Adobe recently released a new Neural Filter in Photoshop called Depth Blur. This allows you to target the area and range of blur in photos, easily creating wide-aperture depth of field blur effects. You may choose different focal points. However, you may also remove the focal point and control the depth blur through manipulating the focal range slider.

In some ways, this is similar to how some smartphones use “Portrait Mode” to create depth and blur, only with more control.

A quick look at Depth Blur

You may access Depth Blur in the top menu bar under Filter > Neural Filters > Beta. Yes, Adobe considers this a work in progress, so bear that in mind. In fact, Adobe offers you to let them know if you are satisfied with the results.

When using it for the first time, you will need to download the filter. You may do this by clicking on the cloud with the downward arrow. 

Blurring your photo

In the Depth Blur dialog box, you may control various parameters. This includes Blur Strength, Focal Range and Focal Distance. Focal Distance is disabled when you are choosing a Focal Point. Focal Range becomes more pronounced in effect when using a Focal Point. 

Also included are controls for Haze, Warmth, Brightness and Saturation.

Additionally, you may output the depth map only to use for blur … or any other effect, for that matter.

Experimenting with Focal Point

Original photo of Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz, CA.

I began experimenting with my long exposure photo Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz, CA. Using the dialog box, I chose the rock in the water as the focal point. I was able to easily blur the area surrounding the rock, including the foreground where the water is rushing up on the beach. This created a selective tilt-shift effect not unlike what a Lensbaby lens might do.

Photo after applying Depth Blur. I used a Focal Point on the rock. As you can see, it created a pleasing blur in the foreground. Note that the bird on the left side of the rock is blurred.

Experimenting with Focal Depth

I chose an abandoned truck at night for my next photo. I decided not to enable the Focal Point. Instead, I manipulated the blur largely through the Focal Distance Slider. 

Manipulating the Depth Blur sliders. This Focal Distance allowed me to push the blur effect farther in the distance.

As you can see, the photo generally looks good. However, you can see that there are some “mistakes.” For instance, it did not apply a distance blur to some of the streaking lights of a train or the bus in the background, apparently thinking this was part of the truck. It also blurred part of the bar in the front.

Remember, though, this is still beta, and is a cloud-based plugin. You may give feedback so that it helps out Adobe’s machine learning if you wish.

The quality of the blur itself seemed pleasing, with a decent amount of “creaminess.” 

I experimented with cranking the blur strength to see how it looks here.

Thoughts

The Depth Blur filter obviously has issues. However, it shows strong promise. As machine learning becomes more proficient, this can only get better. This will also likely continue to evolve and change before it becomes an official release.

In the future, might this replace fast lenses? Do you feel Instagram be flooded with images showcasing Lensbaby-type effects or ridiculously shallow depths of field? It’s possible. However, in the hands of someone who has taste and wants blur for specific reasons or effects, it could be another fantastic tool for photographers and graphic designers.

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