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Enhance Graphics with Easy Depth of Field

In this article, I’m going to show you some practical ways of adding depth, or a simulated “Depth of Field” effect to your graphics. These techniques will help you create images that appear to have three dimensions by emulating how your eyes focus in on certain objects while obscuring others.

Depth of Field in Photography

If you’re a photographer, you may be interested in seeing our article on Depth of Field in Photography. This tutorial is geared towards people who would like to imitate the DOF effect using software like Photoshop

Easy Depth of Field

What is “Depth of Field”? I’ll dodge the technical answer here and save you a lot of time. Basically, depth of field is what causes that blurry effect you see in photographs. It allows you to focus in on a part of scene, and keep other parts of the same seen unfocused.

It’s really easier to see than to explain:

Example of Depth of Field in Photography

In the photo above, you can see how the strawberry, the bottom of the spoon, and part of the edge of the bowl are all in focus, while parts of objects outside of this plane seem quite a bit more blurry. This is called depth of field… in a really simplified manner.

It’s pretty easy to simulate this effect in Photoshop. The two main factors that make Depth of Field effects possible in Photoshop are the emulation of Distance, and the perception of Focus.

Example #1 – Depth between Objects

Depth of Field

In this example, we can see distance demonstrated by the layering and size of the cloud objects. Objects further back are smaller, and are behind the clouds which are closer up.

Focus is also emulated in this example by applying a small Gaussian Blur to clouds REALLY close up, or far away. This makes the clouds in the middle seem the most in focus.

Example #2 – Depth of Field on a Plane

Depth of Field on a Plane

Looking at the Top example in the image above, it would seem that both circular objects are the same distance away from the viewer on a make-believe plane. The Object on the left appears to be MUCH larger than the one on the right.

In order to add some depth, we must adjust the placement of the objects. As you can see in the lower example, the object on the right immediately appears further back when we move it just a small bit along our make-believe plane. Not only does it appear further back, but it also seems like both objects could both be the same size (things look smaller when they are further back).

To add a small focus effect, I’ve added a small Gaussian Blur to the right object. I’ve also enhanced the lighting of the Plane by adding a small gradient to it.

Trying out Easy Depth of Field

Let’s give easy depth of field a go. I’ve prepared an example document to work with that you can download here.

Easy Depth of Field Example Photoshop Document

There are 4 layers in this document, respectively named Large, Medium, Small, and Background for the objects in the document. Using the Move Tool, drag each of the objects to a place in the document, so that the larger the object is, the closer it is to the viewer on the plane. Note: I’ve added some grid lines to help show our imaginary plane.

Objects moved along the plane

From this point, we just need to decide where on the plane we’d like to focus in on. See the darker horizontal lines in the image above? Try to choose two of those lines to focus in on (make sharper), and then proceed to blur the objects outside of those lines. The further from the area you’re focusing on, the stronger the blur should be.

Blur Applied

I’ve highlighted my area of focus on the plane in green.

Finally, without the plane

And there you have it! Simulated Depth of Field, in just a few easy steps that can be applied to nearly ANY situation!

62 Comments

  1. Add point Subtract point
    kenichifc (-1 Points) December 14, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    thanks for tutorial. Love it, simple and effective :D

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    [url=http://www.s4yes.com]“legitimate work at home jobs” [/url] (-2 Points) April 9, 2010 at 4:57 am

    Great post . Thanks146

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    psn card (-3 Points) March 9, 2010 at 9:54 am

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  4. Add point Subtract point
    เพลงใหม่ล่าสุด (0 Points) February 2, 2010 at 11:32 pm

    Great post . Thanks153

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  5. Add point Subtract point
    เพลงใหม่ล่าสุด (0 Points) February 2, 2010 at 12:27 am

    Great post . Thanks146

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  6. Add point Subtract point
    เพลงใหม่ล่าสุด (0 Points) February 1, 2010 at 2:23 am

    Great post . Thanks141

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  7. Add point Subtract point
    โหลดเพลงmp3ฟรี (0 Points) January 30, 2010 at 10:38 am

    great tutorial . Thanks

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  8. Add point Subtract point
    Theo (0 Points) July 7, 2009 at 3:29 am

    I think i finally got the “depth of field” thing. And yes, seeing is better than explaining it with words, perhaps that’s why photography is such a widespread “hobby” and activity with links to so many other domains of activity, journalism, space exploration, military …
    I would have wanted to know what exactly influences depth of field, as far as cameras go. But photoshop can fake it :P i guess :P
    Also 1 question : Is it possbile, with the right amount of time and skill, to get a photograph made with “infinite” depth of field, WITHOUT using any software in “post production” ?

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  9. Add point Subtract point
    Krzycho_666 (0 Points) June 19, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    You forget to blur grid on the ground too ;P
    By the way… I love your tuts… They are on of the best in the world I think =] You teach people a lot of things that I always wanted to teach other people, but I coudn’t find free time to make some tuts =P

    Kepp going great job – you’re great ;)

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  10. Add point Subtract point
    Arthur E.B. (0 Points) May 31, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    Been looking for this. Thanks so much! :D

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  11. Add point Subtract point
    huwaw69 (0 Points) May 8, 2009 at 2:25 am

    wow great effect, this is really nice, the depth thing, this is great for some of my newbie images, hehehe

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  12. Add point Subtract point
    ilike2flash (0 Points) April 14, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    This is very useful. Thanks

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  13. Add point Subtract point
    BLEDAR (0 Points) March 11, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    Your PHOTOSHOp site tutorial is amazing .
    THIS IS MY SMALL TUTORIAL

    http://canfindonline.com/chrome-with-channels-in-photoshop/

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  14. Add point Subtract point
    Neil Shapiro (0 Points) March 10, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    How do you apply the Gaussian Blur?

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  15. Add point Subtract point

    It was mentioned on your grid tutorial, but how do I transform a grid to give it the perspective view?? Thanks!

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  16. Add point Subtract point

    tutorial9 has made it very easy to understand the world of photography.
    Tutorials with well-illustrated diagrams, pictures and examples make it easier to understand the topic. I found useful information on photography, which will of course help me to enhance my skills. Thank you a lot tutorial9

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  17. Add point Subtract point

    Very useful tutorial you, thanks so much

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  18. Add point Subtract point
    Michelangelo (1 Point) September 23, 2008 at 3:13 am

    good tutorial! i was just wondering though: how did you create those grid lines?

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  19. Add point Subtract point

    Very informative and easy to understand. Cool!

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  20. Add point Subtract point
    Amenjari Interioare (0 Points) August 7, 2008 at 6:59 am

    Is good ideea

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  21. Add point Subtract point
    Furious Photographers (0 Points) July 25, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    Awesome tutorial! This will work wonders for my wedding photography pictures! Thanks :D

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  22. Add point Subtract point
    Mothership (0 Points) June 18, 2008 at 7:32 am

    One thing I am curious about – how did you create the blue balls?

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  23. Add point Subtract point
    Lasse W (0 Points) June 5, 2008 at 8:23 am

    Very good done.. Very is y to do end so effective. Thanks end Keep the tutorials coming man you rock. LW

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  24. Add point Subtract point
    kailoon (0 Points) June 2, 2008 at 4:42 am

    good explanation. Great!

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  25. Add point Subtract point
    elvis (0 Points) May 31, 2008 at 3:23 am

    short and sweet.
    the author is very clever.
    i love this website!

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  26. Add point Subtract point

    Thanks again folks =) You’re all so welcome!

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  27. Add point Subtract point
    Adelle (0 Points) May 30, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    Nice tutorial! Very easy to follow.

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  28. Add point Subtract point
    Shaheen (-1 Points) May 27, 2008 at 7:10 pm

    Short, Simple, Effective!

    Thanks

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  29. Add point Subtract point
    doncarlito (0 Points) May 27, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    very nice tutorial david,learn something again..thanks.

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  30. Add point Subtract point

    Wow, thanks for all the feedback folks! rootyb made some excellent suggestions for using the Lens Blur or Shape Blur instead of Gaussian Blur.

    Keep in mind that this is simply a demonstration of how to go about using this effect. I’ll leave it up to you for now to decide how intense you’d like the effect to be!

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  31. Add point Subtract point
    GonzFX (0 Points) May 23, 2008 at 1:32 am

    I really like this tutorial. Thanks a lot.

    PS

    You are sort of over doing it with the G. Blur…

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  32. Add point Subtract point
    BowlOfPixels (0 Points) May 21, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    Truly a great tutorial, however i do feel that you are over using the gaussian blur, it should only just be out of focus if it’s standing alone, only massively if the part in focus is very close to the “lens” or front of the picture.

    Keep em coming.

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  33. Add point Subtract point
    caTcode (0 Points) May 21, 2008 at 5:06 am

    Its cool! i am always confuse how to do this trick..thanks for your explanations..

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  34. Add point Subtract point
    Jason Bates – Lushable.com (0 Points) April 8, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    Great tutorial! :D thanks

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  35. Add point Subtract point
    Gray (0 Points) April 2, 2008 at 9:58 am

    This is the best depth of field lesson I’ve ever seen. Congratulations on excellent work!

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  36. Add point Subtract point

    Great tutorial.. but I’d be a little disappointed with the visual artist who couldn’t work out depth of field on their own, what with digital cameras being so cheap these days and what not.

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  37. Add point Subtract point
    rootyb (1 Point) April 1, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    Great explanation and tutorial.

    Quick suggestion, though. Try using “shape blur” (just pick the circle when choosing a shape) instead of lens blur in newer versions of photoshop. It’s a linear blur algorithm that (in my opinion) more accurately resembles a real lens blur than does a gaussian blur. Only real downside is that its minimum radius is 5px, I believe.

    Of course, “Lens blur” is ideal, but can get a bit overwhelming with all of its options.

    ;)

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  38. Add point Subtract point
    bassist-x (0 Points) March 22, 2008 at 9:20 am

    thanks this is great needed to know how to do this .

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  39. Add point Subtract point
    Peotto (0 Points) February 5, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    wow this is a good tutorial, i did this a few times to pictures i took to make them look cooler. Thanks!

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  40. Add point Subtract point

    Awesome tutorial! There are so many tutorials out there on step-by-step procedures, and little things like this (which make a huge impact to your image) are often over looked.

    I can’t wait for the next one. :)

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  41. Add point Subtract point

    That’s an excellent point Cpt. Crayon! Thanks for your that extra little tip ;)

    I haven’t written any tutorials here on contrast (yet), but I know that using Levels (or Curves) both provide a very effective way of adjusting contrast (among other things).

    Thanks again mate!

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  42. Add point Subtract point
    Cpt. Crayon (0 Points) February 2, 2008 at 8:52 am

    Hey, this is a good easy to understand method of introducing some depth to images. :)

    One other thing (that isn’t really depth of field) when dealing with images of clouds, buildings, mountains, and other far off objects is that things tend to progressively gray out as they get further from the viewer. For example, if you wanted your clouds to look as if they’re really far off, you might decrease the contrast just to give it that color-faded atmospheric perspective.

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  43. Add point Subtract point

    Great explanation, I’ve always been a bit confused about this.

    Thank you!

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  44. Add point Subtract point

    Very useful tutorial, thanks so much

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  45. Add point Subtract point
    CrossFire (0 Points) February 1, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    very nice explaination, i seem to have a decent grasp of this but some people i know struggle so ill be sure to point them this way.

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