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A Do-It-Yourself Bubblewrap Lens Filter

Michael Zelbel

Michael Zelbel

Today I’m pleased to present the first guest post ever on this blog, by one of my favorite photography teachers, Michael Zelbel, author of the bestselling ebook The Art of Boudoir Photography with Speedlites. If you’ve ever seen his videos, you know Michael is a colorful character full of passion for his subject. To get the full effect of his personality, you should read the following with an enthusiastic and slightly zany German accent. — Phil

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Hello! For many beauty photographers who are just starting out on this awesome artistic journey, introducing variety to their pictures can be a daunting task. A limited skill set and a shoestring budget can be legitimate obstacles to expanding your creative horizons.

Now, usually I tell you how to shoot some beautiful images using only a few bare necessities: essential lighting gear, a camera, some kind of interior space, and your imagination.

However, there is another great option you should look into—putting together excellent home-made alternatives for costly and fancy equipment!

The Bubblewrap FIlter

The Bubblewrap Filter - Vintage Holga meets modern soft focus?

Today I want to tell you how to manufacture a bubblewrap filter for your lens that would put McGuyver himself to shame! So if you’re interested, read on…

First things first: why would you even want a Do-It-Yourself filter? Well, gradually, as you tap into different creative techniques, you will want to have a massive collection of lens filters for every purpose imaginable: polarizers, warming/cooling filters, neutral density filters, and many others.

They can help you put a new spin on an otherwise unremarkable photo—and the best part is, you don’t even have to do anything! All you need to do is install it and then start taking pictures. For artists who don’t enjoy post-production or who simply want to add a stroke of novelty to an image this is a godsend and a must-have.

So the short answer is—filters are cool! The only downside to them is their cost and fragility, which can be an obstacle to aspiring beauty photographers on a budget.

But why bother buying a manufactured lens filter—why not make one? Now, don’t fret—I’m not going to force you to blow glass and then coat it in various substances. I mean, it would probably be hilarious for both of us, but I can only teach you the things I know and have tried myself!

Just for fun, let’s make a super-simple filter out of bubblewrap that you can put on the lens hood of your camera and use in beauty photography shoots. Everyone has a bit of bubblewrap left over—and even if you enjoy popping it (a pretty soothing activity, isn’t it?), it will still make for a perfectly decent filter!

Let’s get to it, shall we? Here’s what you are going to need for this particular DIY extravaganza:
– some bubblewrap;
– a rubber band;
– a lens hood;
– scissors.

Bubblewrap before photo

Once you’ve got everything necessary for making a bubblewrap filter, follow these three simple steps:

One. Place a piece of bubblewrap over and around the lens hood, on the end you don’t attach to the camera.

Two. Fix it in place with a rubber band. Clean up the loose ends of the wrap, lest they get into your line of sight.

Three. Cut an odd-shaped hole in the middle of the bubblewrap. The magnitude of “oddness” is up to you—the hole should be fairly sizeable though, so it would accommodate the main subject in the foreground and leave some of the background intact.

Bubblewrap after photo

Your high-tech bubblewrap filter in place

It’s pretty much impossible to mess up, so after step three you should end up with a perfectly usable bubblewrap filter. Now it’s time for that awkward moment when you look in bewilderment at the masterpiece of your making and ask, “What do I need it for again?”

Let’s see how this nifty little filter can add to your arsenal of photography techniques and make your pool of shooting ideas that much deeper!

With a bubblewrap filter, you can take virtually any picture and give it a softer, more romantic touch. Transparent bubblewrap acts as a really blurry foreground, mimicking the way sunbeams bounce off glass. In fact, those blurry dots you see are indeed sunbeams, caught by the wrap and focused into the lens.

A logical question to ask would be, “But what can a few faint beads of light add to my pictures?” Well, sometimes an image benefits from a blurry foreground — for instance, if there is a lot of empty space around your model that you would like to fill with…something. Now this trick of light can help you fill that space, without having to change the physical set where you are shooting.

Lots of empty space....

Before filter: Lots of empty space....

With filter

With the filter, a little more mystery. Because the filter uses light trapped in the bubblewrap, it works best with a dark background like this.

As with any other technique that is meant to enhance photos, don’t overdo it. A filter should be used as a finishing stroke, a cherry on top of a solid “lighting + composition” combo, just to make things more interesting. Occasionally it can be used to salvage otherwise unimpressive images… but not very often.

Before filter

Before filter: too much distracting detail and empty space in the surroundings.

The Bubblewrap FIlter

With the filter, it's more seductive, and the viewer's attention is drawn to the faces and actions of the couple.

Also, it goes without saying that a bubblewrap filter is, in a way, a lighting effect – so please don’t pile it on a photo that already features a distinctive and imposing lighting pattern. It will look out of place in it.

Other than that, feel free to experiment – see how far this DIY piece of equipment will get you. I think you will be surprised at how much you can do with such a deceptively simple instrument!
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Phil here again. What I like about Michael’s bubblewrap filter (aside from the price) is the way it provides a secretive, voyeuristic look, as if we are spying on a tender scene through a curtain of beads or from behind a screen. And it’s so simple!

Even if that is not the look you need, I hope this post inspires you to get creative and look around you for ways to use everyday materials and a little imagination to enhance your photography.

Zelbel ebookOne last thought: I know that Michael has a private Coaching Club for photographers, which he RARELY opens to new members. He’s going to be opening it briefly soon, but the only way to get an invitation to join is by purchasing his affordable ebook The Art of Boudoir Photography with Speedlites. The book is awesome, instantly downloadable, and I highly recommend it whether you are interested in his Club or not. It’s among the best boudoir books I’ve seen, at an unbeatable price.

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  1. Hi

    This is a brilliant idea – will try and experiment with other materials as well!

    Thanks, Erik

  2. esther says:

    Wow so interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  3. David Ward says:

    This is an updated version of the vignetting and other filters we used to put in front of our lenses back in the film days.
    With digital, it seems more prudent do apply these filter effects in post. That ensures there is a “clean” image in the folder should the client prefer it.
    That was always the draw back when using these effect filters with film. Sometimes the best expressions were on the unfiltered image. Or the other way round when the client preferred the clean image.

  4. Joe Asencios says:

    Reminds me of the good old days when we use to smear Vaseline over the lens and put a panty hose over the lense to get these effects…

    Cousin Michael is not crazy! he is like that eccentric cousin one might have.. I love his work. 🙂

  5. david says:

    A handy hint – Indeed!!

  6. Redzal says:

    A very interesting thing to experiment. Thank you for sharing.

  7. mimo says:

    This is a bit crazy and very cool! Thanks for sharing. Inspring stuff!

  8. Walt says:

    I have also used tulle fabric for interesting shots.

  9. Richard says:

    Bubblewrap is no doubt less messy than Vaseline. I haven’t tried it yet but the tulle method works fine too. With two layers with different hole sizes the “soft focus” vignette effect may be made progressively dense towards the frame edge.

  10. Tradewinds says:

    Hi All,
    Thanks for your many great ideas,I’ve this bubble wrap! I need help on the topic of dark skinned models. Dealing with lighting contrasts I find difficult, so please a short vid on photographing dark skinned models would be greatly appreciated.


  11. Phil Walker says:

    Hi. Any everyday object – bubblewrap. Brilliant idea but why didn’t I think of this before you. On my way into sunny Perthshyire (Scotland) to give this a try…..Can’t believe just how simple the idea is. Thanks. Phil

  12. Bijal says:

    Thank you very much for the idea . I tried the bubble wrap on my
    Camera and took some photos and the effect was



  13. Jules Corry says:

    Hi All,

    A lovely, affective way to show true feeling in the image. Will give it a go.. And have some fun.. Thanks

  14. John says:

    Reminds of what we did 30 years ago to produce a variable soft focus filter.
    All we did was do some heavy breathing over the UV filter and snap away. As the mist from your breath cleared you could capture images at various levels of soft focus, from very misty through to very light just before the last remnants of mist totally cleared. Try it out. Inexpensive and it worked.

  15. Kevin says:

    Used to do this effect with vaseline on a 0-glass filter.

    Never thought of any wrapper. Need to try cellophane and wax paper too. Cool idea!

  16. Joe Scopino says:

    Sounds a bit odd, but really nothing new Phil …. I’m been using bubble wrap as a down and dirty diffuser for direct flash with success. As I’m sure you already know, being a photographer requires you to be resourceful and quick on your feet under ALL conditions !!

    By the way, I find your Web tutorials to be the best around … even an old windbag like me can understand them. Keep up the good work.

    Best Regards,

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