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From the author of Customizing the Blur and Bokeh Effect

Customizing the Blur and Bokeh Effect

Once you’ve positioned the Focus Bug in the right area, open the Blur and Options panels to begin modifying the blur effect. It’s also a good idea to zoom in at this stage, so that you can see the transition between focused pixels and blurred pixels better (Figure 6), and see the bokeh shape effects more clearly.

Figure 6 As you zoom in, the effect of the blurring becomes more apparent.

The Blur and Options panels provide several controls that help you to define the actual shape and intensity of the bokeh highlights, which in turn determine how heavily blurred the Focus Bug regions become. To start, leave the Version set to 2, and for most workflows you’ll want to use a “Custom Lens,” unless one of the simulated Lens profiles in the Len pop-up menu suits your purposes. The most important settings are:

  • Amount – Controls the intensity of the overall blur effect. The higher the value, the softer the focus and simulated bokeh.
  • Optical Quality – Controls the edge hardness of the bokeh shapes in your frame. The default value (0) will create hard-edged shapes, while decreasing the value will “hollow out the shape.” Increasing it will soften the edges but keep the center solid. Figure 7 illustrates this setting with a chosen Amount of 35 for this image.
  • Figure 7 Optical Quality is one of the settings that can make your bokeh look more hard-edged, or softer.

  • Aperture – Defines the number of simulated blades that make up the lens aperture. The higher the number, the more rounded the bokeh shapes will be. Figure 8 shows the different looks the Aperture setting can create, with an Amount of 35, and a final Optical Quality of -10 to slightly hollow out the shape. You’ll find out how to make these shapes more visible shortly.
  • Figure 8 The Aperture setting helps define the shape of the bokeh. Try using odd numbered values here to avoid the look of symmetry in your bokeh.

  • Curvature – Sets the curvature of the simulated aperture blades. The default value (0) will produce straight edges along the Aperture shape, while a negative value will create a concave shape to the edges, and a positive value will round the shape. Note that the more rounded the “net shape” of the aperture—whether created by this setting or in combination with others—the more the image details will blur in most cases (Figure 9).
  • Figure 9 The Curvature setting will impact on the overall blur strength, as well as the bokeh shape.

  • Rotation – Allows you to arbitrarily rotate the orientation of the bokeh shapes. Typically, moving them a few degrees in one direction or the other will give a more natural look. A simple black and white preview of the Aperture shape is provided at the bottom of the panel, to show the shape, curvature, and rotation of the simulated aperture.
  • Highlight Bloom – This is the one setting that more than any other, can make your Bokeh shapes really “pop” and stand out. It controls the strength of the Bokeh highlights; a value between 200 and 400 can mean the difference between noticeable bokeh at lower magnifications and print sizes, or not noticing it at all.

Figure 10 The Highlight Bloom control is the best way to make your bokeh shape settings from the Blur panel stand out if they look too subtle at lower magnifications.

The Brightness and Contrast controls deliver an extra level of control over the Highlight Bloom and Bokeh, by defining the level of contrast between the bloom and its background. Typically a small decrease in brightness for daylight scenes and a small increase in contrast is worth trying.

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