Using Photoshop to Create the Illusion of Depth of Field with your Sports Photos - Digital Photography School

Using Photoshop to Create the Illusion of Depth of Field with your Sports Photos

In this post Edward Mercer of Digital Photography Darkroom shares a process for adding depth of field to sports images.

You know how the Sport Photos look when taken by the Pros with those really expensive LONG lenses? The soft background and the sharp player? Well you can get the same effect with your current lens using the following steps in Photoshop!

The first picture you see is the Original Image – taken with our 75-300 zoom lens – almost all of the photo is “sharp” and in focus.

1Picture 2.jpg

1. With your layer pallet OPEN – see Background – make a duplicate of this layer by using the shortcut – on a PC hold the Control key down and hit “J” – on the Mac – hold down the Command key and hit “J” – you will now see the duplicate layer above the background layer.

2LayerP1.jpg

2. Using the Quick Select too from the tool box – select just the player – then hit Command or Control J to make a duplicate layer of just the player.

3QuickSelect.jpg

43Layers.jpg

3. Layers- With the “Background Copy” (or Layer 1) in the layer pallet highlighted – go to Filter – Blur – Gaussian Blur – select the amount of softness you want in the background – keeping it realistic looking.

5GaussianBlur.jpg

Once you have clicked OK – your photo should look like the photo below.

6Layers.jpg

4. Now – with your “Background Layer” highlighted in the layer pallet, click on your “Eraser” in your Tool Box to the Left – set the opacity to around 30% and the Flow on 100% – size your brush to be about the size in the following photo – keep a soft edge and a bigger brush in the “Open” areas and make your brush smaller and sharper the close you get to the player. You can also change your opacity if you need to.

7ShowBrush.jpg

8Pic&Layers.png

5. Start erasing – little by little – keeping the degree of softness in the background that you like. (Some people like it more out of focus than others.) Keep in mind the area directly near the player should be a little in focus also – when you are done your photo should look like the one below – finishedlookBe sure to “Flatten” all your layers before sending this off to your lab!

So there you go, I’ve just saved you from purchasing that Expensive – $3000 lens! You can do it all in Photoshop!

9FinishedLook.jpg

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like...

Read more from our Post Production category.

Guest Contributor This post was written by a guest contributor to DPS. Please see their details in the post above.

Become a Contributor: Check out Write for DPS page for details about how YOU can share your photography tips with the DPS community.

  • gerbs

    or you could zoom in, move closer, and use a larger aperture. 300mm is plenty long to have shallow DOF. why waste your time with this junk.

  • http://www.poorhousephoto.com Jim Poor

    Not bad, but in this technique you do not “create depth of field.” You are actually removing, shrinking foreshortening, lessening etc, but you are not _creating_ depth of field. You are, however creating a simulated bokeh.

    Still, not a bad way to put the focus on the subject.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/miklee Mikel Daniel

    Agreed, this isn’t DOF at all. Additionally, rather than using gaussian blur, recommend using lens blur as there are more controls there to simulate a natural looking bokeh…if such a thing is possible.

  • http://www.imageserenity.com Amandalynn

    I agree with the above comments, it’s not DOF even a little – but it is a handy technique for getting the focus off of distracting backgrounds and onto your subject. People who use this should be *very* careful to not overdo it though or it will end up looking obviously faked.

  • Emily

    I think it’s much easier to unlock the background, make it a smart object, apply blur filter and then use the brush tool on the mask to erase the filter over the player. You have much better control this way.

  • David

    For super examples of fake depth of field, check out this page for Alien Skin Software’s “Bokeh” plug-in for Photoshop for examples of good fake depth of field. The only problem I see is the high price of the software!

  • David

    Oh, I’m not tied to these Alien Skin people in any way. I forgot to post the link: http://www.alienskin.com/bokeh/examples-depth.aspx

  • Martin Stepka

    Masking out a blurred copy does a poor job at simulating various degrees of blurriness because you do not reduce the amount of blur, just the opacity. That looks fake very quickly. Much more believable results are received with lens blur plugin using a gradient alpha channel that can even incorporate the outline of the object in focus. The other good tool for doing this is Bokeh plugin from Alien Software, though a bit pricey.

  • Reznor

    As long as there is only one subject in the photo, this technique might be ok for you but as soon as more people or objects are in the shot and have a different distance to the camera, this gets really hard because every object would need a different amount of blur applied to them depending on their distance. If you can get a realistic looking result from such a photo, you may call yourself a photoshop guru.

    Just a little tip, only amateurs use the eraser tool. Masking is the way to go cause you don’t actually lose any pixels. The mask can be edited at any time so that you’re far more flexible. This is a general tip, not just for this kind of editing. Don’t erase, mask instead.

  • David

    The ideal definitely is to get good DOF in-shot, with your lens and without post-processing, because even with expensive bokeh-creating software, fake DOF is a process that consumes large amounts of time to make look good. It’s always best to get as close as possible to your final product in-camera; post-processing like that shown in this article should be a last resort, but at least it’s an option.

  • max

    Dear Mr/Ms. Gerbs. This is not “junk,” and your pejorative is uncalled for. It is a tool; an option. You are not required to use it. Let’s all take the high road, shall we?

  • http://www.hotpepper.ca/ Kim Siever

    Unfortunately, this is a poor example of faking shallow DOF. It looks fake.

  • Tim

    Jeeze you guys are being a bit critical here – This is just one way to salvage a picture that was not taken with the “ideal” DOF. Obviously it would be best to get it “in-camera”, but not everyone is a pro.

  • Rattanapanya Somphon

    GOOD. Thank you very much

  • http://www.poorhousephoto.com Jim Poor

    I think we would be less critical if someone weren’t trying to teach something without even using the correct terminology, (let alone the less than wonderful end result) but that may be just me.

  • Jane

    Great tutorial. To really enhance the simulated DOF, I think some of the field around the player should be left sharp since it would be in the plane of focus.

    Keep up the good work!

  • http://foodientravelbug.blogspot.com MeiTeng

    I don’t like the DOF produced using photoshop.

  • wylerhouse

    [gerbs Says:
    June 28th, 2009 at 8:24 am
    or you could zoom in, move closer, and use a larger aperture. 300mm is plenty long to have shallow DOF. why waste your time with this junk.]

    gerb, you are on the wrong web page. You must be looking for the Already know everything about photography web site. Please go find it and reserve this site for constructive criticism.

  • http://www.MoreSatisfyingPhotos.com Jeffrey Kontur

    The negativity of the commenters in this forum reeks. I don’t see any of you geniuses offering up your obviously far superior wisdom.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/poisonberry/ Scott

    a better method is to also add a gradient to the bottom of the image, as the grass would also be in focus at the feet if the feet are in focus.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/poisonberry/ Scott

    that assumes a mask of course, which was not used.

  • Sean Ilaguison

    Not something I’d use but at least somewhat useful to those without telephotos or lenses with fast apertures.

  • Monte

    Great concept but the technique is not the best.
    When I do this I use a gradient filter instead of the brush for a much more realistic and gradual change in the blur.

    You also need to isolate the subject first on a separate layer. This can be done with very good results.

  • Kel

    I would second the thoughts of using a gradient & a mask as well, it will make it a lot more realistic.

  • http://styleonyoursubstance.com mack

    Lens Blur is the more appropriate filter. A layer mask would also be the obvious choice,

  • Joel

    This is pretty bad. The duplicate layer in the background should have the subject removed and replaced with a portion of the background of the subject super-imposed on the area where the subject once was. That way, when the blur is added, the blue of the subject isn’t blurred and doesn’t create a “halo” effect around the subject in the final image. Also, gradients should be added to the mask on the blurry layer. The closer to the feet of the subject, the crisper the background should be. The grass by the feet should be completely in focus. The grass infront of the player and behind should be blurry. Use a gradient mask going from the feet of the subject to the street in the background.

  • http://www.aledophoto.com PS Junkie

    I use this technique very often. The only difference is I would add a layer mask to the blurred copy and have the original on the bottom. The layer mask allows you to “un” erase things.

  • jennym

    So guys how about a tutorial on gradients and masks?

  • monty

    You lot like to criticise !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Sarah

    I agree with comments suggesting using a gradient mask on the blurred layer so that the grass near the feet stay sharp. And do need to watch out for the halo effect.

  • http://community.webshots.com/user/anyoflores Flores

    What is the purpose or erasing the blur image in background copy layer? We just change the opacity of the layer rather than erase it.

    I suggest you have to smooth the edge of the player whether thru ‘blur tool’ or play with select/modify/smooth or feather, or right click and play with ‘refine edge.’ etc.

    Thanks!

  • http://microstocker.blogspot.com Natalia

    Look bad, honestly :(

  • kat

    My gosh people! Look at the TITLE of this article: Using Photoshop to Create the ILLUSION of Depth of Field. You nay-sayers seem to believe that there is only ONE way to do something. Well guess what: all roads lead to Rome. Lots of ways to accomplish the same or similar effect. This is one way. You may prefer another. And obviously, getting DOF the way you want it in-camera is the best way, but we don’t always have the luxury of time to “get it right” especially with sports photography. Get the shot! Period! Then work it in post-production. Not enough DOF? Then use this technique, or your own. But stop criticizing someone who’s trying to help! As for the “fakeness” of the example – I don’t think this image was worked to win a contest or for print publication – I think it was done fairly quickly just to show how it’s done. Who cares if it’s not perfect. Sheesh! Flamers, go home. Appreciate that someone is trying to help.

  • http://www.jimpoor.com Jim Poor

    Actually the title has been edited from the original and is still incorrect as one is not creating the illusion of Depth of Field either, but rather the illusion of Shallow DoF or, if we REALLY want to stretch things bokeh.

  • kat

    Ok Jim, you win the game of “I Insist On Being Technically Correct Or I’m Going to Have a Hissy Fit”. But you lose at GETTING it. If you’re such a pro, why are you even bothering to read these tutorials that are meant for a different target audience than the one you seem to believe you belong in (are you going to correct my grammar now, too)? Where are all the nice people out there who understand the INTENTION of people trying to help others? (Don’t answer; you wouldn’t know.)

  • http://www.poorhousephoto.com Jim Poor

    The “nice” people are doing more harm than good by spreading bad technique to those who don’t know any better.

  • Martin Stepka

    Let us focus in this discussion on the presented technique. If you like it, tell us why. If you do not like it, tell us what and why you do not like and eventually how would you improve on it. The latter may not be so pleasant, but sure can help. I believe that trying to stop people from having their opinions is pointless.

  • hagen

    gradient instead of painting

  • Adrian in Bangkok

    okay….. Always amusing to see people go for each other online…very easy to do “online”…

    Regarding the technique, it is not perfect…… but it is almost there.

    Forget layers, just use masks with large amounts of feather…. different distances away from the subject need to have different levels of blur/feather, or it looks fake. (ie, the hedge in background, should be softer than the grass…and the grass near to the player should be as sharp as the player…

    perhaps 3 or 4 levels for this shot……with practice it might take 10 mins in photoshop…

    obviously it is best to shoot it right first….but sport is particularly hard if you dont have a fast lens. (eg, 300mm 2.8f, i am guessing the lens used was about 5.6f at 300mm)

  • Robert

    Interesting manipulation. However, faking photos becomes a character issue. After a while, no one values your photos because they are not sure of the authenticity. Sorry. Find something more useful to waster your time on.

  • MV

    Sometime I use this technique (with masks) just to *enhance* the already present bokeh in the photo… Just an gently improvement. If you don’t have someting from the starting point you will need to apply such a *strong* modification it will look as a poor manipulation and the photo will lose all of its potential value… You will obtain at the end an evident and borried fake!

Some older comments

  • MV

    November 25, 2009 02:27 pm

    Sometime I use this technique (with masks) just to *enhance* the already present bokeh in the photo... Just an gently improvement. If you don't have someting from the starting point you will need to apply such a *strong* modification it will look as a poor manipulation and the photo will lose all of its potential value... You will obtain at the end an evident and borried fake!

  • Robert

    November 16, 2009 11:30 am

    Interesting manipulation. However, faking photos becomes a character issue. After a while, no one values your photos because they are not sure of the authenticity. Sorry. Find something more useful to waster your time on.

  • Adrian in Bangkok

    August 30, 2009 06:44 pm

    okay..... Always amusing to see people go for each other online...very easy to do "online"...

    Regarding the technique, it is not perfect...... but it is almost there.

    Forget layers, just use masks with large amounts of feather.... different distances away from the subject need to have different levels of blur/feather, or it looks fake. (ie, the hedge in background, should be softer than the grass...and the grass near to the player should be as sharp as the player...

    perhaps 3 or 4 levels for this shot......with practice it might take 10 mins in photoshop...

    obviously it is best to shoot it right first....but sport is particularly hard if you dont have a fast lens. (eg, 300mm 2.8f, i am guessing the lens used was about 5.6f at 300mm)

  • hagen

    August 26, 2009 12:01 am

    gradient instead of painting

  • Martin Stepka

    August 14, 2009 06:14 pm

    Let us focus in this discussion on the presented technique. If you like it, tell us why. If you do not like it, tell us what and why you do not like and eventually how would you improve on it. The latter may not be so pleasant, but sure can help. I believe that trying to stop people from having their opinions is pointless.

  • Jim Poor

    August 14, 2009 06:32 am

    The "nice" people are doing more harm than good by spreading bad technique to those who don't know any better.

  • kat

    August 14, 2009 06:13 am

    Ok Jim, you win the game of "I Insist On Being Technically Correct Or I'm Going to Have a Hissy Fit". But you lose at GETTING it. If you're such a pro, why are you even bothering to read these tutorials that are meant for a different target audience than the one you seem to believe you belong in (are you going to correct my grammar now, too)? Where are all the nice people out there who understand the INTENTION of people trying to help others? (Don't answer; you wouldn't know.)

  • Jim Poor

    August 14, 2009 05:27 am

    Actually the title has been edited from the original and is still incorrect as one is not creating the illusion of Depth of Field either, but rather the illusion of Shallow DoF or, if we REALLY want to stretch things bokeh.

  • kat

    August 14, 2009 01:39 am

    My gosh people! Look at the TITLE of this article: Using Photoshop to Create the ILLUSION of Depth of Field. You nay-sayers seem to believe that there is only ONE way to do something. Well guess what: all roads lead to Rome. Lots of ways to accomplish the same or similar effect. This is one way. You may prefer another. And obviously, getting DOF the way you want it in-camera is the best way, but we don't always have the luxury of time to "get it right" especially with sports photography. Get the shot! Period! Then work it in post-production. Not enough DOF? Then use this technique, or your own. But stop criticizing someone who's trying to help! As for the "fakeness" of the example - I don't think this image was worked to win a contest or for print publication - I think it was done fairly quickly just to show how it's done. Who cares if it's not perfect. Sheesh! Flamers, go home. Appreciate that someone is trying to help.

  • Natalia

    July 10, 2009 10:57 pm

    Look bad, honestly :(

  • Flores

    July 4, 2009 05:15 am

    What is the purpose or erasing the blur image in background copy layer? We just change the opacity of the layer rather than erase it.

    I suggest you have to smooth the edge of the player whether thru 'blur tool' or play with select/modify/smooth or feather, or right click and play with 'refine edge.' etc.

    Thanks!

  • Sarah

    July 3, 2009 10:28 am

    I agree with comments suggesting using a gradient mask on the blurred layer so that the grass near the feet stay sharp. And do need to watch out for the halo effect.

  • monty

    July 3, 2009 05:27 am

    You lot like to criticise !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • jennym

    July 3, 2009 02:52 am

    So guys how about a tutorial on gradients and masks?

  • PS Junkie

    July 2, 2009 06:37 am

    I use this technique very often. The only difference is I would add a layer mask to the blurred copy and have the original on the bottom. The layer mask allows you to "un" erase things.

  • Joel

    July 1, 2009 11:36 pm

    This is pretty bad. The duplicate layer in the background should have the subject removed and replaced with a portion of the background of the subject super-imposed on the area where the subject once was. That way, when the blur is added, the blue of the subject isn't blurred and doesn't create a "halo" effect around the subject in the final image. Also, gradients should be added to the mask on the blurry layer. The closer to the feet of the subject, the crisper the background should be. The grass by the feet should be completely in focus. The grass infront of the player and behind should be blurry. Use a gradient mask going from the feet of the subject to the street in the background.

  • mack

    July 1, 2009 03:59 pm

    Lens Blur is the more appropriate filter. A layer mask would also be the obvious choice,

  • Kel

    July 1, 2009 02:17 pm

    I would second the thoughts of using a gradient & a mask as well, it will make it a lot more realistic.

  • Monte

    July 1, 2009 05:25 am

    Great concept but the technique is not the best.
    When I do this I use a gradient filter instead of the brush for a much more realistic and gradual change in the blur.

    You also need to isolate the subject first on a separate layer. This can be done with very good results.

  • Sean Ilaguison

    June 30, 2009 12:34 am

    Not something I'd use but at least somewhat useful to those without telephotos or lenses with fast apertures.

  • Scott

    June 30, 2009 12:06 am

    that assumes a mask of course, which was not used.

  • Scott

    June 30, 2009 12:05 am

    a better method is to also add a gradient to the bottom of the image, as the grass would also be in focus at the feet if the feet are in focus.

  • Jeffrey Kontur

    June 30, 2009 12:00 am

    The negativity of the commenters in this forum reeks. I don't see any of you geniuses offering up your obviously far superior wisdom.

  • wylerhouse

    June 29, 2009 10:55 pm

    [gerbs Says:
    June 28th, 2009 at 8:24 am
    or you could zoom in, move closer, and use a larger aperture. 300mm is plenty long to have shallow DOF. why waste your time with this junk.]

    gerb, you are on the wrong web page. You must be looking for the Already know everything about photography web site. Please go find it and reserve this site for constructive criticism.

  • MeiTeng

    June 29, 2009 04:07 pm

    I don't like the DOF produced using photoshop.

  • Jane

    June 29, 2009 05:51 am

    Great tutorial. To really enhance the simulated DOF, I think some of the field around the player should be left sharp since it would be in the plane of focus.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Jim Poor

    June 29, 2009 03:21 am

    I think we would be less critical if someone weren't trying to teach something without even using the correct terminology, (let alone the less than wonderful end result) but that may be just me.

  • Rattanapanya Somphon

    June 29, 2009 01:49 am

    GOOD. Thank you very much

  • Tim

    June 29, 2009 01:15 am

    Jeeze you guys are being a bit critical here - This is just one way to salvage a picture that was not taken with the "ideal" DOF. Obviously it would be best to get it "in-camera", but not everyone is a pro.

  • Kim Siever

    June 29, 2009 12:38 am

    Unfortunately, this is a poor example of faking shallow DOF. It looks fake.

  • max

    June 29, 2009 12:37 am

    Dear Mr/Ms. Gerbs. This is not "junk," and your pejorative is uncalled for. It is a tool; an option. You are not required to use it. Let's all take the high road, shall we?

  • David

    June 28, 2009 11:38 pm

    The ideal definitely is to get good DOF in-shot, with your lens and without post-processing, because even with expensive bokeh-creating software, fake DOF is a process that consumes large amounts of time to make look good. It's always best to get as close as possible to your final product in-camera; post-processing like that shown in this article should be a last resort, but at least it's an option.

  • Reznor

    June 28, 2009 07:11 pm

    As long as there is only one subject in the photo, this technique might be ok for you but as soon as more people or objects are in the shot and have a different distance to the camera, this gets really hard because every object would need a different amount of blur applied to them depending on their distance. If you can get a realistic looking result from such a photo, you may call yourself a photoshop guru.

    Just a little tip, only amateurs use the eraser tool. Masking is the way to go cause you don't actually lose any pixels. The mask can be edited at any time so that you're far more flexible. This is a general tip, not just for this kind of editing. Don't erase, mask instead.

  • Martin Stepka

    June 28, 2009 06:16 pm

    Masking out a blurred copy does a poor job at simulating various degrees of blurriness because you do not reduce the amount of blur, just the opacity. That looks fake very quickly. Much more believable results are received with lens blur plugin using a gradient alpha channel that can even incorporate the outline of the object in focus. The other good tool for doing this is Bokeh plugin from Alien Software, though a bit pricey.

  • David

    June 28, 2009 04:33 pm

    Oh, I'm not tied to these Alien Skin people in any way. I forgot to post the link: http://www.alienskin.com/bokeh/examples-depth.aspx

  • David

    June 28, 2009 04:31 pm

    For super examples of fake depth of field, check out this page for Alien Skin Software's "Bokeh" plug-in for Photoshop for examples of good fake depth of field. The only problem I see is the high price of the software!

  • Emily

    June 28, 2009 02:55 pm

    I think it's much easier to unlock the background, make it a smart object, apply blur filter and then use the brush tool on the mask to erase the filter over the player. You have much better control this way.

  • Amandalynn

    June 28, 2009 01:53 pm

    I agree with the above comments, it's not DOF even a little - but it is a handy technique for getting the focus off of distracting backgrounds and onto your subject. People who use this should be *very* careful to not overdo it though or it will end up looking obviously faked.

  • Mikel Daniel

    June 28, 2009 10:38 am

    Agreed, this isn't DOF at all. Additionally, rather than using gaussian blur, recommend using lens blur as there are more controls there to simulate a natural looking bokeh...if such a thing is possible.

  • Jim Poor

    June 28, 2009 09:40 am

    Not bad, but in this technique you do not "create depth of field." You are actually removing, shrinking foreshortening, lessening etc, but you are not _creating_ depth of field. You are, however creating a simulated bokeh.

    Still, not a bad way to put the focus on the subject.

  • gerbs

    June 28, 2009 08:24 am

    or you could zoom in, move closer, and use a larger aperture. 300mm is plenty long to have shallow DOF. why waste your time with this junk.

Receive a FREE SAMPLE of our Portrait Photography Ebook

  • Guaranteed for 2 full months
  • Pay by PayPal or CreditCard
  • Instant Digital Download

Receive a FREE SAMPLE of our Portrait Photography Ebook

  • Guaranteed for 2 full months
  • Pay by PayPal or CreditCard
  • Instant Digital Download

Receive a FREE SAMPLE of our Portrait Photography Ebook

  • Guaranteed for 2 full months
  • Pay by PayPal or CreditCard
  • Instant Digital Download

Sign up to the free DPS PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE

  • Guaranteed for 2 full months
  • Pay by PayPal or CreditCard
  • Instant Digital Download

GET DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS Feed

Sign up to the free

DPS PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE

  • Guaranteed for 2 full months
  • Pay by PayPal or CreditCard
  • Instant Digital Download

GET DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS Feed

Sign up to the free

DPS PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE

  • Guaranteed for 2 full months
  • Pay by PayPal or CreditCard
  • Instant Digital Download
Today’s Deal: Portrait Lighting on Location – 50% offVIEW DEAL
DPS NEWSLETTER
DPS NEWSLETTER
DPS NEWSLETTER

DPS offers a free weekly newsletter with: 
1. new photography tutorials and tips
2. latest photography assignments
3. photo competitions and prizes

Enter your email below to subscribe.
Email:
 
 
Get DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS feed