Creating the Lensbaby Effect
If you’re not familiar with the Lensbaby range, they are a set of lenses you can buy to attach to your SLR or DSLR camera. They are manual focus and designed especially to produce creative and, very often, random effects; the image having a shallow depth-of-field, strong center of focus, with a softer, sometimes distorted outer edge.
Sadly, not all cameras can use these lenses; compact and other fixed-lens cameras lose out on the amazing imagery that can be made. Just like many other effects, however, we can go some way to simulate the Lensbaby look in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. In this tutorial we’ll be working with layers and blur filters to produce the stylized zoom-burst effect. We’ll also see how a mask can be used to give us the ability to move our focus point around the image to pick the perfect area.
Here is the image before I created the effect.
1. We’ll begin by duplicating the background layer of our image; it’s needed for this effect but it’s good practice when doing any kind of editing work, of course. We can do this in several ways: the quickest being to drag the background layer’s thumbnail onto the New Layer icon in the Layers panel, or by using the keyboard shortcut of Cmd+J (Mac) or Ctrl+J (PC).
2. To start the effect we’ll add a small amount of blur; this will give the appearance of shallower depth-of-field. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Make sure the Preview box is checked so we can see it applied to the photo. The example image is low-resolution so a moderate amount is all that’s needed here; around 3 pixels is sufficient. For higher resolution images we would need to dial in a much larger amount. Click OK to apply the filter.
3. The next stage is to add the distortion blur; this is the zoom-burst effect that emanates from the subject focus. For this we’ll use the Radial Blur filter; again, this is found under the Blur section of the Filters menu. Once the dialog is open, set the method to Zoom. We don’t want the effect to be too strong, so dial in an amount of around 30. Set the quality to best. We could move the center-point of the effect by clicking and dragging in the Blur Center preview but for this effect, we’ll leave it central. Click OK to apply. This may take a while, depending on the size of the image you’re working on.
4. The effect looks good but we need to bring our subject back into focus. We’ll use a layer mask to do this. First, we’ll make a circular selection using the Elliptical Marquee tool. To select it, we can click its icon in the toolbox – if the Rectangular Marquee is showing, click and hold to display the fly-out options (select this from the Tool Options panel in Elements 11). We can also press its keyboard shortcut of M; hold down Shift to cycle through the options. Position the cursor on the image, the center will do for the moment. We don’t need to be precise; we’ll see why later. Click and drag out the selection. As we do, hold down the Shift key; this constrains the selection to a circle. Make the selection a suitable size for the focus area; release the mouse button to set it.
5. Now we can make the mask to punch through the current layer and reveal the sharp image beneath. By default, creating a mask will show everything except the selected area; we want the reverse, of course. We can do is by either going to the Layer menu and choosing Layer Mask > Hide Selection, or by holding Opt (Mac) or Alt (PC) and clicking the Layer mask icon in the Layers panel. We now have a circular hole in the layer. We have a crisp edge which isn’t realistic; we’ll fix this next.
6. Make sure the mask is active by clicking its thumbnail in the layers panel. Now go back to the Gaussian Blur filter. We need a much larger amount of blur this time as we’ll use it to make a soft blend between the focused area and the blurred effect. We’ve used a Radius of around 45 pixels here. As before, this will vary depending on the image size and also on personal preference. Click OK to apply the filter. We now have a smooth transition into the effect.
7. Now for the clever bit! Go to the Layers panel. Click on the link icon between the effect layer and its mask. This unlocks the mask from the layer, allowing it to be moved independently. Select the Move tool from the toolbox, or press its keyboard shortcut V. As before, make sure the mask is active by clicking its thumbnail. Now click and drag on the image itself. As we do, the focus area moves, allowing us to choose the best position for the picture. If we look at the mask, we can see how it relates.
8. To finish off the effect, we can boost the tones a little. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Brightness/Contrast; we could also click the New Adjustment Layer icon in the Layers panel. We’ve increased the brightness to 60 here and boosted the contrast to 30. This gives us a slightly over-exposed look with richer colors. If we want to limit the adjustment to only affect the blurred section of the image, we can clip the adjustment layer to the effect layer by going to Layer > Create Clipping Mask, or by pressing Cmd+Opt+G (Mac) or Ctrl+Alt+G(PC). If you’re following this using Photoshop Elements, the shortcut is just Cmd+G or Ctrl+G.
And that’s our effect completed.
We hope you have enjoyed this tutorial! For more information on what a Lensbaby can do, visit this article.
David Asch is a photographer and designer based in Brighton, East Sussex. He is also the author of How to Cheat in Adobe Elements (Focal Press), Focus on Adobe Elements , and Digital Photo Doctor . Learn more about these books on David’s blog. You can also find him on Facebook and as a regular contributor on TipSquirrel.com.