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Graphic Thoughts: Faking Depth of Field
Posted Apr 9, 2009 - April 2009 Issue Print Version     Page 1of 1

A short depth of field (the portion of a foreground image that appears clear while objects in the distance are nicely blurred) is easy to achieve with a nice camera.

But you may have a photo in which everything looks equally clear, with little distinction between the clarity of the foreground and the background, and you’d like to add that blurred look to it. In this tutorial, I’ll show you a pretty quick way to get this effect with minimal effort (my favorite way of doing everything).

Step 1: Choose a Photo
In this example, I’m using a photo I shot a few years back while I was in New York City. The photo shows an advertising sign for the Empire State Building with the actual building visible in the background, as you can see in Figure 1 (below).

Figure 1: Currently, the advertising sign and the building are in focus. I'd like to blur out the building.

I shot this photo using a fisheye lens, and, while it’s a cool shot, I want the building to appear a lot more blurred out than it is in the original photo.Open your photo of choice in Photoshop and then duplicate it. If you’re using Windows, click Ctrl+J; if you’re on the Mac, click Cmd+J. With the new layer (Layer 1) selected, choose Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.

Step 2: Open Your Photo in Photoshop and Add a Gaussian Blur

I chose a setting of 5.0 to make it extra blurry (Figure 2, below), but feel free to tinker with what looks best to you!

Figure 2: Ablur setting of 5.0 makes it extra blurry

Step 3: Add a Mask
With the layer now blurred, add a mask to that layer by clicking the square with a circle in it on the bottom of your Layers Palette (Figure 3, below).

Figure 3: Click this icon on the bottom of the Layers Palette to add a mask.

Make sure your foreground color is black. Pressing D will take your color palette to black and white; click X to switch between foreground and background. If black is the color on top, black is the foreground color. 

Step 4: Make the Photo Transparent
Now, choose your gradient tool (G). With the Mask icon selected on Layer 1 (it’ll be a white square), I’m going to click and drag from the lower left of my photo to the upper right and then release my mouse. 

By doing this, I’m making the lower-left area of my blurred photo transparent so I can see the clean, original photo peaking through. As the mask moves further to the upper right, you’ll see the blurred photo. Now the sign is crisp while the top of the building is blurred out. Your image should begin to look like the image in Figure 4 (below).

Figure 4: The flat and all-in-focus original is on the left, and the nicely DOF-enhanced new version is on the right.

Understandably, this isn’t a perfect replacement for getting great depth of field in your original shot. But this technique can also come in quite handy when you want to draw your viewer’s attention to an object in a photo.

I’ve also seen the technique used when the original photo was a tad out of focus. By making everything else even more out of focus or blurry, the desired focal point of the image looks a lot crisper. 

Clever, eh? As always, shoot me an email at lance at pixelpops.com if you have questions or, my favorite … praise!

Lance Gray (lance at pixelpops.com) is the chief creative pixelmonkey at PixelPops Design LLC.

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