Watch video: Use the Depth Blur filter in Photoshop CC

Photoshop CC has a toolkit for all sorts of effects. There are those who can turn your image into something completely unreal. Then there are those that allow you to make more realistic changes. The Depth Blur filter belongs to the latter category. As the name suggests, it lets you mimic camera blur effects by defocusing a background. If your image has a foreground in front of your subject, that is also blurred. The result is a realistic drop on either side of your point of focus.

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Of course, we’ve been able to simulate depth of field effects in Photoshop for a long time using filters like Lens Blur. But Depth Blur is part of the new range of neural filters, which means it works by using machine learning to analyze the content of your photo. It automatically recognizes your subject and adds blur to areas in front or behind without any effort on your part. Not only does this blur the foreground and background, but it also creates transition blur, so the further a point is from your subject, the blurrier it becomes.

A range of controls in the neural filter allow us to fine-tune the characteristics of the blur. We can expand or contract the plane of focus, strengthen the blur and add blur. At the time of writing, the Depth Blur filter is in beta stage, so it is still in development. But even then, it’s an impressive tool for mimicking camera blur with minimal effort.

01 Activate filter

(Image credit: James Paterson)

Open your image, go to Filter > Neural Filters. You will find Depth Blur in the Beta section. If this is your first time using it, you will need to download it. Once done, activate the filter and it will analyze the shot, determine what your subject is and blur the surroundings.

02 Choose a focus point

(Image credit: James Paterson)

The filter will automatically choose a focus point for you (with portraits, for example, it will recognize and snap to the face), but you can choose a different focus point. Uncheck the “Focus Subject” box and then click on the preview image to choose a focus point.

03 Define a range

(Image credit: James Paterson)

The Focal Range slider lets you expand or contract your depth of field. It is similar to your aperture setting in that a narrower aperture will give you more depth of field. A low focal range setting works best for us here and keeps the depth of field effect very shallow.

04 Strengthen the blur

(Image credit: James Paterson)

Use the Blur Strength slider to control the intensity of the blur. The Haze slider and the four sliders below it allow you to modify the characteristics of the haze. We’ve lowered the temperature here to make the background feel cooler, and reduced the brightness slightly.

05 Increase grain

(Image credit: James Paterson)

One of the problems with adding blur to backgrounds is that it smooths out the grain of shots. It might seem out of place. Zoom in and use the Grain slider to assess out-of-focus areas, matching the noise to the sharp parts of the scene.

06 Check the edges

(Image credit: James Paterson)

When you’re satisfied, choose Output > New Layer and press OK. Zoom in to check the edges of the subject. If you find areas that look incorrect, add a layer mask to the layer, then paint black over the blur to hide the effect, revealing the sharper image on the layer below.

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