Bokeh is a term that refers to the look of blur in out-of-focus areas on a photo. It can be created in-camera, using photographic know-how and the right lenses, but it is easy to replicate in Photoshop. You’ll commonly see it as circles of light in the background of an image, which is the blur around points of light or highlights. This can add a mystical quality to photos and works particularly well in combination with a cross-processed, retro style of photography, which is now very popular.
There are plenty of free bokeh brushes and textures out there that will do the job, but it takes only minutes to create your own, which you can then apply to any photo. We will look at how you can create the bokeh brush, set it up for the best effect and finally recolour your photo to finish off the look.
We have included our custom bokeh brush on the disc, if you want to just see how it works, and the photo used here is also available.
Open a new document that is 2,500 x 2,500px, with a transparent background. Select the Ellipse tool, hold Shift and draw a large circle. Rasterise the shape and fill with black. Under Layer Style>Blending Options, change Fill Opacity to 50% and add a default Drop Shadow and Stroke.
Go to Edit>Define Brush Preset and name your brush Bokeh. Open your photo, create a new blank layer and select your Bokeh brush at 50% Opacity. Go to Shape Dynamics and set Roundness Jitter to 0%. Play with Scattering to create a dispersed effect, then apply to your new layer.
We’re going to finish off by colourising the image to give a more retro feel. Use a Curves adjustment layer to create a gentle ‘S’ curve for a better spread of tones, and the Color Balance adjustment layer, adding more green and cyan tones to give a cross-processed effect.