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2 Ways To Create Realistic “Depth of Field”

via Minervity by Richard Darell on 6/18/09


Depth of FieldIn this tutorial we are going to learn how to create realistic “Depth of Field” in Photoshop. We are going to look at two different ways of doing it depending on what kind of picture you want to modify. With today’s cameras you can pretty much create this effect right when the shot is taken. However, sometimes it happens that you get a really nice picture and you missed to adjust your zoom to the depth of field effect. Or simply, you just want to create the effect on an old photo to make it really fresh and effectful. Either way, we are going to look in to the effect and teach you how to achieve it with just a few steps.

Skills needed for this effect is just the basic skills of how to use Photoshop itself and it’s most common tools. Everything else will be explained in detail so you will be able to follow it quite nicely.

The first method we’re going to be trying out is the most basic one. Blurring everything that’s in the background to make the focused object stand out more.

Depth Blur

Load your photo into Photoshop. Doesn’t really matter what  resolution it is just as long as you make the whole photo visible in your work area. I will be using this photo for this first method:

Photo - Blur

This method we’ll call “Depth Blur” and it will make the object in focus all clear and the rest blurry to put accentuation on the object the viewer is supposed to focus on.

The first thing we need to do is to select the object in the foreground. Use the “Polygonal Lasso Tool” to select the object. Before we add any blurring to the image me must copy what we just selected to be able to have it in focus later on. Choose “Edit” -> “Copy” for now. We will paste it after we are done with our blurring.

No choose “Select” -> “Inverse” to invert your selection to anything but the object you want to be in focus. Your selection should now be like this opposed to the one you had first (the selection is changed):

Selection - BeforeSelection - After

No Choose “Filter” -> “Blur” -> “Gaussian Blur” and insert the following settings:

Gaussian Blur - Settings

As you can see our picture immediately gets more depth to it but we still have some fragments from the object in focus bleeding over into the blurry making it a bit unfocused on the edges. This we can fix with a little bit of “Liquify“modification. But first, let’s paste in our copied focused object. Choose “Edit” -> “Paste“. This will create a new layer with our copied object inside of it.

Now, select the “Background” layer and choose “Filter” -> “Liquify…“. This will open up another editing section where you can drag and alter your background image. In the right menu change the “Brush Size” to “16” instead of “100“.

Now, focus on the object in focus. With your “Forward Warp Tool” selected go ahead and drag the edges inwards toward the center all the time until you are certain that no edges of the object in focus are seen as a blurry edge under the object in focus when we are done here. Here is an image taken when I was done dragging the edges to the center of the object:

Liquify - After Applying

Alright, after doing that you can now go ahead and click “OK“. As you can see now with with the liquefied background and the “in focus” top layer of the object we want to accentuate the image sure gets more depth. The bleed edges are gone and the object is in pure focus now. Here is the “Before” effect applied and “After” the effect is applied:

Photo - IncompletePhoto - Complete

That’s about it! With these easy steps you can create quite professional and stunningly realistic depth of field to your old photo’s that you just don’t want to use because you think they lack that professional look to them.

Now, on to the second method.

Gradient Blur

This method is as easy as the first method but delivers a totally different kind of effect. In some photo’s this method could be of better use as it has a more smoother transition between the focused area and the blurry area. If you have a photo that has a gradient falloff you may definitely have some use of this method.

Load your image into Photoshop, again make sure that you  the whole image is in view. When an image is far bigger then the plain view it can sometimes be hard to select the object entirely with it’s smallest details. If you find it hard to get the smaller detailed selected then you can of course zoom in and select it that way. However, make sure you see the whole image while you work with the blurring itself. That way you get more power controlling the outcome.

I will work with an image that has some falloff potential along with a great object that I can put the focus on.

Car - Original

As you can see the whole photo is in focus in this image. Gives little depth as it seems the whole photo is somewhat 2D. We will start by selecting the near vicinity of the car along with the entire car itself. My selections is like this:

Car Selection

A great trick is to actually select some of the area around the car that you want to remain in focus as well as it would look somewhat weird having all the surroundings, even in front of the car, out of focus. That would come across as odd and unnatural.

Now copy the the selection and paste it again in the same position as it is making the “paste” look seamless in the whole composition.

Select the “Background” layer and click the “Channels” tab. Create a new layer, it will automatically name itself “Alpha“. With your new layer selected choose the “Gradient Tool”, make the colors “White” (#FFFFFF) and “Black” (#000000). Now create a gradient from the back end of the car slightly upwards. After creating your gradient you should now have something looking like this:

Gradient Fill

Of course it depends on what your photo looks like and what angle the depth of field is directed. But for this image this gradient is well off being like this. To explain how the gradient will work is quite easy. Where the “Black” is located is where the focus will still be present while where the “White” is located is where the image will be out of focus.

After applying this gradient select the “RGB” layer at the top of the list and choose “Filter” -> “Blur” -> “Lens Blur…” and play around with the levels until you get a satisfying result. It all depends on how much you want the image to get out of focus. Too much and it will look out of place. Too little and it will have little effect on the image.

I have used these setting for my image which I find quite satisfying:

Lens Blur - Settings

Click “OK“. After applying these settings now make the “Alpha” level invisible at the bottom of the list by clicking the “eye” of the layer. Your blur should now be in place and as you can see, with our copied “in focus” layer on top it makes for a great realistic “Depth of Field” effect that really fools the eye thinking it was there from the very beginning.

Here are the “Before” and “After” images of the photo. There are a million different ways to create realistic “Depth of Field” effects with these two methods. Just be creative with your gradients or your blur tool and selections and you will get better and better on knowing how they really work and what makes for a realistic result.

Photo - Before

Photo - After

Round Up

There! We have now learnt how to create some stunning and realistic “Depth of Field” methods for photo’s that doesn’t have it incorporated already. These methods makes for a great saver of you have managed to capture something right at that second but didn’t catch the “Depth of Field” because it was a one time shot or blink of an eye moment shot. Either way, these methods are sure to help you gain a more professional result when you have practised the secrets of them.

I have had great fun creating this tutorial and I hope you have had a great time practising it. Remember, with just a bit of imagination and some minor skills in using Photoshop you can create some stunning results for sure. Keep practising and you will become the master.

I am now off to another tutorial for you guys! See you in a bit!

Thanks!

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