How to Convincingly Fake Lens Blur in Photoshop

With a little work, it's possibly to create fairly convincing lens blur using Photoshop. This tutorial will show you just how to do just that.

Sometimes, you just don't have an ultra-wide aperture telephoto lens with you to get that sweet, buttery background blur. Maybe it's because you shot at a narrower aperture due to the sun or maybe you only brought a travel lens. Either way, there's no arguing the subject-isolating benefits of a well-blurred background. This helpful tutorial from PiXimperfect will show you how to fake that shallow depth of field effect using Photoshop. The real key to the entire puzzle is creating a depth map; since depth of field blurring depends on the spatial dimension of distance to the lens, which is unfortunately the dimension lost when creating a two-dimensional photograph, we need a way to recreate that information for Photoshop, which this tutorial teaches. While it's a great effect that's certainly handy to have in your bag of tricks, if you do like the look, I recommend picking up a short telephoto prime if you plan on using it often, as you probably don't want to go through the entire Photoshop process each time. Nonetheless, it's good to know how to do this for the times you might need it.

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William Faucher's picture

Informative article. Though it's very easy to overdo, like in this example, just looks extremely weird considering the wide angle lens used. Looks like an aperture of f/0.4 would be necessary to achieve the same result optically.

Lee Patterson's picture

I'd much rather be behind the camera than sitting at my computer faking it in PS. My 200 f2 and 135 f2 DC do all of the background blurring bokeh I could ever ask for. One of the main reasons I knew as a child that I wanted to become a photographer was that I knew I could never sit at a desk in front of a computer all day to make a living.

Alex Cooke's picture

That's also a $6,000 lens you're talking about. Not everyone can afford that!

Lee Patterson's picture

That's true Alex, the Nikon 200 f2 is a big chunck of change for sure. The 135 f2DC and 85 f1.4 are far less expensive lenses and also have beautiful boekeh (just not as wicked as the 200) When opened my business in 1994, I could not have imagined spending so much on my gear. I had alot of time on my hands, but very little money. Today, my situation is the opposite. I outsource almost all of my retouching, so I can spend more time behind my camera and less time sitting at my desk in front of my computer.

Olafs Osh's picture

Too bad the example is an example of overdoing it.

Samuel Flores Sanchez's picture

If you're planning to do this in the first place (and if you don't have the 6.000$ lens, of course), it can be fun if you put your camera on a tripod, take the subject out of the scene after you shoot it, and take a bunch of photos out of focus with different blur, and play in photoshop with layers and masks. Like focus stack but instead of trying to have everything in focus, well some of the contrary.
Also, to call that mask Depth Mask is not very scientific :D Good tips anyway, thanks!!!

Kenneth Rose's picture

It is possible to simulate background blur with Photoshop, but not convincingly ... at least not to a photographer with years of experience. Attempts at faking it it look about as realistic as the computer simulated bow waves in "Titanic"., which is to say, not realistic at all.