Using the New Blur Filters in Photoshop CS6

An image is worth 1000 words, but does your image deliver the right message? Photographers are expected to capture the moment and create images that make an impact. Common effects such as depth-of-field are used to give an image depth. Creating these effects in an image after the fact hasn’t always been easy.

Replicating these effects in Photoshop haven’t always looked genuine, and it has been essential for photographers to capture depth-of-field and focal effects in their shots. It couldn’t always be convincingly done in Photoshop. Adobe had photographers in mind when they created the new blur filters in Photoshop CS6. With the new blur filters, you can easily add popular photographic effects, such as tilt-shift, depth of field, or an iris blur. These effects can dramatically change the overall impact of an image.

Field Blur

Download the same image shown below from here. You will notice that the image is flat, in the sense that it doesn’t have a lot of depth or a sense of distance.

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With the new blur filters, you can easily create a depth-of-field effect in just a few short steps. Select Filter > Blur > Field Blur. The first thing that Photoshop does is create a circular icon in the center of your image. Your entire image will be blurred, but there is a trick to placing the blur only where you want it.

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If you click the center point of the circle, you can drag the circle anywhere on the canvas. This allows you to place the blur effect exactly where you want it. You cursor will change to a push pin shape, which you can use to add more pins. This is how we will control where there is a blur effect and where there isn’t one. Drag the first circle to the top-right of the image. Then, click in the bottom left to create a new blur control circle.

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The active control circle has a normal appearance, the inactive ones will be small, and filled with black. To control the blur amount you have 2 options. The first is to click and drag around the outer circle. Click and drag clock-wise to increase the blur amount and click and drag counter-clockwise to decrease the blur amount. The second option is to use the slider on the right side of the window. Lower the amount of blur to none for the bottom left circle.

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This doesn’t look all that realistic for a couple of reasons. The first is that the  background is blurred too much. The second reason is because the entire right side, even though some objects are in front of each other, is blurred the same amount. To make this effect much more convincing, we will have to place more pins around our image.

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As you can see, I placed many more pins around the image in order to have the most control over the blur amount in each area. The front 3 pins in the bottom right are set to 0 because we don’t want any blur there. That is our focal point for the image. Going counter-clockwise, the far right pin is the next closest object, so the blur is set to 2px. The pin to the left of that one is set to 4px, because it is slightly behind the other orange. The other orange way in the background is set to 6px, because it is further back. The lamp is set to 8px, making it the blurriest area, and seemingly the furthest back in the image. When You are done, you can click ok and save your image.

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Iris Blur

Iris Blur tends to work the best one one single image. It would work well on a single person in the foreground, or maybe a flower or anything in the foreground that would benefit from a blurred background. The sample image shown below can be found here. The image has a nice flower in the foreground, but the foliage in the background could be blurred so that the focus is more on the flower.

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Go to Filter>Blur> Iris Blur. The interface is fairly easy to work with

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The anchor points at the top and bottom and both sides are used to scale the width and height of the blur area. You can rotate the area as well when you see the angled rotate arrows. The center circle positions the center of the controller, just like in the other filters. The white circles in the middle of the filter area adjacent to the anchor points control where the blur begins and ends. You can click and drag in and out from the center to make the blur harsh or subtle. They all move at the same time by default, but if you want to adjust each one individually, hold Alt/Option when clicking and dragging a circle. The diamonds determine whether the blur is circular or rectangular.

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Notice the background is blurred, making the flower more of a focal point. You can increase or decrease the strength of the blur by rotating the outer circle in the center point. Blurring the background too much will look unrealistic, but adding a slight, controlled blur will give the image a subtle soft focus.


Tilt-shift photography has become popular because it takes a scene and makes it look like it has been miniaturized, as if the viewer was looking down on a scale model. The tilt shift filter was introduced in Photoshop CS6 to replicate this effect. The filter works best on images where you are looking downward upon a scene. Download the sample image from here.

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Go to Filter> Blur> Tilt-Shift. The dialog box comes up and you will see the same circular icon in the center as the other filters. Just as in the other filters you use this to increase or decrease the blur amount and position the blur. In this filter, out from the center you will see 2 solid lines and on the outside edges you will see dashed lines.

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The solid lines have anchor points that are aligned with the center point of the filter settings. You use these points to rotate the blur at an angle that works well with the image. You can also drag these inward and outward to control the “safezone” of the image where the blur won’t take effect. The dashed lines control how gradual the blur is.

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There are a couple of extra settings you should know about to fine tune the tilt-shift blur. In the slider menu, there is a distortion setting that is separate from the blur strength. This controls how distorted the blurred portion of the image actually is. You can also choose symmetric distortion. In the options bar, you have a setting called focus, that will control the overall focus of the image itself.


Bokeh is extremely popular and with this setting in the new blur filters, you can create it yourself from almost any image. I chose field blur to start from. I am using the same highway image as before. The only thing about the bokeh feature is that one setting doesn’t apply to all images. You will find the bokeh settings at the bottom of the new blur filters dialog box.

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For this image, I increased the Field Blur amount to roughly 200px. A strong blur usually makes this effect more prominent. The way that this effect will show up is actually backwards. I found it easier to create the bokeh effect when you adjust the light range. Bringing the black and white range closer together makes it more likely that you will create a bokeh pattern from your image. Where the setting differ depends on the tonal range of your image. You might have to adjust the range to make the bokeh effect show up. Raise the Light Bokeh setting to around 50%. This will create white bokeh, but if you want to introduce color, move the bokeh slider to the right until it starts to blow out your image. The results are shown below.

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The new Blur filters in Photoshop CS6 are great for designers and photographers alike. Now, you can create depth-of-field, tilt-shift and bokeh effects quickly and easily. You can blur virtually any image to create just the effect that you want. Add more depth to your images, create a strong focal point and create instant bokeh backgrounds for your work. WHat do you think about the new blur filters in Photoshop CS6?

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