How To Blur a Photo Background in Photoshop (Shallow Depth of Field Effect)

October 4, 2019 0 By Peter Engel

everyone this is Chris from Spoon Graphics back with another video tutorial for Adobe
Photoshop. Today I’m going to show you a nifty trick
to create a faux shallow depth-of-field, blurred background effect, which helps give your photos
that beautiful large aperture look that draws your attention to the subject while everything
else is out of focus. Obviously to achieve the effect for real you
would shoot with a fast lens with a low F-stop, but you can fake the appearance, or enhance
existing depth of field in a photo using some simple Photoshop tools. The image I’ll be working with is this stock
photo of a ‘young beautiful stylish woman’ by Dmitry Tsvetkov on Shutterstock. As with most photographs, the background is
naturally blurred slightly from the camera being focused on the model, but enhancing
the depth of field effect will help blur the details of the background further to give
the photo a softer appearance. Begin by duplicating the Background layer,
by dragging it onto the New Layer icon, or with the CMD (or CTRL on Windows) and J shortcut. On this layer we want to separate the main
subject from the background. I share a collection of selection methods
in my video titled ‘How To Cut Anything Out in Photoshop’, but one of the best techniques
for subjects set against a detailed background like this, is using the Select and Mask tool. Activate the marquee tool, then in the top
toolbar, choose Select and Mask. In order to see what you’re masking, choose
one of the View modes in the Properties panel. I prefer the red overlay mode. With an appropriate brush size, begin painting
over your subject. Photoshop will try to stop wherever it reaches
an edge. It does a pretty good job in most places,
but sometimes you have to hold the ALT key to paint back in some parts of the mask. Once you have the overall selection you want,
choose the Refine Edge brush to perfect areas like hair or fur. Paint over those areas to capture the fine
strands. You can play with some of the sliders to fine
tune the selection. Contrast in particular is a handy one to clean
up some of the fuzzy edges left behind from using a soft brush. Click OK to make the selection, then add a
layer mask to clip the subject. If you turn off the original background you
might see some untidily clipped areas. Since we applied the selection as a layer
mask, we can touch it up a little. Hold the ALT key and click on the layer mask
thumbnail to see its contents. Select the brush tool, then change the mode
to Overlay in the top toolbar. Overlay makes it easy to refine the mask because
painting with black will only affect the black areas, while painting with white will only
affect the white areas. Reduce the Flow rate so you don’t blow out
the colours too fast, then paint over the fuzzy areas of the mask to sharpen up the
edges. Paint white over the inner portion of the
mask, then black around the edges. Make another duplicate of the background,
then grab the Polygonal Lasso tool and make a rough selection around the subject, but
keep pretty close to its outline. Go to Edit>Fill, then choose Content Aware
in the options. Toggle off the visibility of the subject layer
to see it has been magically removed from the background. This step prevents the subject in the original
image being blurred and becoming visible around the edge of the clipped version of the subject. Before adding the blur effect, right click
and convert the layer to a smart object. You’ll then be able to edit the blur settings
if necessary, rather than them being applied permanently. To create the actual blurred background effect,
go to Filter>Blur Gallery. Depending how your photograph is cropped and
framed, you might be able to use Field Blur. If your image has some perspective to it,
where the background recedes into the distance, you’ll want to use the Tilt Shift option to
make the focal depth change gradually. The lines of the Tilt Shift blur show where
the focal area starts and ends. Between the two solid lines will be crisp
and clear, but the blur will gradually increase as it gets to the dotted lines. Beyond that, everything is at maximum blurriness. Click and drag the tool widget and place the
clear centre area at the feet of the subject. If the subject is far away from the camera
you might see the foreground being blurred up to that point, but in this image only the
upper portion of the blur area is used. Drag the dotted line to determine how far
the focus gradually increases. Adjust the Blur amount to find the the ideal
depth of field effect. I opted for around 35px. You can also adjust the Distortion slider,
which I feel gives the effect a little more realism like you would see straight from the
camera lens. Under the effects tab there’s a cool setting
for adding Bokeh effects, which brightens the highlights in the background to produce
the sought after blurry circles often associated with shallow depth of field photographs. This effect works best on darker images with
lots of lights in the backdrop. In my example it just blows out the sky, but
the couple of highlights near the centre give a good idea of the kind of effect it produces. Ok the blur gallery settings to apply the
blurred background effect, which retains a natural looking appearance. To finish off this image, let’s add a couple
more special effects. Add a new layer at the top of the layers stack,
then sample a bright warm colour from the highlights. Set up the brush tool with a soft tip. And don’t forget to bring the Flow back up
to 100%. Press CMD+T to Transform, and scale the layer
up to act as a bright radial glow coming from where the sun is shining in the photograph. Change the layer’s blending mode to Soft Light
to add a nice warm glow to the image. Download and open one of my free Light Leak
Overlays, which you can find linked in the description area below. Use the shortcut CMD+A to Select All, CMD+C
to Copy, CMD+W to close the document, then back in the main photo document, press CMD+V
to Paste. Set the blending mode of this light leak layer
to Screen, then press CMD+T to Transform. Make any adjustments to position, rotate,
scale or flip the image so it fits nicely into the composition. If the light leak glow is too intense, use
the CMD+L shortcut to bring up the Levels adjustments. Drag the sliders to darken the shadows, which
makes it less visible because we’re using the Screen blending mode, and increase the
highlights to boost the brightness. The final result is a soft and dreamy looking
portrait that draws your attention away from the background and onto the subject. By gradually increasing the blur amount with
the Tilt Shift blur tool, it retains a realistic appearance that replicates how a wide aperture
lens naturally creates a shallow depth of field effect. So if you enjoyed the video or learnt any
new tricks be sure to give the video a Like. Subscribe to the channel to be the first to
see my upcoming videos, and don’t forget to head over to my Spoon Graphics website to
grab my other free design resources. Thank you very much for watching, and I’ll
see you in the next one.