How to Recreate Depth of Field in 7 Steps [Post-Production]

How to Recreate Depth of Field in 7 Steps [Post-Production]

The following article on creating depth of field using photoshop was submitted by Emma Cake from Big Bouquet Photography.

If you didn’t quite get your aperture settings right when you were out and about with your camera it’s possible to recreate a depth of field effect in Photoshop.

Similarly if you want to heighten the either of depth of field in your photography you can use Photoshop to do that too. Depth of field allows you to draw attention to an element in your photograph.

With some quick tweaks to your image’s sharpness using Photoshop’s filters and Layer Masking you can easily recreate the look of a small depth of field.


Here’s how you do it in 7 Simple Steps (click to enlarge images):

1. Copy your layer

depth of field step 1

Open up an image that would suit a depth of field look (close-up shots work best for this as you will be able to isolate elements in the foreground easily from the background). Open up your Layers Palette and drag the Background Layer onto the icon at the bottom of the Layers Palette called ‘Create a new Layer’. This will make a copy layer of your image.

2. Gaussian blur

depth of field step 2

Make sure that your ‘Background Copy’ layer is still selected and then choose the following from the upper toolbar: Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur.

3. Your blur settings

depth of field step 3

In reality, the blur in an image that had strong depth of field wouldn’t be as much as the blur that shows from the default Gaussian Blur settings. So, using the slider controls take the blur amount down to a Radius of 8.5 pixels. Then, press OK.

4. Masking out

depth of field step 4

Now here’s where we can set the areas that will remain in sharp focus to give us our depth of field effect. With the ‘Background copy’ layer still selected add a Layer Mask by clicking on the ‘Add Layer Mask’ icon at the bottom of the layers palette (this looks like a circle in a rectangle). A white rectangle will appear in your ‘Background Copy’ layer.

5. Applying your mask

depth of field step 5

Masking is a really good technique to master in Photoshop. It will allow you to reveal more or less of the layer underneath and it’s a much better technique to use than the Eraser Tool as it’s completely reversible. You apply a Layer Mask using the Brush Tool with a Soft Brush selected. Using a black colour will reveal the image underneath (in this case our sharp version of the flowers), whereas a white colour will erase any unwanted applied masking. With your Layer Mask thumbnail still selected use a black brush to paint over the areas you want to be sharp.

TIP: If you want to move around your canvas easily without using the scroll bars, you can hold down your Space bar and drag the canvas with your left-mouse button or your graphics pen.

6. Reversing your mask

If you think that you have applied too much Layer Masking as you’re going along, it’s easy enough to paint out your mask with a white Brush. Simply change the colour in your foreground palette to white and paint over it again.

depth of field step 6

7. Subtle masking

depth of field step 7

If you want to blend together your sharp elements with your blurred areas to make the transition look convincing you can apply a grey layer mask. Change your foreground palette to grey and then brush over the elements that you think would still be in relative focus. Remember to zoom out now and again so you can judge how successful your masking looks. When you’re happy flatten your layers by choosing Layer>Flatten Image and Save.

TIP: When you are applying your mask make sure you zoom in enough to be able to see all of your details for accurate painting. You can get around awkward spaces by altering the size of your brush. The easiest way to do this without breaking your concentration is by pressing the ‘[‘ and ‘]’ keys on your keyboard to make your brush smaller and larger.

Read more from our Post Production category

Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Heather November 27, 2011 08:02 pm

    You made layers and masking sound like cake, yet they seem to be needlessly complicated when I try to wrap my head around them.

    I know people do all sorts of craziness using layers and masks, so hopefully I can grasp my head around this. I knew this was possible, with Photoshop/GIMP/etc, my problem always seems to be finding the most efficient and easy method. My clumsy clicking usually takes way too much time with rather boring results.

    Thanks so much!

  • Robin August 9, 2010 03:35 am

    Thank you, this was really helpful.

  • IND January 29, 2010 03:09 pm

    "i think..getting the DoF using the camera it self makes you a pro rather than gettting it done in photoshop!"
    Ever heard of photomanipulation, graphic design or post processing?
    sometimes you have particular images to work with but you want the blending to be realistic or maybe you just want to blur out some elements in your photo that you don't want to emphasize....

    i think using lens blur should give a more realistic resault

  • Furious Photographers July 26, 2008 04:50 am

    Wow awesome tutorial for DOF. This will definitely come in handy when I do my wedding photography post-production!

  • Bimby December 14, 2007 04:07 pm

    thanks - i was just searching for information on how to change depth of field in photoshop on Google last week and didn't find anything that worked. This worked a treat for me.

  • MC December 14, 2007 02:20 pm

    Thanks Emma, a good primer for people to experiment with, of course there are various methods to tweak this but the principle is the same. The only thing i would add to the tute is to use a gradient in mask mode to create the gradual change in blurriness

  • Vish0580 December 14, 2007 01:13 pm

    Thts too good....

  • Al Sheppard December 14, 2007 11:25 am

    I appreciate any help someone offers on making better photos.I offer thanks and make any suggestions that might help. I, however, do not criticize negatively.

    Sometimes, negative suggestions are merely the way some persons attemmpt to show off their knowledge, but it is a poor way to do it.

    Thanks for your tutorial.

  • Richard B December 13, 2007 09:13 pm

    Fantastic tutorial - thanks for this Emma. Apologies about the idiots who seem to pull a part every photoshop tutorial that gets posted on DPS. It's a pity that people can't be constructive or appreciative of the work of others.

  • DKCN December 13, 2007 12:12 pm

    People actually take time (their FREE and VALUABLE time that is) to write something like this. It may not be a perfect tutorial but i wouldn't say it is a "bad" one. Thanks for the tutorial =)

  • rob jaudon December 13, 2007 04:00 am

    Thank you for the tutorial. It has already helped a lot. Your site is great. Keep up the good work.


  • Olivier H December 12, 2007 09:44 pm

    Lens blur filter is indeed far better than gaussian blur.

  • Peter December 12, 2007 02:12 pm

    Personally I think this is a bad technique. The result doesn't look like a shallow DOF at all...

    Lens blur is much more accurate than a Gaussian blur.

    Second, using a mask means that the blur blends into the unblurred photo underneath. In the end it looks like a softfocus effect instead of a shallow DOF.

    Use smart filters with a mask and do a lens blur instead.

  • Mitch December 12, 2007 03:55 am

    Nice job, another approach is that when you are in the mask use a radial gradient (black-white). This gives a nice gradual effect.

  • Niels Henriksen December 12, 2007 01:42 am

    Depending on the amount of DOF I want and the depth of the background I will use 2 layers with different Blurs. This is needed to increase the amount of Blur and the background recedes in the distance.

  • Emma December 12, 2007 12:50 am

    Shallow depth of field isn't just useful for still life subjects. It can be a life-saver if you want to blur out some unwanted elements with subtlety. If you have very little time to set up a shot i.e. for quick portraits in can be difficult to get your aperture choice spot on. This technique saved a close-up shot of a bride recently who unfortunately suffered from bad Exzema. The photograph focused on the bride's sparkling new ring and the faux shallow depth of field smoothed out her hands and arms very well :)

  • Olivier H December 11, 2007 11:32 pm

    For compact cameras or less bright lenses on DSLRs, it can be difficult to achieve a strong depth of field blurring (shallow depth of sharpness) : the technique would be useful in such cases, I guess.

  • Gareth Marlow December 11, 2007 11:06 pm

    Matthew Miller is absolutely right. What you're doing is *reducing* the depth of field. So if anything it's a Shallowness of Field effect. And yes, Lens Blur every time.

  • Matthew Miller December 11, 2007 10:12 pm

    Two points... first, this is highly relevant to this sort of article when talking about "digital photography":

    Second, more or heightened depth of field means more of your photograph is in focus, not the other way around. So this is all about an effect for an apparently *decreased* depth of field.

  • joke December 11, 2007 09:27 pm

    Nice tutorial.
    Taking the dof with the camere will always be better but with this well written tutorial you can repair your photo when you have not taken it right.
    As a side effect it tells some more photoshop tips.

  • matt December 11, 2007 03:52 pm

    Getting it right in camera is always going to be best. Then there is no worries about the physics being accurately represented in the editing.

    Also sometimes it is quicker to just go back to the spot and take another photo (when possible of course).

    The one thing that sticks out to me is that the deeper background was not blurred more when the DOF was artificially decreased. Otherwise it is a great tutorial that teaches some useful skills.

  • jay December 11, 2007 12:52 pm

    i think..getting the DoF using the camera it self makes you a pro rather than gettting it done in photoshop!

  • Bbcversus December 11, 2007 12:35 pm

    I just on something like this, making some DoF on my pictures. Thanks for this, seems like I needed some advices in the end.

  • Dumitru December 11, 2007 09:22 am

    Using Lens Blur instead of Gaussian is much more accurate.

  • Steffen December 11, 2007 07:59 am

    In my opinion Lens Blur looks way more realistic then Gaussian, for Depth of Field :) Try it!