Creating a Shallow Depth of Field

So, remember when I told you I was working with Photoshop Elements as a brand ambassador? Well, today is my first instructional post! I’ll be sharing an easy way to fake a shallow depth of field.

I do a lot of tabletop type photography for blog projects, which means that I’m often photographing something small, and want the eyes to be drawn to one particular detail or another. I have a canon 30D with a 50 mm 1.4 lens which allows me to create a really shallow depth of field as you can see in the left image above at taken a f/1.4. The right image above is the same picture but I took it with a deeper depth of field at f/16. You can see how the background in the right image is pretty distracting. It’s hard to know what we should be  be focusing on.

The problem is that a lens that allows for a really shallow depth of field (which is the aperture or f stop) is pretty expensive. Mine was $380 on top of the cost of the camera body. Not everyone who is casually taking photos can afford to invest in a nice lens like that. There’s a cheaper version, a 50mm f/1.8 for $110, but I thought I’d show you how to create that same effect with Photoshop Elements. Of course it won’t look as good as the image at the top left, and if you’re getting into photography I’d recommend buying a good lens, but it’s definitely a huge improvement as you can see below where I took the image below on the left and used Elements to blur out everything but the ice cream cone and some of the hand. The image on the bottom right is the end result.

Keep reading to see a step by step of how it’s done…

Open your image into Photoshop Elements.

Switch into the Guided Tab at the top right and select Depth of Field in the list that opens. This is one of the huge benefits I found of Elements, it makes all those adjustments that you can do in Photoshop way easier by walking you through the process. You’ll see as we continue.

We’re going to choose the custom version because we’ll be manually defining what areas we want to focus on in the image.

Click on the quick selection button on the right, and then start clicking on the parts of the image you want to keep in focus. The marching ants will start to outline that area. You’ll want to zoom in for this part so you can be pretty exact with your selection.

If you find that you’re grabbing too much or not enough, you can adjust the diameter of your brush by clicking the down arrow next to Brush on the top left corner of the page. You can do option-click or alt-click to delete a small section if you grab a section you didn’t mean to.

Now that you have that area selected, click the ‘add blur’ button on the right hand side.

Move the slider around to find the right amount of blur. Above is what it looks like turned all the way up. Too much! When you find the right amount, click ‘done’. You can move into ‘quick’ to make other small adjustments to light and color.

You can totally do this in regular Photoshop too, but it’s a little more complicated. Again, it doesn’t look as good as using a nice lens with a shallow depth of field but it’s a pretty good fake!

Comments

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Hey Liz! I’ve actually been looking for a tutorial on this! Thank you for sharing : ) I have regular Photoshop so I’ll have to figure it out from there, but this is a really good start.

I love how the image is blurred in the background in this picture. Is there any way to create that sort of effect in PS or does it require a nice lens? Either way, thanks again for this incredibly helpful tutorial!

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Hurray! I’m so excited for these instructional posts! I got PSE9 for Christmas and used a 30-day free trial on lynda.com to learn the ins and outs, but it expired before I got to the good stuff. I can organize my stacks up the wazoo, but I don’t know how to do anything cool. 😉

Great post and thanks for the tips. I’ve got my eye on that 50mm 1.4 but can’t quite pull the trigger yet so I’m working with my 17-50mm 2.8. This will be a fun tutorial to test out!

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