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Mastering Depth of Field in Photoshop

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008 by | Filed Under: Digital Photography

Mastering Depth of Field in Photoshop

After you’re done taking pictures, do you ever think that your photos would maybe look better if some of them were foggy, while others were in focus? That type of thing creates what is called depth of field and it basically gives your photos a three-dimensional effect. It conveys distance, directs the viewer to the point the photographer wants to emphasize and it makes your photos look like they were done by a professional.

Now, you can do it too and it’s really pretty easy. Without getting into the nitty gritty of aperture values, etc., you can use Photoshop to create your own depth of field in just a few easy steps. Let’s go!

1.) Create a New Layer

Close-up landscape shots work best when trying to create a depth of field appearance. Therefore, the first thing you need to do is pick a picture you’ve taken in extreme close-up, where there is more than one subject. With the Photoshop effects, you can emphasize one subject (for example, a flower) and isolate the rest (like other flowers, branches, trees, etc). And here’s how you can do it! Click on the Layers icon and a layers palette will open on the right hand side. Next, drag the Background Layer onto the icon at the bottom of the layers palette, titled “Create a new layer.” That creates a copy of your original picture.

2.) Apply the Blur

Ensure your Background Copy layer is still highlighted and then click on the Filter menu at the top of the Photoshop window. Navigate down the scroll menu and choose Blur. Then choose Gaussian Blur.

3.) Set the Blur Level

Once you click on Gaussian Blur, you will see a pop up window that asks you to set the blur level. Type in 8.5 and click OK. You are now on your way to creating your very own depth of field!

4.) Set the Areas

To create depth, you now need to choose which areas you want to be blurred and the ones you want to be in focus. That’s the main basis of generating depth of field in a photo. Keeping the Background Copy layer highlighted, click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the layers palette (it looks like a circle in a rectangle). A white rectangle will then appear on your Background Copy layer.

5.) Mask It

Masking allows you to reveal more or less of the layer underneath and it’s completely reversible. Go ahead and apply a Layer Mask using the Brush Tool. You should go for a soft brush that gives just enough to create the desired effect. Using a black color will reveal the image underneath, whereas a white color will erase any unwanted applied masking. With the Layer Mask thumbnail selected, use a black brush to paint over the areas you want to be sharp. During this process, if you want to move the image around without using the scroll bars, you can hold down the Spacebar and drag the canvas with your left mouse button.

6.) Reversing Your Mask

Sometimes you may end up applying a lot more layer masking than necessary. But, like I said before, this process is reversible. So, you could paint your mask with a white brush, change the color in your foreground palette to white and then paint over it again.

7.) Subtle Masking

Now, it’s all about blending the blurred and non-blurred areas together to make the viewer feel like your photo is real and not just some Photoshop tweak. To do that, simply apply a gray layer mask. Change your foreground palette to gray and then brush over the elements you think would still be in focus. You can zoom out every now and again to see if the masking has transformed the image the way you want. If you’re satisfied, flatten your layers by choosing Layer, Flatten Image. Also, don’t forget to save your work!

In Conclusion

Detail is everything, so be accurate in your rendering of blur. In other words, zoom into the image a little more than necessary to make sure the image doesn’t suffer from unnecessary blurs in some areas and clarity in others. If some are very narrow gaps you need to mask, simply change the size of the brush you’re using. All in all, creating depth of field is an easy process and with Photoshop’s help, your photos will look as good as ever!

~ Zahid H. Javali

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