Can you imagine not having control over what’s blurred out in the photographs you take? In my opinion, having aperture control has got to be one of the most critical and popular aspects of photography today. There’s so much creativity involved. It’s sort of like telling someone, “Hey, look at this and not at that.”
I can remember years ago when I used to take early morning walks in the woods with my camera. The area I used to walk to housed tons of fallen trees that were totally coated with the most beautiful moss. I had a nice Canon kit lens (18-135mm) that, when zoomed in all the way, would give me an extremely shallow depth of field. Add a magnifying lens to the scene and that depth of field was chopped in half. I enjoyed getting down on the ground to shoot away from all sorts of different angles. Considering everything I did, I remember the blur to sharp and back to blur again the most.
Adobe Photoshop has really stepped up their game in the creative blur arena. There’s a relatively new filter called Blur Gallery that lets us add some really cool blur effects to photos. So far, there are blurs called Field Blur, Iris Blur, Tilt-Shift, Path Blur and Spin Blur. Each selection offers its own effect and all of them are rather intuitive to use. So intuitive, in fact, that you can simulate various lens aperture settings right inside Photoshop with ease.
In today’s post, I’ll be walking though a few demonstrations using the Blur Gallery, simply to introduce you to the filter. I’ll begin with an original, unblurred photo, turn it into a Smart Object and then apply a filter or two to it. The goal for this post is to not only demonstrate the power of this filter, but to encourage you to experiment with it in your own post-processing.
By the way, here’s the photo I’ll be using for this post:
Creating a Smart Object
I wrote a post a while back that discussed Smart Objects in Photoshop ad nauseam. If you haven’t read that one yet, I think it would be great if you did.
I’ve also got a few other posts that expand upon the topic, so if you’d like to read further, you can search “Smart Object” in the search bar up at the top of this blog.
To kick things off, I’ll open the demo image into Photoshop. From there, I’ll right-click on the background layer and choose Convert to Smart Object.
The last thing I want to do is add a creative blur to a layer and then not be able to change it in any way. This is one of the reasons Smart Objects were invented in the first place. To give us flexibility.
Once I convert the layer, I’ll see the small icon in the lower right corner of the layer thumbnail. If I roll over that icon, I’ll see the words Smart Object Thumbnail appear.
Applying Tilt-Shift Blur
Now that I’ve got a Smart Object, I can begin applying some different blur effects. I’ll start off with the Tilt-Shift blur. If I take a look at Adobe’s site, I’ll find a good explanation for what this blur effect is all about. Check this out:
Use the Tilt-Shift effect to simulate an image taken with a tilt-shift lens. This special effect blur defines area of sharpness, and then fades to a blur at the edges. The Tilt-Shift effect can be used to simulate photos of miniature objects.
To apply this filter, I’ll head up to the Filter > Blur Gallery > Tilt-Shift menu item and select it.
Once I click on Tilt-Shift, I’ll notice that an overlay appears on the image. It looks like this:
Also, the right panels inside Photoshop turn into Blur Gallery panels. They look like this:
There are quite a few controls in the Blur Gallery panels. I won’t go over all of them. I’ll limit myself to only what I plan on using. I will tell you, however, that if you want to drag the effect around, all you need to do is to click inside the blur area and drag. To intensify or reduce the blur effect area, you can drag the top or bottom lines of the overlay up and down. To intensify or reduce the blur itself, head over to the right panel where it says Blur and drag the slider to the left or to the right. It’s good to experiment with a feature like this.
For this first example, I’d like to add some blur above and below the model in the photo. I don’t want to go crazy or anything, but I do want to focus as much attention as possible on the face. After all, it’s that which is looking at the camera and as they say, it’s all in the eyes.
To accomplish this, I’ll drag the center of the overlay so it sits right on the model’s face. Then, I’ll click on and drag the bottom dashed line of the overlay down a bit. Doing this will smooth the transition of the blur that’s located between the solid line and the dashed line.
When I’m finished, I’ll click OK in the top options bar and I’ll end up back at the original photo, but with the blur effect applied to it.
Looks pretty cool, right?
As a side note – if you’re adjusting the options in the Blur Gallery and would like to see the photo you’re working on without the overlay lines, all you need to do is press the H key on your keyboard. This will keep your effects, but will hide the lines, which definitely be distracting. Let go of H and the overlay lines come back. It’s that easy.
Applying Iris Blur
I’ll go ahead and back out of the previous blur effect so I’m working with the original photo again. This time, I’d like to experiment with the Iris Blur option. Now, I could have gone into this new blur option if I stayed in the previous and simply clicked on the Iris Blur panel, but since I clicked OK in the section above, I’m no longer in the Blur Gallery area. I’ll need to go back up to the Filter > Blur Gallery > Iris Blur menu item and click. This will bring me back into the gallery area.
As you can see, I’ve now got an oval blur area over part of the photo. I can do many things to this, such as move, shrink, grow, rotate and alter the blur transition. I can also intensify or reduce the blur itself. If you look at the above screenshot closely, you’ll see the circular outline with the handles attached to the outline. Inside the oval, there are four white dots. To alter the blur transition, you have to click and drag one of these dots either to the center or to the outside of the oval. I’ll drag the oval up and to the right so its center is on the model’s face again. Then, I’ll click and drag the white dots so they’re closer to the center.
And if I click OK up in the options bar again, I’ll create a blur effect like this:
Again, this is a fantastic blur effect that required hardly any work. By the way, if you’re wondering what Adobe has to say about this blur effect, read below.
Use the Iris blur to simulate a shallow depth-of-field effect to your picture, irrespective of the camera or lens used. You can also define multiple focus points, an effect almost impossible to achieve using traditional camera techniques.
Applying Path Blur
If you’re into special effects, this last blur might be for you. While I personally wouldn’t use this for a regular photo, I might use it in a Photoshop action or for video. It definitely has a special place in the creative arsenal. This is what Adobe says about this blur effect:
Using the Path Blur effects, you can create motion blurs along paths. You can also control the shape and amount of blurring. Photoshop automatically composites the effects of multiple path blurs applied to an image.
To activate the Path Blur, go back up to the Filter > Blur Gallery > Path Blur menu and click. This will bring you back to the Blur Gallery.
As you can see from the screenshot above, the photo has become soft and there’s a line towards the center. If I click on either end of the line, I can drag it in either direction. Also, if I click on the center handle, I can drag anywhere I wish, resulting in a curve. If I continue clicking on the line, I’ll create more handles that can be dragged. This is what I mean:
Now, if I go into the Path Blur panel over to the right and push the sliders around, I can customize what the blur looks like. And if I select Rear Sync Flash from the drop-down in this same panel, I can create more of a “fantasy” look.
When finished, I’ll click OK and this will be the result:
Again, this one is a little weird. I’m just trying to show you the possibilities. You’ll have to get creative and come up with some cases for these different blur effects.
I hope I’ve wet your whistle for blurring different areas of a photograph. I truly hope you open some of your own to see what you can create. If you’ve got any comments or questions, please leave them in the comment section below. Thanks!