Using Photoshop’s “Focus Area” Tool

When elements in a photograph are sharp, they command attention

When elements in a photograph are sharp, they command attention. Sharpness implies importance. Conversely, areas that are defocused tell the viewer to look elsewhere as they imply a lack of importance. The lens blur tool can be used to camouflage sharpness in a photo. The trick is to apply it realistically. Use the new Focus Area tool in Photoshop CC to first select what’s sharp, then inverse the selection, and finally defocus the background using Lens Blur.

Access the Focus Area filter. Go to Select>Focus Area. The dialog box appears.

Set the View Mode to your preference. I like the Marching Ants option with the Preview box checked. Note the Hand and Zoom tool options are available for quick access if you need these tools.

A very accurate Auto selection will be made as PS looks for in focus elements. Use the In-Focus Range slider in the Parameters box to expand or contract the selection. Experiment until you get a good basic selection.

Just to the left of the Parameters box, there’s a Plus or Minus brush to add or subtract to/from the selection. Use the left and right bracket keys to make the brush smaller or larger. Paint over the image with the brush to add or subtract pixels. Once the selection is finalized, hit OK.


Go to Select>Inverse to apply the selection to the background. It’s the background that needs to be defocused.

Now that the background is selected, go to Filter>Blur>Lens Blur. The key slider in this tool is Radius. Move the slider to the right to create the out of focus effect. The farther to the right it’s moved, the more the selection is defocused. Be sure the Preview box is checked – as you move the slider, the effect is visible. Move the Radius slider until you achieve the look you desire.


This is a 300% explosion of the effect. You can see PS does a nice job using Focus Area to first select the in focus parts and Lens Blur to create a nice neutral background.

After View:

If need be, use the Refine Edge feature in PS to smooth out the edges of the initial selection. I find the use of a small amount of Feather and Smooth removes sharp edges that appear jagged. Every image will be different. Use Refine Edge if necessary.

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