Tips And Tricks – Fixing A Harsh Bokeh In Photoshop

American White Pelicans swimming in a pond on a sunny morning.

Here’s a Photoshop technique that will allow you to fix a harsh background bokeh on an image.

The above photo of three White Pelicans has good light, but close examination of the background will reveal a common problem with some lenses.

Harsh or busy bokeh, or background blur. Not to worry, here’s a Photoshop method to fix that up, using a Neural Filter.

First, here’s a Photoshop crop on the background without correction. Notice how harsh the background blur is.

Harsh bokeh, from the original file.

The first step to clear up this type of harshness is to export your file into Adobe Photoshop for editing. In my case I use Adobe Lightroom.

Once you have loaded the image in Photoshop, select the Filter function at the top of the editing menu, then select Neural Filters.

Once the Neural Filter screen appears, click on “Depth Blur” in the right side options list.

When you enable the Depth Blur function, you’ll see an adjustment panel appear on the right side of your screen.

On the top item “Focal Point”, click your cursor over the spot you want to be the main point of focus. In the case of this image, I selected the spot on the eye of the right side pelican. You will then see a little blue dot appear in the preview window where you selected your focal poont.

You then move down the adjustment panel and you’ll see adjustments for changing the look of the photo.

In my case, “Focal Range” and “Blur Strength” are the two adjustments I’ll use to smooth out that harsh background.

Focal Range is sort of like “depth of field” Move the slider to the left to give your assigned focal point a shallow depth of field, move it right to increase the depth of field. You can zoom in on the image and see how much affect your slider position is having, by observing where in the image the blur is appearing. I want a little bit of water in focus behind the birds, so I settled on a slider adjustment value of 40, which give a tapering blurred look behind the birds, keeping it to more of a natural transition toward the background of the image.

The next adjustment I make is using the Blur Strength slider. Move the slider to the far left side to minimize the amount of blur in the background, move the slider right to create a more pronounced blur to the background. By working the slider left and right, you can observe the change in the amount of background blur and find the happy spot.  In my case, I ended up with a background Blur Strength setting of 50, about mid-point of the adjustment. You can adjust the blur to taste.

Once you’ve tweaked the Neural Filter Depth Blur setting, you can save the image. I normally place the adjustment on a “New Layer”, selected at the bottom right of the screen. Here’s a zoomed in view of the edit window after I made my adjustments.

And here is a zoom in on the background brush where I’ve removed the harsh bokeh.

The harsh background is now smoothed out. Just save the image to your favorite file format and Bob’s your uncle.

Play around with this new Photoshop feature. It will give you the ability to totally change the background look of your images. I use it all the time to tweak the depth of field on photos. You don’t need an expensive lens to blur that background. You can do it in Photoshop and make your subject isolated with a dreamy, smooth bokeh.