1. It Started With A Picture
Open the photography that you would like to add the bokeh to. With this particular technique we’re adding colored bokeh much like the bokeh you would see when shooting at night with a very wide open aperture. Colorful and bright bokeh over a dark background. That being said, you want to start with a darker image, or an image with some dark moody tones for the best results here.
2. Laying Down Base Light
We want to create a new layer and name it “Base Lights”. On this layer we’ll use our Brush Tool (B) to begin adding appropriate spots of light which will be the bright underside of our bokeh and give it depth and a dynamic feel.
3. Bokeh Goes Here!
Before we actually begin adjusting brushes and painting, check out the screenshot to see the area I am planning on placing our bokeh.
4. Setup The Brush
Grab the Brush Tool (B) and go Window>Brush to open the Brush panel. Select any of the default “Basic” brushes you see. I’m going to roll with the standard 60px, hard-edged brush. See my screenshot to see what I chose exactly.
5. Shape Dynamics
Use your mouse and specifically click on the word “Shape Dynamics” this will both turn on shape dynamics and bring you to where you can customize the shape dynamics. Crank the “Size Jitter” slider all the way to 100%.
6. Brush Tip Shape & Size
Next, click on the words “Brush Tip Shape” to enter the brush selection area as well as brush angle and sizing. Increase the “Spacing” until you have spacing between your bokeh “dots” as I have in the brush preview area. I’ve also set the brush size to 400px. This exact size will depend on the resolution of your image that you’re working on.
7. Opacity and Paint!
Set your “Base Lights” layer to the blend mode “Overlay” and ensure that you will be painting on this layer. Reduce the opacity of the Brush Tool (B) to about 40% and paint randomized dots as I have.
8. Build & Blur
Once you have painted a nice pattern of light dots, we want blur these little orbs of light. Go Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur. I went with a 40px blur here for this image.
9. Mask It Off!
Throw a layer mask onto that layer and paint away the additional blur that is layering on top of your subject. If you have trouble with masking, check out this quick two minute tutorial I made on this exact topic!
10. Shaping Your Bokeh
We’re now ready to create the colored bokeh! The first step is to choose a shape. Typically bokeh is a nearly perfect circle or an oval that is pointed at both ends. For the sake of keeping things more simple at the time being, let’s roll with bokeh that is a perfect circle.
11. The Bokeh Brush
Good bokeh, rain, snow, etc… in Photoshop usually begins with a great brush or brush setting. Grab the Brush Tool (B) and open the brushes panel again. Select the word “Brush Tip Shape” and set the brush size to 650px and the spacing to 100%.
12. The Bokeh Brush Cont.,
Next, select “Shape Dynamics” and set the “Size Jitter” to 50%. Also turn on “Scattering” and set the “Scatter” to 250%. I have also set my Brush Tool (B) to an opacity of 50%. We’re now ready to begin painting bokeh!
13. Lights, Camera, Bokeh
Create a new layer and name it “Bokeh” and set the layer blend mode to “Color Dodge”. I’ve set my foreground color to #d3ac11 which is a nice muted orange color that works very well with our colors in this image as they are. Typically the color dodge blend mode will intensify colors so you’ll be better suited choosing colors slightly muted and darker than you want the finished product to be. Paint in short quick passes to build a bokeh look. TIP: Notice how I’ve tapered the bokeh so it is larger closer to our model here and it is thinner and smaller as it gets closer to the edges of the frame.
14. Pink Bokeh
Create another layer and name it “Pink-Bokeh” and this time grab a dark pink color (I used #9d1545) and add some pink dots to add a reddish color to some of the orange bokeh we have. I also took care to add a few pink dots near the edges so you’d be sure to see the pink color.
15. Blurring For Depth + Noise
We next need to blur our bokeh to sell the fact that it should be in the background, not the foreground. I blurred each of my bokeh layers by going Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and used a 9.0px blur. I also added Filter>Noise>Add Noise to the tune of 5px for each bokeh layer as well.
16. Masking To Sell It More
Look to the layers panel and grab both bokeh layers by Shift clicking them and hit Cmd/Ctrl + G to group them together. Add a layer mask to this layer group and grab your Brush Tool (B). We want to first get rid of all the scattering options we applied to this brush. Do this by going Window>Brush and choose a default brush from the “Brush Tip Shape” area. Paint black on your mask to hide all the colored areas that overlay your subject.
17. Refine The Mask
The edges look pretty rough so I’m going to reduce the opacity of my brush and start painting with white around the edges of her hair and clothing to really blend the bokeh to the model here. I have my brush set to 20% opacity.
18. Vibrance Reduction
Go Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Vibrance and set the vibrance to -15 or so. Mask this vibrance adjustment to roughly the area of the bokeh by filling the mask with black and painting with a 50% opacity brush to bring that vibrance adjustment only into the areas of bokeh and color.
Take these techniques and apply them to all kinds of images and have fun with it! You’re finished!