Precious Cargo

Precious Cargo

This was a photo I’ve had in mind for a long time, but for some reason kept putting off until one morning this summer when I finally decided to go for it. It involves something called a Bokeh Wall, which is basically a homemade solution for creating cool sparkly out-of-focus backgrounds like what you see here. All you need (so I’d heard) is a vertical surface and something you can attach to it that reflects light. Even though everything I had seen seemed to indicate that homemade bokeh walls like this were quick and inexpensive I always figured it would involve a lot more planning and preparation than it actually did. I’m going to be honest here: the picture you see above took exactly ten minutes to capture, involved almost no pre-planning, and was an entirely spur-of-the-moment activity that my son and I did before I left for work one rainy morning a few weeks ago.

Here’s a picture of our entire setup that I took with my iPhone:


If it looks all too simple, trust me: it was. In the foreground is my D200 with my trusty 50mm lens. Next is a toy train I pulled out of one of my kids’ toyboxes and behind that is, I kid you not, one sheet of crumpled aluminum foil taped to a board we got at the local Habit ReStore for two dollars. I thought I would need a tripod, but tried a few shots with my camera sitting on the table and it worked just fine. If you’re looking at this picture right now and thinking “This is cool, but I’ll never be able to get a shot like that,” trust me: you can :)

I shot this at f/1.8 to get some really cool bokeh going on in the background, but as usual I kind of wish I had stopped my lens down a bit because the depth of field is just a bit too shallow for my liking. And while I could go back and re-do the photo (and probably will), I wanted to post my initial shot here even though it’s less than ideal because I was so excited about taking it. The dual-toned background is a result of two light sources: a window which is just to the left of my camera, and an overhead chandelier. Light coming in from the window is more white whereas the incandescent bulbs on the chandelier were yellow, which not only led to the multicolored background but helped light the toy train in a bit more interesting manner as well. Incidentally I also used the self-timer on my camera to eliminate any possible vibration from my finger pressing the shutter, and also shot at ISO 100 to get the highest-quality noise-free image possible, and given that my camera and my subject were stationary the resulting low shutter speed of 1/20 was not really an issue.

This makes two pictures here on Weekly Fifty that were the result of sheer curiosity, experimentation, and good old-fashioned trial-and-error. And if you take anything away from this post, I hope it’s at least a small desire to try something new with your camera too :)


  1. It looks great! I love the bokeh and ALSO the reflection from the table for added interest! I’ve never used crumpled aluminum foil but will give it a try. I’ve used a small, battery powered 6foot long string of LEG Christmas colored lights, and also a similar string of white lights in setting up a bokeh shot. Those work great too, but have to be a little distance from the subject to really turn out well. I have grown to LOVE my 50mm! I enjoy following your Nifty fifty! Good work!

    • Oh, I like that idea of using a string of LED Christmas Lights. Thanks for the idea, Marsha :) Glad you’re enjoying that 50mm lens!

  2. I really like the effect! Reminded me that I would like to try something like this! So nice that it doesn’t take too much planning and setup. Thanks!

    • You’re right about the planning and setup, Lisa. It was literally by-the-seat-of-our-pants, last-minute, and involved almost no planning at all. If you do try something like this, let me know how it goes!

  3. Wow! I like how everything blends so well. The reflective wood table (and lighting) creates a neat illusion. There is almost no horizon to this photo so the train could be floating except for the reflection of the train which is equally cool. The color pallete is also blendy.

    • Thanks, William! I was pleased with how it turned out as well, and even looking back at the photo I still can’t quite tell where the table ends and the background begins. I’m glad you like the photo :)

  4. It amazes me what can be done with a little imagination! I would have never thought about creating a background with crumpled aluminum foil. I like the depth of field in the photo. The subject is the toy train and everything else should be directing our attention to it. The bokeh is great combined with the light playing off the crumpled aluminum foil. Enjoyable! Got to get that D7100 out again…

    • Thanks David! I would have never thought to try something like this on my own, but was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was. If you give it a shot, let me know how it turns out!

  5. Rebecca Burlingham says

    The glossy finish on your table didn’t hurt either. Great tutorial. My favorite source of bokeh is the morning sun behind my neighbors pear tree.

    Have you tried making bokeh shapes? I used star shapes for my Christmas cards. My Christmas tree provided the lighting.

    • Good call on the bokeh shapes, Rebecca. I’ve seen examples of that but never tried it, and after reading your suggestion I think I’m going to try it for an upcoming Weekly Fifty pic :)

  6. Frank Tiefenback says

    Thanks Simon!

    It’s so fast and easy to go through your Posts, due to basically one concept or technique with the hands on pics to display the process…(the phone pic to show the set up – great, gettin’ the job done then move on!)

    Also compared to a couple of the other sites on photography that I keep up with – you seem to have the perspective of not need thousands in high end gear to create an interesting image…thanks. Good gear yes, and knowing how to really use it are the key – but boring shot can be done with little knowledge and a Leica just as easy as a point and shoot too…

    • Thank you Frank! I really appreciate your comments. If I had a bunch of high-end gear I sure would enjoy using it, but I kind of like that most of the pics I take here are with an old, cheap Nikon D200. I have a newer D7100 and some other lenses, but there’s something kind of magical about using just one 50mm lens :)

      I’m glad to have you as a reader of Weekly Fifty!

  7. Muriel T. MUNGA says

    Hello Simon,

    I thoroughly enjoy your Weekly fifty! I am getting very fond of using my nifty fifty. I never go out without it. I even lent it to aspiring (and brilliant) young photographers…but I think I will stop that. Your precious cargo set is very original and seems pretty easy to use. I will try with my son’s cars and let you know. I realise that I tend to be more creative on shoot than at home…but I will definitely keep my creativity in and out of the house.
    Aluminium foil?? Who would have thought about it??? Well…you Simon!
    Thanks again.
    PS: I follow you all the way from Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo)

    • Bonjour Muriel, and thank you for your kind words :) I’m glad you enjoyed this week’s post, and if you take anything with a similar aluminum foil backdrop I would love to see the results. Keep using that Nifty Fifty, and thanks for following my blog from Kinshasa!

      Au revoir…

  8. Thank you…. always wondered how this could be done..

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