Photoshop tutorial: Create a dreamy glowing effect portrait

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In this tutorial I'll show you an easy way to add a dreamy glowing effect to a portrait photo. As usual, I'll demonstrate the process using Photoshop Elements, but the process is the same in the full version of Photoshop CS, and should be similar in other image editing software.

For the portrait, I'll be working on this lovely photo by eflon from Flickr. Click through on the image to view it on Flickr where you can download a larger version to follow along with the tutorial.

smiles - portrait photo
smiles by eflon on flickr (licensed CC-BY)

After opening the photo in Photoshop, duplicate the background layer. You can do this a number of ways:

  • In the layers palette drag the background layer down to the new layer icon
  • On the menu go to Layer > Duplicate Layer...
  • Press Ctrl + J (on a PC, Cmd + J on a Mac) on the keyboard

Duplicated background layer

With the duplicate layer selected in the layer palette, on the menu go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian blur. In the Gaussian blur settings, choose a radius that leaves the subjects still easily identifiable, but gives a good amount of softening blur.

For this image I've chosen a radius of 22.4 pixels. Bear in mind that smaller images will require a smaller radius, while larger images will require a larger one.

Applying a gaussian blur to the duplicate layer

After applying the gaussian blur, change the blend mode of the blurred layer to 'overlay'. 'Soft light' blend can also work well.

Changing the blend mode of the blurred layer to overlay

We could say we're done now, but let's reduce the effect on the colors a little. To do this, create a new Hue/Saturation adjustment layer.

Adding a hue/saturation layer to the image

We need to clip the Hue/Saturation layer to our blurred layer so that the adjustment will only affect the blurred layer. To do this, in the layer palette, hold down the Alt key (or Option key on a Mac), and hover your mouse cursor between the Hue/Saturation layer and the blurred layer. You should see that the mouse cursor becomes two overlapping circles.

The mouse cursor changes to two overlapping circles to indicate the layer can be clipped to the below layer by clicking

Click, and the Hue/Saturation layer will become clipped to the blurred layer. The Hue/Saturation layer will become indented with an arrow pointing down on the left to show it is clipped to the layer below.

Reduce the saturation as you see fit. I've used -26 saturation, which I think gives the image a nice warm feel without being too warm.

After using the Hue / Saturation layer to reduce the saturation of the blurred layer slightly

The final photo looks like this:

Final image with dreamy glow effect applied

Applying a dreamy glow effect to your photos is quite easy. It can be used with a variety of subjects, but generally works best for portraits. Have a play around with the technique, try mixing it with some other processing techniques, and see if you'd like to use this effect in your own photography.

Written by Discover Digital Photography

December 29th, 2012 at 11:45 am

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