How To Create A Bokeh Effect In Photoshop

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?

peach flower in vase with votive candles

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.

Camera Bokeh

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 effect

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:

girl in orange dress by cabin

And here’s my bokeh image of colored lights, taken with a shallow depth of field:

bokeh effect with colored lights

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.

layers in photoshop

I didn’t cover the photo underneath completely so you can see what it looks like.

colored bokeh in photoshop

3. With the blending mode, we’re going to remove the existing background on the first photo, and replace it with the bokeh image:

Screen mode in photoshop

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:

colored bokeh in photoshop

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:

3rd layer in photoshop

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:

girl by fence with colored bokeh lights

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.”

new adjustment layer and gradient map

Press “OK.” Click on the drop down menu under “Gradient Map,” and the Gradient Editor will pop up.

gradient editor in photoshop

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.

creating boket in Photoshop

Another method for adjusting the color is using color balance. Go to “Layer,” “New Adjustment Layer,” and “Color Balance.”

color balance in Photoshop

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.

photoshop image


You can create a more subtle effect, depending on the look you’re after. Have fun creating the bokeh effect in Photoshop!


Get Photoshop here

Key Points

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:)





8 thoughts on “How To Create A Bokeh Effect In Photoshop”

  1. Before reading this article today I never knew anything about creating a Bokeh effect. This article first explained to me what it is, and the difference between blurry and bokeh. 

    Not only have I learned about the bokeh effect, I have also learned how to create it in Photoshop. I’m definitely going to try this on the photos I took with my friends when I went to Blue Mountain.

    Thank you so much for sharing this article with us!

  2. I am using Photoshop for a lot of things and creating a bokeh effect is a very good trick to create professional looking photos that I will definitely use in the future. There are various ways to do it but I like your way a lot and I will for sure try it out to see what I can come up with. Thanks for the share.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting. Photoshop is so awesome because there are many different ways to accomplish the same task. Definitely try this method to see how it compares.

  3. Hi Holly,

    I love a good photo for sure. I did not know the difference between Bokeh and blurry. Many people don’t know as well for sure, so thank you very much for teaching us the difference.

     Now I am sure I will see pictures with another eye. So let’s see if I understand: I don’t necessarily need to create bokeh with my camera, but can do it in Photoshop?

    Thank you for such powerful tool and wonderful article.

    Cheers to your success!

    • Thank you Telma. Yes, that’s right. You can create the bokeh effect right within Photoshop. Download high-quality photos right off the internet.

  4. Hi, and what a nice post on how to create this visually beautiful effect. I like photography and would love to get more into it as time goes on. Is it necessary to have a top end camera in order to create this lovely effect or can anyone do it with a more basic model? Thanks, Kenny


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