One of my favorite picture effects is the bokeh, more precisely the blur that usually appears on parts of a scene that lies outside the depth of field. Most of the time I can get what I want directly from the camera but every now and then situations arise when I would like that effect to be a bit more pronounced then normal.
Take this image for example, while there is a decent amount of bokeh in the original image, I thought a bit more would only bring the foreground more into focus and give at the same time more depth to the whole landscape. The technique is pretty easy to achieve in Adobe Photoshop and while numerous plugins exist out there that might achieve the same thing, this technique will give you a bit more control than anything else out there. Oh, and it does not require investing in other pieces of software.
After applying this effect using Photoshop, I got the result from the following image. It might appear subtle at the first impression but this is what I wanted, you can control the blur to your liking/vision.
1. As usual, we begin by duplicating our Layer so that we can easily come back to a previous version if needed or apply only a certain percentage of the changes that we need. To duplicate the Background layer, go up to the Layer menu, choose New, and then choose Layer via Copy or even easier, press CTRL+J or CMD+J. I will not explain what operating system uses which, if you are on a Mac or Windows you will instantly know what I’m talking about.
Rename your newly created layer if you want to and move to the next step.
2. Using the selection tool of your choice, draw a rough selection around the area that you want to have in focus. I used the Polygonal Lasso Tool around the cart to add a bit more blur to the background, the old abandoned house in this case. You don’t have to be very precise here since you will be softening the edges quite a bit in the next step.
3. Once you finished your selection, press Q to enter the Quick Mask mode. If you didn’t screw up any steps until now, the area outside your selection (the one that you want it blurred) will now be overlaid in red.
4. Jump into the Filter menu, choose Blur and then Gaussian Blur. Use the Radius slider to increase the blurring, until it shows a smooth transition along the edges. There is no right amount here because your picture and selection might be different, use whatever you think it is right for your case. Remember, you can always come back later and change things if you screwed up.
When you are done, press Q again and you will be back at the initial mode, where you could see your selection.
5. Go to Select menu and choose Save Selection. Accept the defaults and verify that your alpha channel is there. Press CTRL+D or CMD+D or simply go to the Channels tab next to the Layers palette and check it out, you should have an extra Alpha 1 channel at the bottom of the list.
6. At this point you are almost done, you only need to go to the Filter menu and select Lens Blur. Once the dialog box opens up, make sure the source is the alpha 1 channel created when you saved the selection, check the Invert box and then play with the Radios slider until you achieve the amount of blur that you want. Don’t be afraid to go a bit over the top, you can further adjust the level of blur by controlling the Layer’s opacity in the layer palette.
7. If things are a bit too much for your liking, adjust the opacity to the desired level and enjoy an amazing depth of field effect. Who needs a high aperture lens anymore, think of all the images that you can adjust now.
One last bit! If you did not do a good job during selection stage, do not fret. You can fix it using a layer mask and the good old brush tool to sharpen those edges where you were kinda shaking. Cheeers!