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How to Use Focus Area Selection in Adobe Photoshop

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Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

In June of 2014, Adobe released it's largest update to Photoshop since migrating to the Creative Cloud subscription model. Amidst the host of new features and updates is a very interesting new selection feature; the Focus Area Selection. The intent of this feature is to allow automated selections of elements within an image that are in focus. This is a unique method of creating a selection because other selection tools rely on contrast, edge detection or color information. This feature searches for pixels that are in focus. This idea opens up new selection possibilities that would be difficult to perform previously. Let's take a look at an example.

1. Open an Image

Grab an image, preferably one that has a shallow depth of field so there is a clear difference between the in-focus elements and the out of focus elements. You can download our image to follow along, or use one of your own.

2. Consider the Selection Options

The composition of this image would make it difficult to get a crisp selection around the central flower group with other automated tools. The Quick Selection Tool will follow along the edges of the background, and there's not enough difference in hue for the Color Range tool to work effectively. The Magnetic Lasso tool might be an option, and the Pen Tool is also reliable, but both require careful manual entry and can be fairly time consuming.

3. The New Focus Area Selection

Step 1

Instead we will use the new CC 2014 feature, Focus Area selection. Go to Select > Focus Area.

Step 2

Photoshop launches the Focus Area dialogue box and applies Auto settings for the In-Focus Range and Image Noise Level. The image also shows the result of that selection.

Step 4

The Auto settings are good, but not perfect. Adjust the In-Focus Range slider to get a better edge and clean up some of the stray selection areas. We used a setting of 2.05.

Step 5

The small brush icon on the left allow for further refinement of the selection edge. Use this Focus Area Add Tool (E) to brush over ares that should be included in the selection, like the branch along the bottom right. Then use the Focus Area Subtract Tool (E) to remove stray selection areas and small holes in the group of flowers where the background peeks through. Remember, tapping the Left ([) and Right (]) Bracket keys will adjust size of the tool's tip.

Step 6

Press the Refine Edge button to close the Focus Area box and move on to the Refine Edge settings. Use theses to further adjust the smaller details of the selection edge. We checked the Smart Radius option and set the radius to 2.3 px. Then we set the Smooth to 6 and Feather to 0.5

Step 7

Press the OK button and Photoshop returns to the regular workspace with a beautiful, tight selection around the flowers that are in focus!

4. Other Image Edits

At this point, the functionality of the new selection feature is complete and you are encouraged to continue on with this selection as you see fit. We will quickly run through the steps we took to generate our final image.

Step 1

Create a copy of the Background layer by going to Layer > Duplicate Layer. Then use the selection as a layer mask on the new layer by pressing the Add Layer Mask icon at the foot of the Layers panel.

Step 2

Add a Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer directly over the Background layer. Reduce the Saturation to -48 and increase the Lightness to 15. This will result in a brighter, duller background area that will further accentuate the focal flowers.

Step 3

Target the Background copy layer and go to Filter > Camera Raw Filter. Set the Clarity slider to +30 and the Vibrance slider to +27.

It's That Easy!

And now you are done! Look how easy it was to generate a tight, usable selection around a focal are in an image. Admittedly, this feature has some very specific applications, but it's a great addition to have for a more well rounded suite of selection options.

Background desaturation is a fairly strong choice when modifying photos, so always approach with caution. This has simply been used to demonstrate this awesome new feature!

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