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Depth of Field Effects with Photoshop Elements 10

This week Adobe released the latest version of their prosumer photo editing package, Photoshop Elements 10. This new release offers several new features that are useful to photographers and scrapbookers. One of my favorites is a new option within Guided Edits, that allows you to quickly simulate different depths of field; the most common reason for doing this is to blur the background in a realistic way. To start, switch to Guided mode in the Edit panel, and scroll down the panel list until you see the Lens Effects category. The Lens Effects and Depth of Field option are located near the bottom of the panel.

Guided Edits in Elements 10, includes a Depth of Field option.

For this example I chose to focus attention on the foreground statue, by blurring the background statues and other details. When you click the Depth of Field option (or any of the Guided options), the panel displays a set of basic directions and controls for creating the desired effect. The first step for this workflow is to choose whether you want create everything in one step (via Simple mode) or create a Custom Blur, which is what I recommend because it tends to produce more accurate results. Click the Custom button, and those directions and options will appear in the panel, shown below (right).

The Custom Depth of Field Options

Next, click the Quick Selection tool (located below the Step 1 description). You can enlarge or reduce the tool’s cursor size using standard shortcuts, to fit the width or size of the details in your selection area, then slowly drag the cursor across the bounds of your subject. As you do this, small areas of extraneous pixels may be added to your subject selection at random points. To remove these areas, hold down the Alt / Option key first (this will turn the little + sign inside the cursor to a – sign), then click on the small unwanted spots or drag across the edge of small areas which you wish to remove from the selection. Some trial and error (including zooming in and tweaking the cursor size to target smaller areas) may be necessary to get the best result. The figure below shows the first pass for selecting our statue.

The initial selection

Once your selection provides a reasonably accurate outline of your subject, click the Refine Edge button in the Options Bar. Once the Refine Edge dialog opens, click on the option for a white or black background, to get a better idea of exactly which pixels are selected and which are not. From here you can expand or Contract the selection slightly, and smooth out its contours, as well as add a bit of feathering, so that there is no harsh transition between subject and blurred area. Click OK when you’re finished. The Refine Edge settings for this shot are shown below.

Adding a Refine Edge step can improve final blur quality.

Next, click the Add Blur button in the panel (located below the Step 2 description, seen below) to add a default amount of blur to the background pixels (that is, the pixels outside of your selection). Finally, use the Blur slider under “Increase Blur” (bottom of the panel, circled in red) to intensify the blur effect on the background, to the point where your subject becomes the clear focal point of the shot. As you can see, creating simple background Depth of Field effects in Elements 10 is quite simple. Give it a try; I think you’ll enjoy it and find that you can produce some surprisingly good results in a very short amount of time! You can also create depth of field effects and tilt-shift effects in Photoshop CS6.

The final result, shown after adjusting the Blur slider.

About Dan Moughamian (37 Articles)
Dan Moughamian is an experienced photographer and educator, and has worked with Adobe Photoshop since the early 1990s. He also has extensive experience with Photoshop Lightroom, Photoshop Elements, plugins from Nik software, and many other digital imaging products. As an educator, Dan's focus is to help photographers at all levels get the most from their digital workflows.

6 Comments on Depth of Field Effects with Photoshop Elements 10

  1. nice tutorial thanks

  2. Charlie Croucher // 27/10/2011 at 8:01 pm //

    I’ve used this technique for quite a while with a layer copy after the selection and blurring the full picture. I’ve also used a Gradient mask to move from blur to in focus when some of the picture is at the same depth of field as the subject. Another Depth 3 dimensional effect is to enhance specific color levels to different selected depth areas.

  3. I love that they build that in to PSE 10, thanks for showing the refine edge tool too. I used to use the mask + blur technique, but this is much more efficient!

    Thanks for the tutorial

  4. Thanks for your comments; I’m glad you found the tutorial useful. Charlie that’s a good idea with the gradient mask. I use that same technique for many adjustment layer edits and things of that nature (for example when working on skies). Gradient masks are very useful…


  5. Sherri // 12/03/2012 at 9:29 pm //

    I took a picture of my granddaughter at a park and it turned quite well except a small area in the background that shows a car. Can I blur just that area or bring in an area of greenery from another section of the picture? Thanks

  6. Hi Sherri. Yes, you can blur the car by using the same technique shown here.

    The trick is to determine if only the car needs to be blurred, or if a larger portion of background also requires it. You don’t want an object that is (to make up a number) 5 meters behind your subject to be blurred, while other objects equally far away or farther are not blurred. In the example above, if I had blurred the statues in the background but not the buildings (which are even farther away), it wouldn’t be realistic in terms of how cameras produce focus depth.

    If you’re using Photoshop CS4 or CS5, the process is similar but not as “automated”. For example you could use the Quick Select tool and Refine Edge options to select the car (and possibly other background elements) and then refine that selection, before using any number of options in the Filter > Blur menu to try and blur the background objects.

    Hope this helps. 🙂

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