Out-of-focus highlights often result in spots known as ‘bokeh’. The bokeh effect is particularly apparent at night, when lights from street lamps, windows and cars are captured as pretty patterns.
How the bokeh effect looks is determined by several factors. Aperture, focal length and distance from a subject all play a part, as do lens quality and number of aperture blades.
While it’s satisfying to capture bokeh in-camera, success is dependent on location and background detail. Alternatively, you can add bokeh in post-processing, as we show here.
This means you can control exactly where the blurry shapes appear, and sample hues from the image to create a complementary colour scheme. The project is all about experimenting with different settings.
Vary the size, colour and transparency of the circles, then add different strengths of blur. Rather than paint every circle, we’ll tell you how to create several shapes at once and duplicate layers quickly…
01 Set up a brush
your original image and go to Window > Layers.
Click the Create New Layer icon. Grab the Brush tool and click the paintbrush icon to access Additional Brush Options. Set Fade to 5500, Hue Jitter to 70%, Scatter to 70%, Spacing to 180% and Hardness to 70%.
02 Paint patterns
Click the foreground colour swatch and then sample a tone of your choice from the image. Drag over the black background to begin painting the bokeh circles. The brush settings you try should result in subtle variations in colour and opacity within the circles.
03 Make a circle
Create a new layer and choose a different colour. Go back to Additional Brush Options and bring Scatter down to 0, then paint a single circle. Next, go to the dropdown menu at the top of the Layers panel and choose Linear Dodge. Lower the Opacity of the layer to about 80%.
04 Make quick copies
Grab the Move tool from the Tools panel and make sure Show Transform Controls is selected at the top of the display. Hold Alt, then click and drag over the circle layer to make a copy. Repeat this over and over to make lots more circles. Position them around the scene.
05 Build up the effect
Use the bounding box around each circle to resize and vary the Opacity of each (do this quickly by hitting 1 for 10%, 6 for 60% and so on). Repeat step 3 to make different coloured circles in the same way. Build up the effect and experiment with settings.
06 Apply blur
Click a circle and go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Set Radius to 10px. Click circles and use Cmd/Ctrl+F to apply blur repeatedly. Add a Photo Filter Adjustment Layer at the top of the stack, set to Sepia. Add a Brightness/Contrast Adjustment Layer (Brightness: 20, Contrast: 13).