The new Blur Gallery in Photoshop CS6 offers tools that provide intuitive and creative ways to manipulate depth of field and create bokeh effects.

One of my favorite features introduced in the Photoshop CS6 beta is without a doubt the Blur Gallery. This collection of three brand new filters allows for photo-realistic depth of field adjustments via an interface which allows you to place and manipulate controls directly on the image area.

Photographers rely on focal length, subject distance and aperture to determine in-focus and blurred areas of an image. Yet there are times when technical constraints make a desired effect difficult to achieve. And that's where these new tools come in handy.

Unlike the blur options in previous versions of Photoshop, the Blur Gallery filters are designed specifically to produce a selective focus effect. The Blur Gallery is comprised of three filters; Field Blur, Iris Blur and Tilt-Shift. In addition there are a separate set of Blur Effects that let you create specular highlights mimicking the circular bokeh effect produced by lenses. In this article I’ll show you how these tools work and hopefully inspire you to start using them on your own images.

You can find the new blur tools by going to Filter>Blur. Selecting one of the top three options (highlighted in red) will open the new Blur Gallery. The Blur Gallery opens in a full size window that temporarily replaces your regular workspace. Panels along the right give you access to all three of the blur filters as well as bokeh adjustments.

Because the blur filters are applied directly to the image pixels, rather than as a layer adjustment, I strongly recommend that you first duplicate the background layer of your image before applying any of these filters. If your image already contains multiple layers, select the topmost layer and merge the visible layers into a new additional layer by pressing  Command + Shift + Option + E  (Ctrl + Shift + Alt + E on Windows). Then go to Filter>Blur and choose either Field Blur, Iris Blur or Tilt-Shift.)  This will open the Blur Gallery.

Field Blur

Field Blur is the simplest of the three filters to use, but offers the least amount of direct control. When you select this option in the Filter menu, the image opens in a full size editing window. An active 'pin' is automatically placed in the center of the image, surrounded by an adjustment ring (the gray circle partially covered in white). At this point the entire image is blurred to the degree specified in the adjustment ring.

Field Blur opens with a 'pin' placed in the center of the image surrounded by an adjustment ring that applies a  blur to the entire image.

With your cursor on or near the adjustment ring you can drag your mouse along the ring's edge to adjust the blur amount. You'll see the blur value update (an example of of CS6's 'rich cursor' feature) as you move the mouse. Alternatively you can use the slider in the Field Blur panel. 

OK, so we've made the entire image blurry. Big deal. The fun starts as you add additional pins to the image. Move your cursor away from the adjustment ring and you’ll see the cursor now appears as a small pushpin with an plus sign alongside it. In this 'add pin' mode, simply click to place a new blur control so that you can specify a different  blur intensity at that image location. A blur setting of 0 prevents any blur from taking place, protecting or masking out that area of the image.

Place two pins on a single image and Photoshop creates a linear gradient that makes a smooth transition between the effects of each pin. Place three or more pins and Photoshop then constrains the effect of each pin to the image area in its immediate vicinity. You can place as many pins as you like on an image.

You can apply as many pins, at varied settings as needed to apply blur to some areas of the image while protecting areas you wish to remain sharp.
Press and hold the M key to see the actual blur mask. Areas in white have a blur applied to them while areas in black have been protected. Shades of gray represent partially affected regions.

You can see that I've added a lot of pins in this example in order to restrict the blur effects to specific areas of the image. Note that each pin can be set to its own blur value, so the real value of Filed Blur comes if you're prepared to place and adjust multiple points on an image, which admittedly can take time to get the precise results you're after.

Here's the original image. The background is distracting.
Using the Field Blur I was able to slightly blur the background, drawing attention to the dog chasing the kite.

I was able to create a gradual transition in the amount of blur on the sand by applying several pins at different intensities, but this also required numerous pins to protect the dog.

Images like this one with complex elements like the 'flying' fur of the dog call up some limitations of the Field Blur tool. If you look closely you'll find areas around the edges of the subject that will require some clean-up work with Photoshop's clone/healing tools.

While this may seem like an awful lot of work, one of the things I like best about Field Blur is that it tends to lead to more realistic results with natural-looking transitions that looks as if they could have actually been done in-camera. The Iris Blur filter, which we'll examine on the following page, can produce results with less effort. Yet it is very easy to produce an overdone result that any experienced photographer will recognize as a post processing edit.

Click here to continue reading our Photoshop CS6 Blur Gallery tutorial...