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Here’s How to Make Bokeh in Photoshop

flowers bokeh

Bokeh is an important component of portrait photography, and you’ll find endless comparisons online regarding how different lenses create bokeh. If you’re unaware, bokeh is the aesthetic quality of the shallow depth of field you get in a background when shooting on a lens with a wide-open aperture.

An image with a shallow depth of field separates your subject from everything behind them, and bokeh refers specifically to the manner in which a lens renders elements in the shallow depth of field. Everything blurs together and lights become tiny disks. It’s a great look for portraits that really emphasizes the subject and makes them stand out. Bokeh is most prominent in the highlights of your background.

To create in-camera bokeh, open your lens to its widest aperture — the wider the aperture, the more bokeh you’ll have in your images. The good news: this makes bokeh relatively easy to achieve. The bad news: you’ll get the best bokeh from expensive lenses. If you’re shooting on a kit lens, chances are it’s a short zoom with an aperture between 3.5 and 5.6, depending on focal length. That lens will never be able to make the bokeh you get from a fast, 80mm f/1.4 portrait lens. Additionally, you may not even be shooting on a DSLR at this point, making in-camera bokeh very difficult to achieve.

If you’re renting a venue through Peerspace, your host may have high-quality gear available for you to use. But if you find yourself without the equipment, good-looking bokeh can be faked in editing if you’ve got time and some Photoshop experience. Let’s break down how to make bokeh in Photoshop.

Create bokeh with selection and layers

When going over how to make bokeh in Photoshop, there are some things you need to consider about image selection. Before you begin, you’ll need to select an appropriate image. Unfortunately, this technique doesn’t work well for certain images. You’ll need a photo with clear subjects — ideally, an image with a dark background and lots of small lights. With small lights in the background, you’ll get a more authentic-looking digital bokeh, as your image will brim with the light disks so often associated with the aesthetic. This will let you create the most genuine-looking bokeh in Photoshop.

1. Cut out the subject

The first thing you need to do: choose the quick select tool. This tool offers several advantages over other select tools, but it works best when there is already some separation of the subject from the background. This separation can be one of focus or contrast — ideally both. Move the tool over your subject until you’ve got them completely selected, then copy the selection and select the layer drop-down menu. Choose new layer from copy — then voilà, you have your subject on a separate layer.

2. Apply a blur effect to the background

From here, make sure your background is selected. From the filter drop-down menu, go to blur gallery and select field blur. Move the field blur slider until you’ve achieved the desired effect on the background. You’ll also see a slider for light bokeh — this is good to play around with if you have a background with a lot of small light sources. If you don’t have these in your background, light bokeh may blow out your highlights in an unattractive way.

Experiment to see if it looks good with your image or not. While doing this, manipulate the light range slider as well. Increase or decrease the field blur slide accordingly once you’ve made these adjustments — this whole process is a balancing act, so it could take some time to find the right setup for your image. Just be willing to experiment until you’re satisfied with its appearance.

Create bokeh using smart objects

If the above technique doesn’t work for your images, you may be wondering how to make bokeh in Photoshop using an alternative technique. Fortunately, you are in luck. You can also use field blur and smart objects to create a bokeh effect on an image. These images don’t necessarily need to have a dark background, but some depth of field variance will make your final results look better. When you open your image in Photoshop, be sure to convert it to a smart object, so you can edit the image after effects get applied.

1. Open field blur and place pins

Go to the filter drop-down menu and select blur gallery, then field blur. If you used the first technique, this should bring up the set of additional sliders you saw earlier. When you move your cursor over an image, you’ll see it turn into a push pin. Place your first pin on the area of your subject that you want to remain in focus. You can drop as many pins as you want around your subject to choose what’s blurred and what isn’t.

2. Adjust the blur and light bokeh sliders

Just like before, manipulate the sliders in the field blur menu until you’re satisfied with the way the background looks. You may need to place additional pins or change the location of some pins you’ve already placed. Continue experimenting, and you’ll find the perfect balance between blur, light bokeh, and pin location.

3. Fine-tune with brushes

Since your background is a smart object, you can edit it further using brushes. When you select the brush tool, choose a soft round brush, then set your foreground to black. You can now use the brush to cover areas where you want to remove the blur effect. This helps you clean up the initial results if they were imperfect. In addition, you can enhance certain parts of the subject and create a more striking contrast between in-focus and out-of-focus areas.

When considering how to make bokeh in Photoshop, these two techniques are the easiest approach. Neither is an exact replacement for having shallow depth of field and high-quality bokeh created with your lens. However, if you want to enhance your images and can’t afford the expensive lenses necessary to create good bokeh, this is a solid alternative. It takes a lot of practice to achieve these looks in Photoshop, but if you’re willing to invest the time, you’ll soon have this technique mastered.

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