You’ve see the photos we’re talking about—some kind of magic is put into play, and the result is that the contents of your photo look miniature, dreamy, and almost surreal.
Except, it’s not magic! It’s a fairly simple Photoshop effect which plays a fun trick on your eyes.
Step 1—We Begin: Open your photo in Photoshop. In your menu bar, under the Layer menu, go to Smart Objects, then choose “Convert to Smart Object.” Now that your layer is a smart object, we can add filters to it without forever changing the original photo. This is an example of non-destructive editing, and it is always the way to go!
Step 2—Adding the Filter: In your menu bar, under Filter, go to Blur, then choose “Gaussian Blur.”
A dialog box with open which allows you to use a slider bar to determine how much of a blur you want to add. Since our layer is a smart object, you can edit the amount of blur later on if you decide to, so don’t fret too much about choosing the perfect number. For this tutorial, I am going to chose 3.2 pixels. Hit “OK.”
After you do this, you’ll see that your layer has changed in your layers panel. It now displays a white thumbnail under your photo. This is your filter’s “mask.” If you’ve worked in Photoshop much, then you’ll be familiar with masks. If not, don’t worry! A mask is simply a tool which allows you to hide part of a layer, a filter, or an adjustment. In this case, we want to hide part of our filter. Right now the blur is affecting the entire photo, but we only want to see the blur along the top and bottom edges.
Step 3—Masking the Filter: This can be done a number of ways, but this is the way I find to be the easiest. First, click on the white thumbnail in your layers panel, underneath your photo. This simply makes that mask active, so all edits you make will be to that mask, not to you photo.
With the mask active, select your brush tool. You can use your toolbar along the top to adjust the size and softness of your brush. For our purposes, I have my brush at about 200 px big and 0% hardness. Having a very soft brush is important.
Make sure that your foreground and background color swatches are set to the default black and white. If they are not, then you can hit “D” on your keyboard to revert back to the default. When working in masks, all of the areas we paint in black will end up being hidden on our layer. With black as your active color, a super soft brush, and your mask active, paint a strip though the middle of your photo. The black will only show in the filter mask thumbnail, and you will see the blur effect go away wherever you painted on your photo.
Step 4—Fine Tuning: Now that I have my blur hidden in the middle of the photo, I think I want the blur effect to be stronger on the top and bottom, where it still shows. In your layers panel, double click on the filter name “Gaussian Blur.” Now, drag your slider to the right to increase the strength of the effect. I am going to raise mine all the way to 9 pixels; then, hit “OK.”
Presto! You can now either save the document as a Photoshop file for further editing later on, or you can flatten your layer and save as a JPEG to share!