How To Create A Bokeh Effect In Photoshop (Fast & Simple)

Adding bokeh to a photo can not only add some visual interest but even make your subject stand out more by framing them within these lighting effects. If you can’t create these effects in camera, Photoshop is here to save the day with a simple way to add bokeh into any image. So let’s get into the step-by-step process of creating this effect for yourself.

How To Quickly Create A Bokeh Effect In Photoshop

The Bokeh effect consists of a blurred background that contains small light shapes that stand out in the scene. You will usually find Bokeh effects in photos of city lights at night. 

To achieve the Bokeh effect with a camera, you need to shoot with a shallow depth of field, which can be done, among other things, by using a wide aperture, such as f/1.4 or f/1.8.

But if you’ve already taken your photo and want to add a Bokeh effect, don’t worry; you can easily create such an effect in Photoshop.

Step 1: Open A Bokeh Image Over Your Base Photo 

You can follow along with any photo you have. You can also find two stunning stock Bokeh images from Unsplash: Bokeh Lights and Bokeh Photography.

To create the Bokeh effect on your photo, open your image in Photoshop.

Then, to open the Bokeh image over your base image, go to File > Place Embedded and select the image in question on your computer.

The Bokeh image layer will be placed onto your photo.

To adjust the Bokeh overlay size proportionally to cover the whole photo or a larger area, go to the Options Bar and change the width percentage. Ensure that the Transform Tool is active to see these options by pressing Control + T (Win) or Command + T (Mac).

Also, ensure the Maintain Aspect ratio button is enabled so that when you increase the layer width, you also increase its height.

In my case, I pulled the width up to 39% to cover my entire photo.

 Click the check mark button in the Options Bar to confirm the action.

An advantage to placing the Bokeh layer into your image this way is that it turns into a smart object, allowing you to edit the layer at any time in the future.

Step 2: Change The Bokeh Layer Blend Mode To Screen

Once you’ve inserted the Bokeh layer into your image, you need it to blend smoothly. To do this, go to the Layers Panel and change the Blend Mode to Screen.

Your main image will then show through. The Screen blend mode erases everything that is entirely black or too dark in a photo and keeps the lighter pixels. This way, the black pixels turn transparent, and only the lighter pixels are visible.

Step 3:  Remove Any Remnants Of Partially Visible Excess Around The Bokeh Lights.

After blending the Bokeh Light layer with your photo, you might notice excess brightness around the Bokeh lights that the Screen Blend Mode didn’t eliminate.

Thankfully, this is fixable. To do this, click the Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel.

Then choose Levels.

Next, enable the clipping mask option within the Levels dialog. This will restrict the changes to the layer below the Levels adjustment layer, which should be the Bokeh image.

Now you must adjust the sliders until your background is free of excess highlights or shadows around the Bokeh lights.

By bringing the shadows slider to the right, I could recover the original shadows in the photo and then remove the excess brightness around the Bokeh lights.

Step 4: Mask Out The Bokeh Lights You Don’t Want To Be Seen

Frequently, Bokeh lights can appear in more numbers than necessary and in unwanted places. Fortunately, you can remove those and only keep the ones you want visible with a layer mask.

To do this, click the Bokeh lights layer and then on the layer mask icon.

Select the layer mask that appears next to the layer’s thumbnail.

After that, change the Foreground color to black if it’s not already.

Then, select the Brush Tool (B) in the Toolbar.

Next, set Opacity and Flow to 100% in the Options Bar.

Finally, paint away the areas you want to hide.

Step 5: Create Multiple Bokeh Layers

Adding more Bokeh layers to your image can enhance the Bokeh effect or add more elements to your project. There are two different ways to do this, both of which I break down below.

Method 1: Duplicate The Bokeh Layer

By duplicating the Bokeh layer, the effect stands out even more. To duplicate it, click on the effect layer and hit Control + J (Win) or Command + J (Mac).

Remember to add a Levels layer to each Bokeh layer so that there are no excess lights around the Bokeh lights. To learn how to do this, go back to step 3.

In the end, your Layers Panel should look like the example below.

Method 2: Insert A New Bokeh Layer Into Your Project

Adding one more Bokeh layer can be the final touch your project needs.

To insert a Bokeh image into your composition, go to File > Place Embedded.

Then select the desired photo from your computer.

Afterward, go to the Options Bar and change the layer width to any percentage you want. In my case, I chose 6%.

Then go to the Layers Panel and change the blend mode to Screen.

With that done, enable the Move Tool (V) and drag the layer to your desired position. In my case, that was near the model’s hands.

Now, you can right-click on the transform box and choose one of the rotation options to place the new Bokeh lights in the desired orientation.

Layer rotated to Rotate 90 degrees Counter Clockwise
Rotate set to 180º

When you’re finished rotating your object, click on the checkmark in the Options Bar.

Usually, there will be harsh edges around your lights, as happened in my case, as seen below.

To fix this, create a layer mask by clicking the new layer and then on the layer mask icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel.

Then, select the layer mask.

Make sure the foreground color is set to black.

Next, grab the Brush Tool (B) in the Toolbar.

Finally, paint the edges black to erase the harsh edges. You can also erase any other areas you don’t want to be visible.

Step 6: Change The Bokeh Lights Colors (Optional)

Changing the colors of the Bokeh lights is often necessary. That’s because most Bokeh light overlays are yellow or white and don’t always match the photo they are inserted into.

For my example, I will change the yellow lights to blue because it matches the predominant color in the photo below.

To change the colors of your Bokeh lights, click the smart object thumbnail in your Bokeh photo layer.

Then click the adjustment layer icon and choose Hue/Saturation.

When the Hue/Saturation dialog appears, make sure the Colorize option is enabled. This will allow you to alter the colors of your layer.

In addition, enable the clipping mask option to only change the layer below the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer.

After that, select the hue you want the Bokeh lights to change to. In my case, I selected a blue hue.

In Saturation, you can define the amount of color that will be added to the Bokeh lights layer. Set it to a high value so the colorization is more pronounced. In my case, I chose 81.

In Lightness, you can make the lights brighter. For this parameter, I chose +8.

Once you have customized the Bokeh effect as you’d like, you will have successfully added this creative edit to your image.

This bokeh effect works best with darker images that already have lights in the background of the photo. With the help of free overlays that you can find online, you can create many effects with this, and now you know exactly how with Photoshop!

Article By

Brendan Williams

Hey, I'm Brendan! I'm a professional photographer and photo retoucher who has spent the majority of his career shooting or retouching outdoor lifestyle and social media campaigns for brands like G-Adventures, xoxo Bella, P&G, Fitbit, Chevy, Tourism California, and more. These days I primarily focus my efforts on this site, creating guides and tutorials that I wish I had earlier in my career. Each week I publish new tutorials on Photography, Photoshop, Lightroom, and Canva to help you unlock new skills and bring your creativity to new levels! Everything you learn here is backed by real experience, so you can finally skip the fluff and focus only on what matters.

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