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This article is from October 19, 2007, and is no longer current.

Get the Lensbaby Look in Photoshop

I enjoy camera gadgets as much as anyone. One of those gadgets, the Lensbaby, is a selective-focus SLR camera lens born of a commercial advertising style that used extreme swing and tilt-view camera functions to radically distort subjects with unexpected planes of focus. The Lensbaby’s tiny bellows mimics that of a view camera, allowing variable rocker-like positioning that determines which parts of the image are in sharp focus and which are dramatically blurred.
I really like the effect you can get with the Lensbaby, but it does require fiddling with the barrel-focusing ring and, if you have the Lensbaby 3G, the trigger button that locks the gadget in place. I shoot high-budget weddings and events, where the trend seems to be tighter scheduling and higher expectations of the photographer as miracle worker. Because our clients often lead us at a hectic pace, there’s time for little more than careful white balance, judicious lens choice, and an extra slave strobe set up. That’s why I almost always create that selective-focus effect in post.
Fortunately, it’s fast and easy to mimic the Lensbaby look in Photoshop (Figure 1). As a bonus, I can change my mind any time during editing and readjust the strength and placement of the blurry focus effect.

Figure 1. To deemphasize the setting and make the bride stand out, I applied selective blurring and converted the shot to black and white. Click on the image for a larger version.
Here’s how to create the effect yourself.
1. Prepare the File
In Photoshop, first complete all color correction, enhancements, and retouching. Save your adjusted image as a new file for security and clarity.
Crop and size for final output so you don’t accidentally eliminate the blur effect by cropping later.
Selectively sharpen any areas, such as eyes, that will eventually require sharpening for output. Save another version.
2. Start the Effect
Change the Image Mode to 8 Bits/Channel (Image > Mode) and duplicate the layer (Command/Control-J).
Apply the maximum blur you think you may need to the duplicate layer (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur).
The Gaussian Blur window makes it easy to judge how much blur to apply because you see the effect as you move the Radius slider. I like to work with a setting of 25, but it depends on intent and the dictates of the subject. Always err on the side of more blur, since you can easily reduce the effect by lowering the opacity of the blur layer. I use this setting so often that I wrote an action that performs the initial steps automatically, but pauses to let me vary the amount to taste.
After selecting the Gaussian Blur amount, press OK. Your image layer will turn to fuzz.
Attach a layer mask to it by clicking the layer mask icon at the bottom of the Layers palette.
Enlarge the image to fill the screen, but not any larger — you need to see the relationship of the selective blur effect overall.
Select a very soft, round brush and set its Mode to Normal, the opacity to 30% Opacity, and the Flow to 30%. (You may want to adjust Opacity and Flow as you work.)
Make sure that black is in the foreground of the color picker, then loosely paint on the white layer mask to gradually reveal the sharp version of the background image below in the layer stack (Figure 2).

Figure 2. The varied grey appearance of the layer mask shows where I painted back in varied amounts of focus from the underlying original image. Because I softened the background and edges (leaving only supporting hints of detail in the dress and flowers), the line of interest leads right to the bride’s face.
3. Explore Your Options
This is where your artistic vision comes in. If you paint several times over areas that you want to be sharper, you’ll get a graduated effect. Paint irregularly and experiment with the serendipitous haloes that can result from blurring. The mask will show various tones of grey, representing the areas of the blur layer that have been punched through revealing the original underneath. If you make a false stroke, change the color picker to white to paint blur back in.
More tips for playing with your Lensbaby effect:

  • Choose a different brush shape.
  • Fill the layer mask with black and paint with white as foreground in the color picker to add blur selectively.
  • Go back to the blur stage and choose a much stronger blur; say, 50 to 75.
  • Choose blur types other then Gaussian.
  • Need more blur in a certain area? Go back and paint more or simply start the process again.
  • Lower the layer opacity if the effect is too strong overall.
  • For something more radical, try the Smudge tool, grouped under the Blur and Sharpen tool, to push image elements into a soup.

4. Apply Finishing Touches
The edges of your image may benefit from vignetting. A quick way to darken and lighten edges is to use the Dodge and Burn tools.
To darken edges in a more sophisticated way, make a selection (you can use a marquee, the lasso, or any other method) and feather that selection to at least 75. (In Photoshop CS3, go to Select > Refine Edge. In CS2, go to Select > Feather.) Then invert the selection and darken it in Levels or Curves (Figure 3).

Figure 3. An ornate, candlelit table still life glows with romance. To create the halo effect, I revealed a very limited focus and added the vignette using an oval marquee selection feathered to 75 with a Levels adjustment of 10 on the black slider. The result emphasizes the warm, dark hospitable feel of celebration.
5. Save the Final Product
Save your selectively blurred image as a Photoshop document (.PSD) with layers in place if you think you may want to rework any phase of the art; otherwise, flatten the file and save it in whatever format you prefer for printing.
If you’re not sure how far to go with the Lensbaby look-alike effect, trust your monitor at 100%. Fortunately, blurring for effect is an inexact science and a bit more or less blur will probably will make little difference in the artistic result, so long as something in the image is acceptably sharp. The best part is that the entire process of selective blur can take as little as a minute.

Sara Frances is an author of photographic books, a magazine contributor and adjunct professor of digital imaging at Red Rocks Community College. Her specialty is never-duplicated digital composite albums filled with her personal brand of “pixel surgery,” shown at her photographic atelier, Photo Mirage Imaging in Denver, Colorado. Contact her at [email protected].

  • anonymous says:

    It’s great to create pix in PS, but if there is a quicker way, I’ll
    use it-it’s not money making to spend time on one pix if
    there is a faster and sometimes better way-LensBaby is great, Vaseline spread on a filter works too, as well as my kids lolly-pop cellophane wrappers. It’s fine to make artsy
    pix at a wedding, but if you miss pix of Grandma, or the old aunts, no matter how good the rest of the pix are, the job is lousy. When they see the proofs, if they like the effect pix, then I’ll spend the time in PS polishing them up.

  • Francis Kernow says:

    I liked the tutorial and the explanation how to get Lensbay effects within PS. If you have ever worked with a view camera as I have it will take a while to set the camera for the required efect and the same would apply to the Lensbaby. I like this method as described because one can change it accordingly and in fact one can have several versions based on the original picture.. Under these circumstances I would not call the PS method a time waster.
    Franciis Kernow

  • Anonymous says:

    after seeing a lot of real lensbaby photos and comparing it with your nice Photoshop trick, I tried adding a bit of radial blur (seperate layer, overlay mode or a bit of transparency worked best for me). Gaussian Blur alone is just too smooth to mimic the lensbaby.

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