Friday, May 6, 2011

Using Adobe Photoshop to Create a Lensbaby Effect

Seems like everywhere I look I'm seeing LensBaby photos.  In magazines, in advertisements, on websites, on Flickr, on Youtube, it's really becoming fairly mainstream.  A couple years ago it was a curiosity, now it seems like every photographer has at least one stashed in the camera bag "just in case".  The scene has to be one that's conducive to the effect.  I don't think anyone would use it as their goto lens.  It's fun, it's a diversion, it's something to play with.  B&H Photo has forty plus items listed under the heading of Lensbaby.  Okay, there are duplicates.  A Lensbaby Composer for a Canon mount, a Nikon mount, a Pentax mount, a Sony Alpha mount, etc.  There's twenty nine accessories you can buy for them.  What was a novelty three years ago has become an industry.  Just in case you haven't run across a Lensbaby, it a lens that produces a primarily out of focus image with a very specific area that's in focus.  In the simplest form you hold it similar to a normal lens, but you deflect the front by using your hands to torque the front element.  It's not difficult, because the center of the body of the lens is made of flexible material.  I looked at a few Lensbaby images and thought I might be able to do something similar in Adobe Photoshop.  I don't think it matters which "CS" version you have.  It'll probably work in any recent iteration.  If you might be interested in what I did to simulate the Lenbaby effect, hit the "read more".
The first thing to do is to make a copy of the background layer (Ctrl J).  Then I'll make the copy Layer a Smart Object (right click on the Layer and select "Convert to Smart Object".  I want the most flexibility I can get without increasing file size outrageously.  Then I'll Blur (Filters/Blur/Gaussian Blur) the copy layer.  I can't tell you how much of a Blur to put on it because that's resolution dependent.  Just give it a pretty good Blur. 
The next step I did was to add a Layer Mask to the copied, Smart Object-ed, Blurred Layer.  I grabbed the Gradient Tool (G) I pulled a Gradient (a Black to White Gradient) across the Layer Mask, revealing some of the sharper image below the blurred image.  I couldn't get all the blurs I wanted on one Mask, so I made a total of four copies and brought a Blur in from each side.  You have to turn off all the Layers above the one you're currently working on, otherwise you won't see the effects on the lower layers.  Turn on one Layer at a time, building the effect until you have a spot (it doesn't have to be centered) of clear in a sea of blur. 
After creating the effect I made the entire stack a Smart Object and copied it twice.  Once for Sharpening and once for a vignette. 
I thought it came out reasonable, but I'm going to have to play with a real Lensbaby to do a comparison.