How to Create Shallow Depth of Field on a Portrait using Lightroom Brushes

In this article we explain how to use Lightroom to artificially create shallow Depth of Field.

Bonjour Mesdames et Messieurs, I am happy that you are reading this article, I mean we are friends now, welcome to the French connection, maybe not... Anyway so today I wanted to share with you a secret that is transmitted from generation to generation, it comes from my great grandfather,maybe not but still it is a nice trick! So let me reveal it to you today!

When you are doing portraits you almost always want your subject to pop off the background so that they are the focus of the shot. This is why when shooting them you want to use long focal lengths with low f-stops. It gives a shallow depth of field and mushes the background. But what if you have a lens that doesn’t have a low f-stop, or you are shooting from your smartphone and you have a photo that you really like but you want to make it look more professional?

The answer is not to scream “NNNNOOOOOOO!!!!!!” up into the sky while cursing your supervillain enemy like you see in the movies. In fact, the answer is to keep reading! I am going to show you how to create a shallow depth of field look in Lightroom so you create a nice portrait and you concentrate the interest on the person.

As usual, if you want the RAW files for this tutorial and all my other free presets and goodies, just subscribe to my newsletter here. You can also follow along on my video tutorial for this lesson here.

Here is the photo we are going to work with, it is a portrait of a friend that a friend of mine took in Los Angeles. I found how he retouched it was interesting because the depth of field was so deep in the original photo and so shallow in the retouch. Here’s the photo:

Step 1: Crop the photo. First thing is to select the Lightroom Crop tool and crop the photo to center the interest.

Step 2. Adjust White Balance. Now we just want to warm it up so add some yellow with the Temp slider to 7245 and some magenta in the Tint slider at +12:

Step 3. Adjust the Highlights and Shadow. Next bring the highlights to -100 and the shadows to +100 as usual. (If you’ve read my tutorials or watched my videos, you know this is part of my workflow. You can get a more complete statement on why I do this in almost all my photographs by reading this how to article here. )

Step 4. Adjust the Whites and the Blacks. Now set the White point and Black point. Increase the Whites to +23 and decrease the Blacks to -43. (If you’ve read my tutorials or watched my videos, you know this is part of my workflow. You can get a more complete statement on why I do this in almost all my photographs by reading this how to article here.)

Step 5. Adding initial Presence adjustments. In the Presence area of the Lightroom Basic panel,put clarity at +43 to give it a crisper look.

And we are trying to give a look to this portrait, we want to make it warm, contrasted, yet slightly desaturated. So also lower the Vibrance to complete this look somewhere around -41 and bump the Saturation to around +6. This will remove color from the photo but in an interesting way.

Step 6. Create Shallow Depth of Field with Local Adjustment Brushes. This really is the bread and butter of the technique and the most interesting part of the retouch. Go ahead and select the Local Adjustment Brush tool. Set the Flow, Density and Feather at 100. Then lower the Sharpness and Clarity to -100 and begin to brush over the background to make it blurry. Make sure you brush around him, not on his face or his body:

If you brush over an area that you didn’t mean to blur you can press the Alt key and your brush will become and eraser and erase the blur of your brush:

The whole point of a blurry background is to make the person stand out. So go ahead and lower the Exposure to -0,19 and the Saturation to -10 for the brush:

It is a very simple but cool trick! Now when you come closer to the person make sure you set you flow and density of the brush at around 90:

Make sure that you erase the blur you don’t want, like on the face for example in case you accidentally painted over the person. This can be easier if you select at the bottom of the display area: Show Selected Mask Overlay. This will highlight the mask in red and you can use the Alt key to erase the strokes.

As you are seeing this technique really makes the person pop and be more present in the photo. If you want to increase even more this blurry effect you can click on Duplicate:

Now it is even blurrier and you can lower the clarity and sharpness if you think it is too much:

I personally don’t want to double the blur on this photo but it is an artistic decision, so I’m going to delete the duplicate.

Step 7. Do additional retouching. Another trick is; you can see my friend taking the photo is reflected in the glasses of the person. So to handle this, create a new brush (I press the Alt key and click on Reset), lower the Exposure to -1.82 and boost the contrast to around +33 and just brush over the glasses:

I like the shiny part on the upper part of the glasses so I leave it like so:

This is the before the brush:

This is the after the brush:

Here is a cool tips for the Americans who love to have perfect white teeth, you can create a new brush and boost the Exposure to around .35, the Highlights to around +54 and lower the Saturation to around -22 and brush over the teeth:

Step 8. Vignetting : And finally, make the person stand out more is to do some vignetting, so you really have your attention on the person. Do this by going to Lightroom’s Effects panel and put Post Crop Vignetting around -50:

Here is the before photo:

And this is the after photo:

Remember one of the key rules of photography is to focus on the message of the shot and removing distractions is a way of strengthening the message. Cropping out the other people and blurring the background with the artificial shallow depth of field and everything else lets us focus on the subject which is the message of the shot.

And voilà, I hope that you liked it and that you will share it!

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