How to Use the Focus Area Selection Tool in Photoshop


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Sometimes, making a selection in Adobe Photoshop can be tricky. If you're trying to select a person, animal or object that doesn't have defined edges or that has edges that are all over the place, using the Quick Selection Tool, Magic Wand Tool or any other tool like it can offer a cumbersome experience. Basically, when making a selection, I think we can all agree that the easier time we have of it, the better. There's no reward in spending all day accomplishing this type of task.

I'd like to take a moment to discuss a feature in Photoshop that will give you the ability to make a selection based on whether or not an object is in focus. If you think about a portrait of a person or of a photo of an object that's crystal clear, but that has a background that's all blurry, that's exactly the type of image this tool is perfect for. Pictures that have a defined edge between the thing that's sharp and the background are easy to work with when it comes to making selections.

Let's say you've got a photo of a person who is standing outside in a forest. They are at least 50 feet in front of any trees and the aperture value of the camera was set to something large. Meaning, a large aperture that produced a shallow depth or field and that offered a lot of blur in the background. If the person is sharp and the background is blurry, you can go to the Select > Focus Area menu item in Photoshop and click. Give things a few seconds to settle down because right after you click, Photoshop will analyze the image and make a selection shortly thereafter. The selection will be based on the area that's in focus.

At about the same time, you'll notice that the Focus Area dialog appeared. There are a few settings in this dialog that need to be taken advantage of. First, adjust the Preview drop-down so you can see what's in the selected range and what's not. I prefer to use the red overlay for this. It allows me to view the entire image as I'm working on it. With this option, the selected area will be the regular photo while the area that's not selected will be in a red overlay.

Next, if Photoshop didn't make the selection the exact way you would have liked it to, you can add or subtract from what it suggested. Use the two buttons of the left to brush both types of areas to add or remove selected content. These buttons are marked with a + (plus) and a - (minus).

Finally, choose the type of Output you desire. In the case of what I'm covering today, I would say that the Selection option is a good one because it'll give you the regular marching ants selection that we're all used to.


So here it is in a nutshell: You've got a picture of someone standing in the woods. They're body and face is in focus while their background is blurry. Pretty typical. You want to make a selection of just the person, so you open your picture into Photoshop and go to the Select > Focus Area menu and click. From there, the Focus Area dialog box opens up and you choose how you want to view the image as you're working on it. You can add to the selection or remove from it. When you're done, you can output your product as a selection. You click the OK button to close out of the Focus Area dialog. In the end, you'll have your original image in your original workspace with the sharp area of the photo selected. And the best part is, once you get used to this process, the entire thing will take only about five minutes to complete. It truly is a great way to make a selection based on focus area in Photoshop.

Of course, once you've got your selection, you can do whatever you want with it. Mask it out, add an adjustment layer so you can change the look of it. Whatever. For some ideas, please take a look at this post. You can also do a search for Focus Area on the blog for more posts on this topic.

Do you have any experience with this method for making selections in Photoshop? If you do, would you mind sharing them down below? We're all here to learn about the best way to do things, so I'd love to read about your own experiences. Also, if you have any questions, please ask them below too. Thanks!