Quick tip: Add bokeh in Photoshop

Bokeh in Photoshop

Bokeh is a Japanese word that refers to that soft-blurred background you see mostly commonly in professionally produced portraits of children and families. The blurred background emphasizes your subject and draws attention away from distracting objects in the background. It also can add a dreamy, even surreal effect.

Photographers achieve maximum bokeh by choosing an f/stop that returns a shallow depth of field, choosing a telephoto or zoomed lens, and choosing a camera featuring a relatively large sensor capable of recording the shallow depth of field.

You may not have that. Or you may not have photographed for maximum effect, and you later decide you’d like the effect. Well, as we know Photoshop can do pretty much anything, I suppose it wouldn’t be a surprise for us to learn it also can add bokeh.

Bokeh in essence is a blurred background. Background highlights add to the effect by growing into soft balloons or circles. This suggests many images won’t be suitable. Best images include a clear center of interest and darker background featuring highlights. Choose a photo that might work for this, and proceed. (Note photo at lower right before treatment.)

1. In Photoshop, make a duplicate layer from the Layers panel.

2. Select foreground objects and center of interest that need to stay sharp. Try using the Quick Selection Tool.

3. Choose Inverse from the Select pulldown.

Photo before bokeh treatment. 4. From the Filter pulldown, choose Blur, and Field Blur.
This gives you an initial blur effect. Adjust to suit from the panel at right.
a. The Field Blur level slider adjusts amount of blur.
b. The Light Bokeh slider enhances bokeh on highlights.
c. The Bokeh Color slider enhances color on highlights.
d. The Light Range slider brings up hidden bokeh to enhance the effect.

6. Choose OK from top menu bar. Deselect.

7. To compare your work to the original, in the Layers panel click off Layer Visibility (the little eye) on the Duplicate Layer.

8. Save as a new file to keep your original.

Ethics warning: Adding bokeh for photojournalism may slide into a question of ethics. On the one hand, nothing is added or removed from an image. On the other hand, the image is enhanced in post-production to the point that it is not really what the photographer saw. Your call.

(Credit for this tutorial: Adorama Learning Center, www.adorama.com.)

Return to Photoshop tutorial three.