Nighttime Digital Photography with Adobe Photoshop CS3

Softening Nighttime Shots With Gaussian Blur

Adapted from Nighttime Digital Photography with Adobe Photoshop CS3 (Peachpit Press)

By John Carucci



Sometimes the harshness of night illumination shows too many facial blemishes. Since you have the power, why not remove them? Cloning them out can work for individual marks, but for overall appearance, creating a soft mask for the face provides the subject with a pleasant appearance. This technique requires a duplication layer of the image, a Gaussian blur, and some careful cutouts. The intensity of the effect can be controlled via the layer Opacity setting. To work along with the text, open your own image in Photoshop.



Despite Alicia’s smooth complexion, the angle of light shows a texture on her face. Rather than touch up each blemish, I duplicated the layer by dragging the active layer to the New layer button on the bottom of the palette. Name it Blur.

Draw an outline around the subject using the Lasso tool. This will limit the blur to roughly the subject area.

Apply a Gaussian Blur by going to Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Radius was set at 9 pixels. The higher the setting, the more blur.

Since the subject area is all that should blur, let’s remove it from the background. The area is already selected; just inverse it and click Delete. Click off the eye on the Background layer to see your handiwork.

At this stage, the image resembles a Photoshop project gone awry. That’s good! The key here is to blend and tweak this image into position. The Gaussian Blur provides an overall softness to the face. To make it appear natural, the lips, facial hair, and eyes must be sharp. Use the Brush tool to clean up the area around her head and shoulders. Turn the Background layer back on.

Now let’s get to work on the blurred area. Start with the eyes. Magnify the workspace as much as possible, and fi nd a brush size that allows you eradicate just the blurred eyes. The brush should have a hardness of 50%. Erase the area inside the eyes on the Blur layer to reveal a sharper eye on the Background layer.

Eyebrows are next. Match the brush size to the width of the eyebrow and set the hardness to 50%.

At this point, most of her face is still blurred. The nose and the lips still need to be sharpened. Let’s clean them up.

On the Blur layer, remove the blur on the lips. Be sure to soften the edges and set the brush hardness to 75%.

All that remains to sharpen is her hair, shirt, and halo from the initial selection. By removing the blur from her face, neck, and shoulders, those features now appear quite sharp.

After applying the blur, and selectively removing it from the features we want to emphasize, it’s time to go back to the blurred area to fine-tune it. It appears unrealistic in its current state. Let’s tone it down by adjusting the opacity of the Blur layer to 50%.

For a finishing touch, the image was cropped to show off the subject (click to enlarge).

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Excerpted from Nighttime Digital Photography with Adobe Photoshop CS3 by John Carucci. Copyright © 2008. Used with permission of Pearson Education, Inc. and Peachpit Press.