Do you remember when I was talking about cheating by creating your own narrow depth of field with the Iris Blur filter? Well have I got a treat for you. While the Iris Blur is really great, the Field Blur is even better. Especially when you want to isolate different objects in a photo to apply different levels of blur to each one. This is the most versatile blur filter yet and it’s so simple to use.
In today’s post, we’re going to head back into the Blur Gallery workspace to experiment with the Field Blur filter in Adobe Photoshop. This blur filter is actually the easiest to grasp because there are very few controls, but you’ll likely have to do some masking work when you’ve completed adding the blurs. All of this is quite straightforward, so read along below to add a new tool to the rest of your arsenal.
For this post, I needed a photo that showed independent objects to add various blurs to. I decided to choose this image of various pieces of fruit because it’ll give a very clear idea of what’s going on and what I’m doing to the photo.
What is the Field Blur Filter
Let’s say you have a photograph of three marbles. Each one of those marbles is clearly focused, but is in a different range. This means that you have one marble that sits at up front, another that sits slightly further back and the last one that’s all the way behind the rest. The Field Blur filter allows you to add a blur to smaller, independent areas, or fields. So, instead of applying a blur that sits over a larger area or one that uses parallel lines, such as the Tilt-Shift Blur, you can really separate and part out exactly where you want to soften different objects. This is a very versatile filter that can closely emulate an actual depth of field effect straight out of a camera.
I have three posts I’d like you to read that will enhance your understanding of the Blur Gallery area. I wrote the first post a while ago and the second two just this week. If you decide to go ahead with reading these, you’ll have a really good handle on what will follow below.
The Field Blur Filter
Okay, let’s get going with some blurs.
I already have the demo photo opened up in Photoshop. I’ve right-clicked on the layer in the Layers panel and selected the Convert to Smart Object menu item. At this point, I can head up to the top menu and click the Filter > Blur Gallery > Field Blur item to access the workspace I’m after.
From here, the workspace opens up and I’m ready to get started. Here’s a screenshot of the right panel where the Field Blur section of the Blur Tools panel is exposed.
As you can see, there’s not a lot to it. There’s only one Blur slider and it controls the strength of each pin’s blur. To control strength with this slider, the pin will first need to be clicked on and selected.
At the center of the photo in this workspace, we’ve got the same pin that was used with the previous two blurs I recently spoke of. Here it is, circled in red.
I also increased the intensity of the blur, just to show you how far it currently goes. Basically, as it stands, this pin’s blur covers the entire photo. How do I know that? Well, for one, I can see the blur. There’s actually a better method for viewing the overlay effects in a much more precise way. If I press and hold the M key on my keyboard, I’ll see the mask version of the current blur. Let’s see what happens if I do that.
Okay, that’s all white, so the entire blur is visible. Remember, when it comes to masks in Photoshop, white reveals and black conceals. If I clicked somewhere else to quickly add another pin, I can create a new field. That’s right, all I need to do is click and the new pin will just appear. I’ll go ahead and add three more pins for a total of four. I’ll also randomly strengthen or weaken each pin’s blur effect by clicking and dragging the circular line that sits around the outside of the center pin. I’ll circle the pins in red.
Let’s see what things look like if I press the M key so the mask version is displayed.
How’s that? Pretty cool, huh? The darker the area, the less the blur effect is showing (black conceals the effect). The lighter the area, the more it’s showing, relatively speaking (white reveals the effect). What I mean by relatively speaking is that all the different blurs in one photo are related. If you were to limit yourself to just one, no matter the strength you set it to, it would always show as pure white when you press the M key. The additional pins work off of that one.
So, in the example above, I set it so the center pin has the most blur, the one to the right of it has the least and the other two are somewhere in the middle. I can add as many pins as I would like and set all of their strengths differently. This is what I was referring to when I said you can fake a narrow depth of field. If I were to do that in the photo I’m currently working on, I’d find one piece of fruit that is completely in focus. Then, I’d choose which pieces look like they’re slightly closer to and further away from the camera lens and I’d add a slight blur to each one. That would give me the narrowest of depth-of-field effects.
Using the Mask Method
Just to mess around, let’s say that I used just one pin so the entire photo is affected and I set it to a medium blur. I can exit the Blur Gallery workspace by clicking the OK button up in the options bar. I’ll do that now.
Here’s the image I’ll end up with in the regular Photoshop workspace.
This is the fun part. Since I initially converted the photo layer to a Smart Object in the Layers panel, I can turn this blur effect on and off. It’s really just an overlay. To hide the effect, all I have to do is to click the small eye icon that sits to the left of the Smart Object mask thumbnail.
Since this effect is being stored as a mask, I can manipulate it any way I want. I can use the Brush Tool with varying degrees of black and white to paint away part of the effect or all of it. I can do anything I want to it.
For instance, let’s say I wanted to keep most of the photo blurry, but reduce the blur that’s covering the three pomegranates. To do this, I wouldn’t touch the anything, but I’d change the color of the Color Picker to black (or dark gray) and I’d paint over the pomegranates. All this after clicking on the mask thumbnail in the Layers panel to select it. By the way, here’s a primer on layer masks in Photoshop.
Let’s see what this result looks like.
Do you see what I’m trying to do here? Even though this example is extremely basic, it gives you an idea of what you can accomplish by simply painting over the mask with white, gray and black. You’ll need to learn about masks before you do this, of course, but really, the sky’s the limit with this stuff. I hope you get the idea.
I hope I clearly explained how to use the Field Blur filter in Adobe Photoshop as well as how to use masking to affect the filter output in some creative ways. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this post, please leave them in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!