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How to Draw Attention to a Focal Point with Iris Blur in Photoshop

Sometimes the subject of a photo needs help standing out from the surroundings. One way to enhance a photo is to keep the focal point sharp while blurring the background – it's like faking depth of field. Your eye is naturally drawn to the sharper portion of an image while the softer parts get less attention.
Here's how Photoshop makes this easy:

  • Start by opening a photo you want to enhance in the full version of Photoshop.
  • Make a copy of the photo by pressing Ctrl J (Mac: Cmd J) on the keyboard. Now you’ll have a copy on top of the original which you can see in the Layers panel. The top layer should be selected.
  • From the Menu Bar, choose Filter > Blur Gallery > Iris Blur. Be careful to choose Blur Gallery and not just Blur.
  • An oval target shape will appear on the photo. Click and drag the center to position it directly over the part you want to remain sharp. You'll notice the cursor changes to a thumbtack as you do this. The portion of the photo inside the ring will be the sharpest part of the final image. Anything that lies outside of the ring will be blurred. The ring helps you define where the blur begins. For the sample, I want the sharpest focus to be on the chipmunk's face since that’s where I want to draw the viewer's eye.
  • Now you can tweak the blur ring. Position your cursor over the center dot. Outside of the centerpoint, four dots appear. Drag a dot to increase or decrease the size of the focus transition. The closer you drag to the center, the softer the transition will become. The closer you drag to the outer circle, the sharper the transition will be.
  • Next, position your cursor over the outer ring. There are four dots on the outer circle. When you hover over one of the dots, you'll get a curved arrow icon. Click and drag the dot to twist, turn and reshape the ring.
  • If you position your cursor over the line, you'll get a straight double-point arrow. Use this to resize the outer circle.
  • Finally, use the blur slider in the Blur Tools box on the right to increase or decrease the amount of blur. You'll be able to preview the blur action as you drag, so you can make decisions about how much is enough.
  • When you are satisfied with the results, press Enter on the keyboard or click OK in the Options bar at the top of the screen. The blur filter will be applied to the image on top.
  • Because your original is under the blurred image, you have the option to reduce the opacity of the blurred layer to bring back more details if you decide you went "too far". Just select the top layer and drag the Opacity slider at the top of the Layers panel. This also allows you to see before and after views. Just click the Layer visibility icon of the top layer (looks like an eyeball on the left side of the layer) to see the "before" image (the original). Click again to see the "after" (the blurred image.)

Using this filter, you can bring attention to the part of the image you want the viewer to focus on. It's an easy way to draw attention to an object that needs to stand out from the background. This is a particularly great technique to use on shots of butterflies, bees or animals in nature or people in a busy setting.
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