Bokeh, that lovely blurred background you see in portraiture, is a distinguishing mark of professional photography. You can create this effect in camera, which is always best, or take a few minutes and do it in Photoshop post production. Have you ever wondered how to create a bokeh effect in Photoshop?
Table of Contents
Bokeh Versus Blurry
Don’t confuse bokeh with blurriness. Bokeh is an aesthetic quality represented by parts of an image being blurred, or out-of-focus, while the subject remains sharp. This effect occurs in portions of the image that are outside the depth of field. Many photographers deliberately use a wide aperature to blur the background.
Blurry photos, on the other hand, are not aesthetically pleasing, and are downright distracting. With the bokeh effect, it’s imperative the subject be in focus, with only the background pleasingly blurred. This allows the person or object being photographed to be center stage, with the background gently complementing the image.
To achieve the bokeh effect in camera, choose a fast lens with a wide aperature. The wider the aperature, the more bokeh you’ll get, and the softer the background will be. This effect is doubly delicious when photographing lights as they become almost ethereal.
Examples of fast lenses would include a 50mm lens with a 1.4 aperature or an 85mm lens with a 1.4 aperature. Both of these lenses are amazing for creating bokeh. The aim is to get a really shallow depth of field, a tack-sharp subject, and an out-of-focus background. This effect can be achieved, not only on high-end DSLRs, but some entry-level cameras, as well. Bokeh is pretty simple to create when using a wide aperature, just make sure you tightly focus on your subject. It takes a little practice when first shooting with fast lenses.
Bokeh In Photoshop
In most cases, it’s best to create artistic effects in camera, sometimes it’s not possible, though, and must be done post-production. Thank goodness for the wonders of Photoshop. It’s easy to simulate bokeh, and I’m sure you’ll be pleased with the outcome. Let’s get started:
1. Begin by selected two photos. One that you want to add bokeh to, and one with bokeh lights. See the photo above as an example. You can download free bokeh photos using Pixabay or Pexels. Or use an existing photo you’ve previously taken.
This second bokeh photo will be added to the first photo, after which, we’ll play around with blending modes and saturation layers.
This is my first image:
And here’s my bokeh image of colored lights, taken with a shallow depth of field:
2. Go to the “Move tool.” It’s the top one in the toolbar. Hold the “Shift” key and place the bokeh image on top of your first photo. A new layer will be created.
I didn’t cover the photo underneath completely so you can see what it looks like.
3. With the blending mode, we’re going to remove the existing background on the first photo, and replace it with the bokeh image:
Now that your bokeh image is on top of your original photo, adjust it to your liking. You can transform it to fit the image if it doesn’t already. Mine looks like this:
It’s starting to take shape. Pretty cool, right?
4. Now drag your new layer to the “New Layer” icon below the layers. It’s two icons to the left of the “Trashcan” icon.
I have three layers as the second layer was just duplicated:
5. Using the color picker, change the foreground color to black. With the brush tool, paint black over the portions of the image you want to be visible. You can remove the lights you don’t want to show.
I like to change the blending mode to “light.” It makes the image pop. See below:
Here’s where it gets fun because you can change the feel of the lights by adding both warm and cool tones to achieve the look you want.
6. Go to “Layer,” then “New Adjustment Layer,” and “Gradient Map.”
Press “OK.” Click on the drop down menu under “Gradient Map,” and the Gradient Editor will pop up.
Click on “Color” in the bottom left hand corner to access the color picker. Choose both a warm color and cool color. Press “OK.” Fiddle around with the blending modes and opacity to get the look you want.
I’m choosing “Soft Light” You’ll get a lot of different looks just by adjusting the blending mode.
Another method for adjusting the color is using color balance. Go to “Layer,” “New Adjustment Layer,” and “Color Balance.”
I’m adding a little cyan and yellow to my midtones. You can also adjust for the highlights and shadows. You’ll see these controls in the drop down menu. Adjust the opacity as well. Here’s my final image.
You can create a more subtle effect, depending on the look you’re after. Have fun creating the bokeh effect in Photoshop!
Sometimes you just want a little bokeh. Leave it to Photoshop to make this a reality. Choose two photos, change the blending mode to “Screen,” then use the brush tool to either remove the lights or make them visible. With a little practice, you’ll be a bokeh master. Have fun creating masterful bokeh effects in Photoshop.
Have you created bokeh in Photoshop? Are you going to give it a try now that you know how? Let me know in the comments:)