How To Add Bokeh Effect In Photoshop

Derived from the Japanese word ‘boke,’ meaning ‘blur,’ bokeh is a photography jargon commonly known to the world as a photography effect. Many photographers use this technique to create a soft out-of-focus blur in their photographs. It enhances the visual appeal of any image by making it appear dreamy and aesthetically pleasing. Often achieved by using fast prime lenses while photographing, it can also be created during the post-processing stage. Moreover, many photographers find that adding bokeh using Photoshop gives the most realistic effect. So, here’s an amazing tutorial that will take you through the step-by-step process of learning how to create the bokeh effect in Photoshop for any image.

How To Add Bokeh Effect In Photoshop

  • Step 1: Separate the Subject from the Background
  • Step 2: Fill the Subject area with Content-Aware fill
  • Step 3: Blur the Background using the Maximum filter
  • Step 4: Create Field Blur
  • Step 5: Adjust the Underlying Layer with the Blend If section

Detailed Steps For Adding Bokeh Effect In Photoshop

Step 1: Separate the Subject From the Background

Separating the subject from the background in Photoshop
Image courtesy of @apollofields
  • Press CTRL + J (Command + J for Mac) twice to create 2 layers with copies of your image so that there’s one layer for the subject and one d layer for the background
  • Select the Subject layer, choose any of the selection tools, and then click on the Select and Mask option at the top to complete the selection. Note that the Select And Mask feature is only available in Photoshop version 2015.5 and above
  • Change the View to On White and adjust the Opacity using the given slider by bringing it to the middle
  • Use the Quick Select tool to paint over the Subject
  • For painting over the hair area of the Subject, use the Refine Edge Brush Tool and paint over the messy areas
  • Then, scroll down and choose Output To to Layer Mask and press OK
  • You will see that a white layer mask thumbnail will appear.

Step 2: Fill the Subject Area With Content-Aware Fill

Filling the subject area with content aware fill
Image courtesy of @apollofields
  • Select the Background layer and using the Lasso Tool select the area around the subject while leaving some space.
  • Now, select the entire subject and cut it out using Content-Aware Fill.
  • To use this, go to Edit and select Fill, then change Contents to Content-Aware and press OK (Edit > Fill > Content-Aware).
  • After you are done with it, press CTRL + D (Command + D for Mac) to deselect the current layer, and you will see that area is now roughly filled.

Step 3: Blur the Background Using the Maximum Filter

Blurring the background using the maximum filter
Image courtesy of @apollofields

The Maximum filter in Photoshop helps in adding beautiful bokeh effects by expanding on the highlights. This filter adds an effect of dilation, thus, spreading out the white.

  • First, convert the background into a smart object so that you can change the values of the filter later. To do this, go to Filters, then click on Convert For Smart Filters, and press OK
  • Now, go to Filter, select Other, and then click on Maximum
  • Go to Preserve, and there will be two shape options – Squareness and Roundness. Select whatever bokeh shape you want in your image
  • Then, check the Preview box. This will help you monitor real-time changes in your image. Then using the slider, adjust the radius accordingly, and press OK
  • You will see that with the use of the Maximum filter, it has expanded on every highlighted area, whether or not it’s a light source
  • Now, to get a more natural bokeh effect, erase the effect from some areas that appear unnatural and paint over areas where you want to bring back the bokeh effect
  • To achieve this, click on the Mask button, use the soft brush, and set black as the foreground color. Then, start erasing areas from where you want to remove the effect
  • After achieving the desired result, if you wish to bring back the effect in some places, press X and change the foreground color to white, and paint with white in those areas.

Step 4: Create Field Blur

  • First, select the Background Layer, then go to Filter at the top, click on Blur Gallery, and choose Field Blur (Filter > Blur Gallery > Field Blur). Then, click on the Blur tool to adjust the blur using the slider and press OK once you are done. For those who are using a Photoshop version older than Photoshop CS6, use Blur > Lens Blur. This will get you a similar result
  • To enhance it, come down to Effects and adjust the Light Bokeh, Bokeh Color, & Light Range to get the desired effect and press OK. Change the Blend Mode from Normal to Screen or Overlay
  • Go to Image, then Adjustments, and select Levels, and adjust how intense the bokeh is through the slider. Then, press OK
  • Now, if you wish to do color grading, select the Subject layer (the topmost layer), click on the Adjustment Layer icon, and then choose Curves to work on
  • Click on the Adjustment Layer here and select Color Lookup and select the desired effect. Some of them include LateSunset, CrispWarm, and DropBlues.

Step 5: Adjust the Underlying Layer With the Blend If Section

Infographic stating adding bokeh to your images has never been easier

To remove the effect from the shadows, follow the given steps:

  • Double click on the right-hand side of the layer and then use the Blend If section to adjust the underlying layer through the slider
  • The left side of the slider represents darker areas, and the right side of the slider represents brighter areas
  • Hold the ALT key to break apart the slider into two, and after adjusting, press OK.

Further Read: How To Add White Background In Photoshop

The process of mastering any tool begins with using it for the first time. Now that you know how to add the bokeh effect in Photoshop, we hope you will also explore other Photoshop features. Feel free to share your questions and experience in the comments section below!

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Note: These steps are updated for the latest version of Adobe Photoshop.

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