Create Artistic Blur in Photoshop
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PHOTOGRAPHERS SPEND A LOT OF TIME ensuring their pictures are sharp—thousands of dollars’ worth of autofocus system will help you out, but there’s slightly more to it than that, just as cranking open your aperture may decrease your depth of field, but also introduce some softness to your subject, unless you’re using the latest lenses, which can be mind-blowingly expensive.
Blur is an aesthetic issue, and as such, is subjective. Where one person may see the beauty of a small subject enhanced by a blurred background, others see a missed opportunity to show us what’s there clearly. This is where post-processing comes in. Photoshop has many tools to add blur to your images—some subtle, others less so—and even one to select areas of your image depending on how sharp they are. You can get enormously artistic with them, creating a masterpiece of blurred colors and details, or just ensure your subject pops out of a photo by blurring a distracting background away. The choice is yours.
1 FIND YOUR FOCUS Selecting the sharp parts of your image is achieved with the Focus Area tool from the “Select” menu. This is a largely automated tool, with just a couple sliders to fiddle with, and selectors to add and remove areas from the selection. Open your image file, and choose “Select > Focus Area.” It gives your CPU fan a quick blast of speed, then settles down to show you the sharp areas of your image. You can choose how this is displayed from the “View Mode” drop-down on the “Focus Area” pop-up window, with the red of a Quick Mask or the checkerboard background of an empty layer available, along with other options. 2 IN A SNAP The Add and Subtract tools to the left of the pop-up window are for adding to or removing areas from your selection. We left the two sliders on “Auto”—there’s a checkbox on the right of them—and used “Add” and “Subtract” to fine-tune the selection [ Image A]. You can output the selection in a variety of ways, but we’ve chosen the traditional selection with the marching ants outline. Hit “OK.” You can then refine the selection further with “Select” and “Mask,” perhaps softening the edge with a little feathering, or turning on “Smart Radius” edge detection to snap the selection more tightly to the edge of your subject [ Image B]. 3 GO POP-EYED Invert your selection with “Select > Inverse,” and you now have the unsharp areas selected. To make the sharp subject pop out, we can blur the background as if we’d used a larger aperture setting on the lens when we took the photo. This is useful for cell phone cameras whose depth of field capabilities are limited by tiny sensors and short focal lengths, even though some have pretty good light-gathering capabilities, with lens apertures of f/1.8 or wider. 4 PIN POINTS From the “Filter menu,” select “Blur Gallery,” then “Field Blur.” This filter uses control points, or pins, to differ the intensity of the blur in different areas of your image. We’ve started at the top with a strong blur, then lightened it as we proceeded down the side of our flower, before strengthening it again at the bottom , but you can do whatever suits your image best. Use the slider on the Blur Tools palette to increase or decrease the intensity. You can move your pins by dragging them with the mouse, or delete them by selecting one, and hitting Backspace. 5 GET BUSY WITH THE BLUR As we made a selection before applying the filter, you can place a pin right on top of an area you want to remain sharp, and as long as it’s outside the selected area, the blur has no effect—what does happen is that the effects of that pin are felt in the area between it and
the next pin, anywhere that was selected. You can even place a pin outside your image if needed, to draw the right amount of blur across the corner of the photo. Hit “OK” at the top when you’ve finished blurring, and a progress bar appears while your blurring is rendered and finalized. 6 EYE-CATCHING EFFECTS Another of Photoshop’s blur tools that’s worth looking at is the Iris Blur, which is found in “Filter > Blur Gallery,” just underneath “Field Blur.” It’s useful for blurring the edges of an image, so attention is drawn to the focal point or subject. In this way, the eye of the observer is guided to where you want it to look, rather than catching on some insignificant detail elsewhere. 7 ADD INTEREST WITH IRIS Iris Blur places an oval over your image, and blurs everything outside of it, plus a little inside, as defined by a series of draggable spots. There’s only one control slider, for the intensity of the blur, so it seems there’s not a great deal of depth to this tool—until you discover that you can place more than one oval. These are positioned using a pin system, just like Field Blur’s, each with an oval surrounding it, which can be rotated, resized, and repositioned as you like. 8 NATURAL BEAUTY The outer ring of the oval marks the point at which the blur reaches 100 percent of its intensity, as set in the Blur Tools palette [ Image C]. The inner ring marks 0 percent, and there’s a smooth transition between the two. This means you can have a sharp transition or a longer one, depending on the look you’re trying to achieve [ Image D]. It’s easy to create something unrealistic here by using too much blur, or making the transitions between blurred and unblurred too sudden. To keep it natural, try combining both Iris and Field Blur, to gently soften the background of a photo, while maintaining the sharpness of the subject.