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How to add DOF effect to portraits using Photoshop

DOF or Depth Of Field is a commonly used technique in photography where you can precisely focus only part of the face or object you are taking shot of. Let's recreate this using Photoshop.

  Author: mat | Version: CS5 | 17th March 2013 |  

Open a face portrait photo that is all in focus. Meaning tip of the nose and ears, which are furthest apart should be equally in focus.


Click the Edit in Quick Mask Mode button (Q for the keyboard shortcut).


Choose the Brush Tool.


Right-click the photo, set Hardness to 0% and an appropriate brush Size for painting the face.

60 px in my case. If your image is bigger than mine (900x900) you should use a larger sized brush.

Click anywhere on the document to commit the brush changes and close the dialog.


The foreground color should be set to black if it's white, press X key do change it to black.

To remember: Black color puts the mask on, white color wipes the mask off. The parts that are masked (red) are going to stay in focus the unpainted will be blurred.

We will now mask the face. Paint the face the same way I did. Paint only the front part of the face, leave the nose, ears, hair, neck and every thing "behind" the face unmasked.

You don't need to be perfectly precise as we will tweak the mask in the next steps.


In the toolbar under the menu set the brush Opacity to about 20%.


Press X key to set the White foreground color.

Remember, white color wipes the mask off.


The point of this tutorial is to focus on the eyes. The eyes and everything that is on the same level of depth as the eyes will remain sharp, everything else will appear out of focus. We made a good base mask but we need to tune it up a bit to make the final result more natural and believable that the image was taken with a camera using the DOF technique.

As every parts of the face have different depths (nose is the furthest from the face, eyebrows are somewhere in the middle and eyes usually the deepest let make this transition more natural by painting over the eyebrows.

Remember you have a white color set which removes the mask and a low opacity to remove it gradually ...


Paint carefully a bit over the tip of the beard ...

Keep changing the size of the brush if needed. As we have the brush opacity set to 20%, the more times you paint over the same area, more of the mask you will remove or add for that matter if you have the black foreground color set.


Remove a bit at the sides.

Set a larger sized brush and paint over with the edge of brush to make the transitions even more gradual.


The pointed areas are about at the same depth as the eyes so the equal amount of the mask should be applied.

Don't be afraid of pressing the X to apply or remove the mask (black / white) to get the job done.


Let's now see how well we did with the mask applying job.

Press Q to go back to the Standard Mode. The selection based on your masking should now be visible.


In the menu click Filter, Blur and choose Lens Blur...

Turn on the Preview and set it to More Accurate (if you have a bit slower computer choose the Faster option).

Set Depth Map Source to None, Shape to Hexagon (6) and radius to about 26 and don' confirm the changes, meaning don' click OK!

Don't worry, we won't apply so much of the blur for our final image, we only set it to see how good is our applied mask. You can reduce it to about 8 to see how the final image will look like, with a bit of corrections of course.


My mask still needs some improvements.

A bit of inconsistency at the side, a bit more mask should be applied ...


... a bit at the lips ...


... and a bit at the bridge of the nose, otherwise it turned out pretty good.


As I need to make a few corrections I will leave the Lens Blur window by clicking Cancel.


Leave the selection as it is and press Q to enter the Quick Mask Mode again.

Make the needed corrections by applying or removing the mask, when done, press Q again and bring back the Lens Filter settings window - Filter, Blur and choose Lens Blur...


Choose the same settings as we did in step 13, check if the corrections you made did the job, if not exit the Lens Blur and tweak the mask some more.

The final result depends on how much time you are willing to invest in those tweaks.


Let's say we are now satisfied with our mask. In Lens Filter dialog window now set the Radius to about 8.

It's what works the best for my portrait.

Don't confirm the changes yet ...


... add a small Amount of Noise, let's say 2 and then confirm the Lens Blur by clicking OK.


Done! DOF effect has been successfully added to the portrait of the great actor Leonardo Dicaprio if found using Google Images.

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