Distracting elements like tree branches, street signs and cars are often unavoidable and can avert attention from the subject in focus. Typically a shallow depth of field is ideal in this situation. However, depending on the lens and distance from the subject in focus to the object behind it, this effect may not be achievable.
A handy tool to keep in mind is Topaz Lens Effects, which contains a custom depth map that allows you to add in selective bokeh. Bokeh is Japanese for “blur” and is defined by the aesthetic quality of the out of focus lighting. While most commonly noted as “Hollywood” bokeh, or a rounded orb, bokeh can also be classified as the actual out of focus area of light.
To achieve a blurred depth of field, an aperture of f/3-1.2 is ideal. However, if circumstances do not allow this, you can still create a digitally simulated background using the technology in Topaz Lens Effects. Follow this tutorial to learn how.
Step 1: Create a Depth Mask
- To start, open your image in Topaz Lens Effects. There are many elements in this image that draw attention away from the chrome Mercedes.
- On the left hand side of the Lens Effects interface under Effects click on Bokeh – Selective.
- Next, on the right hand side of the interface, expand the Edit Depth Map module. You’ll notice a side-by-side view appears with the original image on the left and the mask on the right.
- Depending on the size of your monitor, you may want to work in a single view mode. You can choose between a split-screen and single screen in the top menu bar. You’ll then want to click on Mask in the top menu to bring you to the mask view.
Now we are ready to create our depth mask. We want the subject (the car) and everything in front of it (the foreground) to be in focus. In the mask, black indicates in focus, while white and gray indicate out of focus (shallow depth of field).
Under Edit Depth Map, you’ll see a brush called ‘Depth Value’. This is what we’ll use to create our depth mask. Starting with a value of 0 (black), carefully brush in areas of the subject you want in focus and the foreground.
Increase the depth value slider to around 64. Using a value of 64, brush in the areas on both ends of the car that aren’t all the way in the background, but closer to the subject in focus. This will make for a smoother and more natural transition into the background.
- Next, increase the Depth Value to 128. Make a few more brush strokes just above. Continue doing this until you’ve reached white (255) for the objects furthest away.
- You may notice that it’s rather difficult to get a precise outline of the subject. Do not worry as this can be fixed with layer masking back in Photoshop. Just know that it’s better to have white/gray areas bleeding into the subject than it is to have black bleeding into the background.
Step 2: Focal Plane Adjustments
- Once you have a general idea of what’s in focus (black) and what’s blurred (white-gray), expand the Focal Plane Adjustment module.
Click on the Select Focal Plane button and then click on the subject in focus (I clicked on the car). The depth mask will then appear as it should. If not, you’ll need to increase the Background Blur if it’s set at 0.
- You may notice some imperfections within the depth mask such as a jagged, unnatural transition from foreground to background.
- Simply go back to your depth mask to fix areas such as the above. Remember, it’s better to have the blur go into your subject rather than to have parts of the background not blurry. You can use layer masking to mask out the blur in the car, which I’ll cover in step 3.
Step 3: Final Touchups
Once you’ve completed the depth mask and decided on how much blur you want in the background, you can then decide on if you want to adjust the lens characteristics such as how many blades are in the aperture shape and how creamy the bokeh is.
You may then decide if you want to make adjustments to the foreground and background in brightness, contrast and saturation. This is all optional. For this demo, I desaturated the blur area a tad to de-emphasize it and then brightened the focus area. I then added a light vignette to draw focus towards the car.
Press OK to return the image back to Photoshop, or whichever host editor you’re using. If using Photoshop or a similar editor, be sure to do layer masking as a final touch up. (If you haven’t already, be sure to read this article on how to use layer masks with plugins.)
There are certain areas where the blur has bled into the car. To fix this in Photoshop:
- Make sure the layer is selected and then go to Layer-> Layer Mask and select Reveal All.
- With the layer mask selected in your layer panel, press B to select the brush tool. You should see the colors black and white at the bottom of your tool panel.
- Just remember, black = hide effect and white = keep effect. To toggle back and forth between the two, press the X key.
- So if we want to remove the blur within the car, we’ll be using black to do this. Be sure to reduce the opacity of the brush in the top menu for a smoother, more natural result.
- Use the bracket [ ] keys to decrease or increase the size of your brush. Zoom in on the affected areas and carefully brush over the areas to remove the blur within the car.
- Another helpful tip is to reduce the opacity of the layer you are working on so that you can better see the outline of the car (using the background layer beneath).
If you make a mistake press X to toggle to the white brush, which essentially acts as an eraser against the black brush. Also, if you find certain areas in the background are too blurry, simply use the black brush at a reduced opacity to lighten the blurred depth of field effect.
And there you have it! Here’s a before and after showing the transformation that was made:
Looking for more tutorials on this topic? Check out these videos: