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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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