Step-by-Step How To Blur Background Detail in Photoshop Elements
01 Open the start file
Launch Photoshop Elements, then go to File>Open. Browse to your start image and click Open. The raw shot will open in the Adobe Camera Raw editor. Press O to see any over-exposed areas as red patches.
02 Clobber clipping
Drag the Recovery slider up to 35. The clipping warning patches will disappear, restoring detail to the over-exposed areas while leaving correctly exposed tones unaltered. Set Vibrance to +40 to boost colours without over-saturating skin tones.
03 Sharpen up
Use the Zoom tool to view the shot at 100%. Click on the Detail tab. Increase the Amount slider to 45 to tease out more detail, then drag Colour to 100 to remove colour noise from the blurred background. Drag Luminance to 15 to reduce the grain.
04 Duplicate the layer
Click Open Image to take the shot into the standard Photoshop Elements editor. Click on the Background layer’s thumbnail in the Layers palette and press Ctrl/Cmd+J to duplicate it. Double-click on the duplicated layer’s label and re-name it Rear Trunk.
05 Select the trunk
Grab the Quick Selection tool and tick Auto-Enhance. Click and spray over the rear trunk to select it. If you accidentally select the foreground trunk, tick Subtract from Selection, then spray to remove the foreground trunk from the selection.
06 Add a mask
Choose Layer>Layer Mask>Reveal Selection and a Layer Mask will appear. Click on the Background layer’s eye icon to hide it. Most of the Rear Trunk layer is masked, but some background leaves may still be visible. We’ll tidy the selection by editing the mask.
07 Modify the mask
Grab the Brush tool and choose a soft tip of 45 pixels. Click Brush Dynamics and set Brush Hardness to 50%. Click on the Layer Mask. Set the foreground colour to black and spray over unwanted details. Use a white tip to reveal missing bits of trunk.
08 Try selective blur
Click on the Background layer’s eye icon to make it visible again, then click on the Rear Trunk layer’s thumbnail to target that layer (rather than its Layer Mask.) Go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur, set Radius to 7 and click OK to blur the rear trunk only.
09 Select the leaves
Click the Background layer and press Ctrl/Cmd+J to duplicate. Name this ‘Leaves’. Use the Selection Brush and spray to select the background leaves. Use Subtract from Selection to remove the girl’s head from the selection. Go to Layer>Layer Mask>Reveal Selection.
10 Blur the leaves
Click on the Leaves layer, then go to Filter>Blur> Gaussian Blur. Push the Radius up to 17% to make the distant leaves look more blurred. Click OK. Click on the mask and spray a white tip to blur sharp leaves around the edge of the subject or the trunk.
11 Add selective blur
Click on the Rear Trunk’s mask and set the foreground colour to white. Set the Brush tool’s Opacity to 20%. Spray a grey stroke over the rear trunk above the girl’s head to create a semi-transparent blend between the blurred layer and the details below.
12 Reduce the highlights
Ctrl/Cmd-click on the Leaves layer’s mask to re-activate the selection marquee. Choose Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Levels and click OK. An Adjustment Layer with a mask appears. Drag the white highlight Output slider to 227 to darken the highlights.
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