By Steve Bain
Blurry or out-of-focus pictures aren’t usually very appealing in a layout. But strategically applying blur effects to an image can sometimes work to your advantage. Blurring specific areas of a picture enables you to clean up messy background clutter and focus in on the subject at hand. This technique is also great for exaggerating depth-of-field created naturally when using a wide camera lens aperture.
In Corel PHOTO-PAINT, you can use a variety of filters to blur pixels in different ways. Radial, directional, motion, and gaussian blur filters each offer variations on the smoothing effect you can achieve. Depending on your picture subject, some filters work better than others, but the idea is the same.
Let’s explore a brief series of steps you can use to simplify the clutter in a typical scene.
- Open this image file saved Corel PHOTO-PAINT X3/X4 format or open your own image to work on suitable for this technique. Perform any necessary image corrections or adjustments before you begin and decide in advance which areas you wish to blur and which areas will remain in sharp focus. For my example image (shown below), I’ve chosen to blur the background and leave the main subject in sharp focus.
- Using whichever masking tools suit the task, isolate the area, or areas, where you wish to apply your blur effect. To save a little time, I’ve already isolated a portion of my example image. To load this saved mask now, choose Mask > Load > Cow Face (see below).
- To ensure you can see the mask onscreen while editing (see below), toggle the mask overlay on by choosing Mask > Mask Overlay.
- The next step is to slightly feather the edges of the selected area to avoid leaving hard edges between the area you wish to leave in focus and the blurred area. To feather the edges of your selection, open the Feather dialog (see below) by choosing Mask > Mask Outline > Feather. In the Width box, enter 2 as the pixel value, choose Inside as the direction, Linear for the Edge shape, and click OK to close the dialog. Your selection mask is now slightly feathered.
- With mask feathered, you can apply the blur effect. Im my case, I’ve chosen a straightforward gaussian blur style. Feel free to experiment with others if you wish, but for now choose Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur to open the filter dialog (see below). Enter 10.0 as the Radius in pixels and click OK to apply the effect and close the dialog.
- Remove the mask overlay and view the results by choose Mask > Remove (Ctrl+R). Notice that some hard edges still remain between the sharp and blurred areas in the example we’re using. If you’re using your own image, you’ll likely need to do some work to smooth the transition area between the sharp and blurred areas. The quickest tool to use for this operation is the Touch-Up Brush (7). You’ll find it in the Toolbox grouped with other Touch Up tools in recent versions of PHOTO-PAINT (see below).
- Using the Property Bar, set the Touch-Up Brush options to round-feathered nib shape, 20 pixels in width, and a Strength setting of High (as shown below).
- Using a click-drag action, follow the contour of the cow face area with the Touch-Up Brush cursor. This will eliminate most of the hard edges left by blurring the mask. The final image (see below) focuses attention on the central picture element leaving the background objects much less prominent.
As you work with your own picture elements, keep in mind that you can blur multiple areas of a photo by using varying degrees of blur. Both foreground and background elements can be blurred to isolate specific elements. The farther away from the plane of focus a picture element is, the more blurring you should apply.
Steve Bain is an award-winning illustrator and designer, and the author of nearly a dozen books, including CorelDRAW: The Official Guide.