Magazine Article


Give Any Photograph A Little Bokeh
You can--thanks to Alien Skin software

(Top) The image as taken in the camera. (Bottom) The photograph after I created a selection around the boy and the water fountain and ran Bokeh. Note the road behind the boy where the blur begins, separating him from the background.
Diane Berkenfeld

Bokeh is a term derived from a Japanese word that refers to the visually distinctive character of the out-of-focus areas of a photograph. When you use a fast lens wide open, the image will have more bokeh than an image with more depth of field.

What do you do if you've shot a photograph and for one reason or another, you weren't able to shoot wide open? Maybe the photograph you took was a grab shot, or maybe you wanted sharp depth of field but afterward you thought the image might look better if you could alter it so it had shallow depth of field and increase the bokeh effect. Maybe you don't own any fast glass.

Now you can give any image the bokeh that you feel it deserves with Alien Skin's Bokeh software. Do you have images you wish you'd shot with a tilt-shift lens or Lensbaby? Perhaps you wish you'd captured a certain image using a Lomo or Holga camera, but you took it with your DSLR instead. Alien Skin's Bokeh can let you simulate the type of image that's characteristic of those cameras, too.

The best piece of advice I can offer if you're thinking of purchasing Bokeh or if you've just purchased the software is to go to Alien Skin's website and view the tutorials. If you're like many photographers (myself included), you can't wait to start using your brand-new purchase--even before you read the instructions. Read the instructions on using Bokeh and view the tutorials! It will make a big difference in how fast you get the results you want.

That said, Alien Skin produced a sweet piece of software in the Bokeh plug-in. You can utilize Bokeh a few different ways to create a realistic, shallow depth of field. Once you have an image open in Photoshop, you choose the Bokeh filter and select either a radial region or planar region to designate which areas will be sharper and which areas will blur. If you want a specific area sharp (say, a person in the frame), you want to first make a selection in Photoshop; when Bokeh opens, it will recognize the selection and allow you to keep the area of the selection sharp while blurring the rest of the image.

The software lets you choose whether you want the blurred area to spread out from the area of the selection in a radial pattern or planar pattern. For example, if your subject is standing on the ground, you'll probably want to use a selection (mask) and planar region so you can have a portion of the area under the subject's feet sharp--otherwise, it may look like they're floating in the air.

The plug-in allows you to alter the bokeh highlights by selecting different diaphragm shapes, including stars and hearts. You can vary the amount of bokeh with a number of sliders that let you choose everything from how creamy it looks to how much of a vignette and vignette color the image has. You can choose to apply only bokeh to the image or only a vignette, from a realistic vignette that simulates a real lens, to a more creative vignette that will focus the area of attention (or both).

One of the great things I like about Bokeh is that I can use it on any image--from the first digital images I shot to the ones I'm capturing today. Alien Skin packaged the tools needed to add some bokeh to your images much quicker and easier than if you were to try doing it yourself in Photoshop. With specific Canon, Nikon, and Sony lens diaphragms as presets, you'll end up with realistic-looking highlights in your images.

The Bokeh plug-in is compatible with Adobe Photoshop CS3 or later, Photoshop Elements 4.0.1 or later for the Mac, Photoshop Elements 6 or later for Windows, Adobe Fireworks CS4, and Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2. Alien Skin suggests that both Mac and PC users have at least an Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 2 gigs of RAM, along with a 1024x768-resolution monitor for best performance.

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