When I first saw the Bokeh demo I figured it would quickly leave our minds as quickly as it appeared. I also thought – Hmmmm great, one less thing pro body shooters have over the good old point and shooters. So I grumbled a bit but the video stuck in the back of my mind.
What is bokeh (as a term, not the program)? Simply put, Bokeh is the look of your out of focus areas of your image. Of course it is much more, but for the purposes of this review, that’s the simplest explanation.
I’m lucky to have almost every lens I could want at this moment in time (minus some very long or very specialized and thus very expensive glass) I have been thinking about picking up a tilt shift. Well over $1k US for the lens I want. I don’t mind an expensive glass purchase for something I would use regularily – the 400mm 2.8 L IS and the Tilt Shift lens would rarely see any real action to justify the purchase.
I watched the video again – hmmm, this could be something very interesting. Of course the video made it seem like magic, I patiently waited for the demo release and today there it was. Alienskin Bokeh demo 1.00. I downloaded it, installed it, loaded up a recent photo that would look good with a little more background separation.. The Alienskin window just sat there, my image inside with a complete blur over the entire field. I fumbled around with some sliders and buttons. Nothing. Oh man, don’t tell me I have to mask off everything before entering the program. Rats.. I guess nothing will ever save me from masking and selections. Yuck.
Back in Photoshop, I used my normal masking technique to separate a hot air balloon from the sky. Made sure the subject I wanted to protect from Bokeh was selected (and not the other way around) and back into the program I went. Wow. Is this what all the f/1.2 lens owners drool over? I can see why now. You can see the before image to the left and the after image up top.
So, selecting images isn’t that difficult. And Bokeh isn’t for every image. Remember, always try to get it right in the camera. But when you can’t, or don’t want to spend the money for a lens that does the same – Bokeh is a usable option…
So, let’s see what else Bokeh can do with fine tuning. I brought in my seagull image which ranks up there in interesting-ness on Flickr. Let’s see if we can improve it. This time I used the Quick Selection tool and intentionally did a sloppy job at selecting everything. I used no masks in this image, just pure selection tools.
As you can see, this is a bit more complex than the balloon photo. We’ll need to keep the subject in focus and a few of those posts just to keep it realistic. We’re also dealing with a near to far photo as well. We don’t want the whole image getting a Bokeh makeover, we’ll need to see if we can apply the effect gradually over the distance of the photograph. So, I selected the sky, sand, and out of focus poles. Basically everything besides the bird and the left three poles. Fire up Bokeh.
Everything looked great in Bokeh but it wasn’t realistic. I needed that effect set to a gradient. Quickly, I found it. There is a section called Focus Region and I selected Planar. I was able to set the effect much like how you would gradient in Photoshop.. Nice. A few tries at positioning the start and the end handles and I had something I was happy with. Focus Region also has a radial option which is what you want to use when going for that Lensbaby look.
Not much of a difference, I nuked the background into more of a creamy bokeh existence. This was a great test of the Planar focus tool, I must say that everything looks quite natural.
In addition to a default and lots of sliders and buttons, Bokeh also has quite a bit of Dreamy Bokeh lens emulations. The Canon 85 1.2 is in there, Nikkor and Zeiss lenses. I count seventeen lenses. Not bad, I’m sure some lens-head out there can see the minute differences between the majority of them, but for me I can guess the selection will remain on Canon 85 1.2 for now.
A few of these emulations will give you Aperture Sculpting, basically all of your natural Bokeh in photographs given a style that is caused by the aperture blades in your lens. At every stop those blades not only get smaller but also change shape. That is why Alienskin has included so many lenses, people fall in love with these aperture shapes. Some presets will allow you to emulate a heart or a star. You’ve probably seen the images – in focus subject, Christmas lights are blurry in the background and each point of light is a star. Awww, how cute. Clients eat that stuff up. Hopefully we can create our own sculpted apertures. That’s something to try later..
Before I go into the last test image, I do need to mention that Bokeh also has Vignette options. Vignette emulates dark spots on the corners of the images. Black, White, any other color. Not uh, the most exciting but if you like the idea of using a filter for Vignette – by all means use it.
The last image. I wanted something that could really benefit from Bokeh but was not the easiest to mask. Face it, the last two images were pretty easy because the main subjects were on simple backgrounds – the sky. The next image needs to be complicated.
And here it is, Chris Gomez of the Baltimore Orioles hitting a Grand Slam Home Run. It’s a good shot, but really needs some background separation. We’re not going to worry about raindrops, unless you wanted to mask out every single one. I would rather re-create them after the fact with one of the many raindrop techniques out there. Sure, I dislike spending too much time in Photoshop – but if I’m going to mask out the catcher, batter and the ball from the image, what harm is putting back in some fake rain to make up for the existing rain that will be blurred out by Bokeh?
Just to prove a point I masked off the image as quickly (and sloppy) as possible. At 100% I masked off the foreground about an inch as well as the catcher, batter and the ball. Into Bokeh I selected the Planar Focus and the result was quite amazing. I was able to keep the KC Royals dugout in slightly more focus than the fans. I did turn up Bokeh to the extreme, so I might as well blur the foreground as well. I selected my foreground, inversed the selection and one more trip into Bokeh it was done. My image looked awesome.
Now, if you look closely at Gomez’s hands and bat you’ll see where I was sloppy with the masking tool. Alienskin always returns your image with the Bokeh effect applied as a new layer. Not JUST the Bokeh effect, but the entire image. If you go outside of the lines (like in this image) you’ll keep parts of the background in focus and repairing that will be quite the chore. Undo and try again. IF however you don’t mask out to the lines perfectly you can always go to the new layer and erase to show through the in-focus subject in the background. Lets say I forgot to select the ball, I can set the transparency of the layer Alienskin created to something like 50-75% and erase the Bokeh to reveal the ball. Simple.. Right? Wrong.
Sometimes you’ll be able to do this, remember that if we undercut the subject with our selection tools Bokeh will assume that unselected area is to have the adjustment applied. So, if you go back and erase in missing parts of your subject, the Bokeh effect around the area will still show. Back to the ball example, if the ball were not selected, Bokeh will take the ball and put it into blur similar to the fans behind it. If I erase the ball back into sharpness, guess what. There will be a ghostly halo around the ball so get it as close as possible in your selections and if something doesn’t look right – do it again.
Edit: Now that I’ve had a chance to dig up an image to try, I am adding to this entry a photo I used Bokeh to create a fake tilt-shift effect to. Many people use this to create a miniature looking scene from a real-life scene. Here is a shot of a pool at a neighboring hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada as taken by the Vegas Eiffel Tower. This is accomplished by creating one Planar effect going upwards and then going back into the program for another Planar effect going downwards.
All in all Bokeh will most likely make its way onto my software shelf. And my no-more-Photoshop-than-necessary self respect will be gone forever which is a good thing at times. At $200 you’re saving the cost of a Tilt Shift lens, an 85 1.2 and a Lensbaby.. Kinda. If you’re someone who wants this look time and time again (a Wedding Photographer for example) you’ll want the real deal. If you love the Lensbaby look, nothing beats pushing and pulling that Lensbaby ring while staring through the camera. Try a demo of this plugin if you enjoy the look, wow a client or two and it’ll pay for itself.
Alienskin Bokeh for MAC & PC – $199 available at http://www.alienskin.com/