 16250 - $5 with coupon code 96181 when you select 'Pickup in Store' = $50. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Wish I would have seen this first! Posted via the Android Central App
  • Sale should be good till 12/26.... just cancel and reorder if you want the 2 of them. Also if you have a chase freedom card sign up for visa checkout then use visa checkout when you pay at staples and you'll get a 15 statement credit back making it 35 plus tax for 2 new 2015 Chromecast and 40 Google play credit. That's what I did:) Posted via the Android Central App
  • My g flex 2 doesn't seem to have manual focus Posted via the Android Central App
  • No it doesnt, but it has is a damn good laser focus. With the tree in the back ground, focus on something between your flex and the tree. The tree will be automatically blurred in the pictures
  • Hmm... Might have to stick my tree through a Portal.
  • Yeah, those are pretty cool! Almost worth putting a tree up for. Almost. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Pro mode on my Note 5 works wonders for blurry Christmas lights Gold Platinum Galaxy Note 5
  • Vaseline! Posted via the Android Central App
  • Seriously? No mention of Lens Blur? AC continues with their "top-notch" journalism.
  • Seriously? Why would I recommend blur that isn't nearly as nice looking as actual bokeh? Akarol continues with their "top-notch" commenting.
  • Everyone and everything has its place, some people review tech, others flip burgers,, BTW Russel, where you get mini Groot?? Posted via the Android Central App
    2015 Moto X Pure
  • Search Amazon for "funko pop groot"
  • That Groot is the Marvel Collectors Corp one that came with Rocket Racoon. Hot Topic has an exclusive larger one in a holiday pot. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Also a couple versions of "dancing groots" at amazon too that daces with your music.
  • omg AT&T Galaxy Note 3
  • Well if one of the good writers had written this it might have been mentioned. Posted via Android Central App
  • if they don't meet your standards, you could always stop coming to the site
  • What's a Christmas tree? Posted via the Android Central App
  • This should help https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_tree Dam It Feels Good To Be A Google Gangster
  • It's like an unprocessed Yule log... Posted via the Android Central App
  • It's a children control device Posted via the Android Central App
  • Cool! Thanks for the tip...usually I'm going for the opposite, but this makes for some cool pics in this situation. On my Droid Turbo, I had to turn on manual focus and exposure from the camera settings to be able to manually move the focus. I also played around with the manual exposure and took some cool shots. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Blur effect starts Xmas eve and finishes 2nd Jan Posted via the Android Central App
  • I've got manual camera but sadly my phone doesn't support most of the features. :( Posted via the Android Central App
  • there's a very handy Xperia plug-in that does background de-foucus. It's certainly on the Z1/2/3&5.
    Merry Christams to One and All :-)
  • We were in Mexico. Pre-holiday vacation. So no tree. But I'll do one with the family in front of the fireplace using my Note 4 which has this function already. Love the camera on this thing. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I use the manual settings on my G4 for shots like these. It's nice to know that your phone is capable of taking that shot you have in mind.
  • Or use and HTC One M8. Posted via the Android Central App
  • No one's going to say anything about a portal Christmas tree? Posted via the Android Central App
  • If you get the cartoon filter on Samsung camera , take a picture of your tree while it blurry, is so pretty. Posted via Samsung Galaxy S5 model SM-G900A running 5.1.1 AT&T
  • I'm not compatible for manual camera Posted via Samsung Galaxy S5 model SM-G900A running 5.1.1 AT&T
  • Actually bokeh is the quality of the blur, some lenses and aperture blades produce harsher bokeh with the same depth of field. So "bokeh photos" is very incorrect, its not what the word means. Bokeh was a term created to describe qualities of a cheaper lens. Second, android phones have a very wide aperture, the same as those dslr prime lenses, like f1.7 or f1.9. So its not a matter or lens adjustment which causes the narrow depth of field or blurred background photos. Its the size of the sensor in relation to the aperture and focal length which causes the narrow depth of field. Smart phones have tiny sensors, so very wide depth of field.