Bokeh, in combination with field blur, creates stunning depth of field in photographs. Field blur produces a generalized blurring of background elements, but bokeh is especially popular for its characteristic “circles of confusion,” or renderings of unfocused light. These diffused light aberrations make any photograph look magical.
Field blur and bokeh can be achieved using certain camera lenses, or with a few simple steps in Photoshop. Read on to learn two techniques for adding blur and bokeh to your images.
Creating Field Blur with Smart Objects
Choose an image to work with. Field blur can be added to any image, but it looks best on images that already have depth of field with a distinct foreground and background. We’re using Autumn park by Thomas Zsebok.
Once you choose your image, open it in Photoshop, right-click the background area, and select Convert to Smart Object. This will allow you to edit the image even after effects are applied.
Select Filter > Blur Gallery > Field Blur to open the Field Blur panel. This effect allows you to create a gradual blur by dropping pins and adjusting them independently. Move the first pin to the area you want in focus – in this image it’s the boat. Set the Field Blur to zero by dragging the slider on the right, or dragging directly on the pin.
Once you have set your focus point, you can drop as many pins as you want to create a field blur. Simply click on the image where you want to set a blur, and drag the slider or pin to the desired blur value. For this image, I created a gradual blur by setting incremental values from foreground to background. When you’re happy with your field blur, hit OK.
Since this is image is a Smart Object, I can now edit and refine the field blur by using the brush tool. First, select the Smart Object from the layers panel. Next, select the Brush tool (B), choose a soft and round brush, and set the foreground to black. Paint over the areas where you want to remove the blur effect. In this image, I painted over the light blue boat to remove all of its blur and create a sharper contrast from the background.
The gauzy blur of the final product emphasizes the foreground objects and creates a foggy, dream-like effect on the background.
Creating Bokeh Effect with Direct Selection
First, choose an image. Bokeh looks best on images with dark backgrounds and multiple light sources — typically nighttime photos. I’m using Thai family releases sky lanterns by Patrick Foto. Open the image in Photoshop.
Select the background of the image using whichever selection tool you prefer. I used the Lasso tool. If you have to make multiple selections to get the whole background, hold down shift as you trace around additional elements.
If your background area is large, and the foreground object small, you can save time by selecting the foreground object and then clicking Select > Inverse. This will inverse the selection to the background. Save your selection in case you need to go back by clicking Select > Save, and giving it a name.
Copy the selection and paste it onto a new layer. Give this layer a name, like Background Copy.
To create the bokeh effect, make sure you have the Background Copy layer selected, then select Filter > Blur Gallery > Field Blur. You will see the same Field Blur panel as before, but this time you can use the Light Bokeh slider as well.
These two components work together — the more field blur and the less bokeh you use, the less defined each source of light will be. The more bokeh and the less field blur you use, the brighter and more defined the lights will be. You can also adjust the Bokeh Color slider to bring out hidden colors in the lights.
When you’re happy with the look of your image, hit OK. This effect can’t be edited, so make sure you like it!
The scattered light of the final product creates an incredible dreamy quality.
These tutorials offer easy ways to add depth and beauty to your photos. You can also get instant bokeh on your phone with mobile apps, or test out new blurring techniques in Photoshop’s Blur Gallery. It takes practice to achieve these looks on camera, but with some trial and error you can get similar effects with photo editing.