Sep 01, 2016

How to Create Soft & Dreamy Photos in Photoshop

Take photos to the next Level by adding a soft and dreamy look – perfect for weddings, engagements and family photos.

Use Iris Blur to Draw More Attention to the Subject

The soft and dreamy look is done by adding a slight blur to the edges of a photo and adding a soft blur to the Light in a photo.

To add a slight blur to the edges of a photo, first start b duplicating the Background layer and converting it into a Smart Object by right-clicking on the thumbnail and selecting ‘Convert To Smart Object

After converting the layer into a smart object, go to ‘FilterBlur Gallery – Iris Blur’. In this dialog you can choose how much blur you would like applied by sliding the blur slider on the right. The controls in the center of the Screen allow movement of the blur center, the shape of the blur and feathering.

Choose a subtle blur around the edges of the photo for the soft dreamy look.

How to Make Light Soft & Dreamy

After applying an Iris Blur to the photo, it is time to blur just the light. To begin, create a selection out of the light in the photo by going to ‘Select – Color Range’ and clicking on the Light source with the Eyedropper Tool.

The preview are will be white on selected areas and black on non-selected areas. Be sure to adjust the slider to just include the light in the selection.

After turning this area into a selection, create a New Layer and either fill it with white or duplicate the selected area from the Background. The goal here is to have just the light from the photo copied onto a New Layer.

Next, convert the layer with just the Light into a Smart Object by right-clicking on it and going to ‘Convert To Smart Object’. The reason for converting it into a smart object is so Smart Filters can be used. Smart Filters can be changed at any time, making them more versatile than regular Filters.

After converting into a Smart Object, apply a blur by going to ‘FilterBlurGaussian Blur’ and choose a radius to expand the light. Adjust the Opacity of the layer to suit the image and duplicate it if necessary.

How to Color Tone for the Soft & Dreamy Look

Once the Background has been blurred using an Iris Blur and the Light has been blurred using a Gaussian Blur, it is time to Color Tone the image.

In this example, we use a Levels Adjustment Layer and edit the Blur Channel – adding more blue into the Shadows and yellow into the Highlights.

Feel free to play around with Color, each image is unique and requires Color toning specific to that image. Most of all, have fun!

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    Miguel Carlson

    Great tutorial as always. Have you changed the method camera or lighting that you film with? It looks completely different. In a good way.

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    This is really Dreamy to me, so Pure, so Pleasant! Love that photography as well! By the way did you photographed that? Really Enjoyed this! Thank you So Much Aaron !

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    Yet another great episode, of the many tutorials that are out there, yours are by far the easiest to follow and you explain how things work in a way that is easy to understand, and with a great sense of humor. How about an episode on making a “Han Solo in carbonite” effect. Again, great job as always.

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    Eugene Cummings

    Great tutorial again but… why is it that when having selected smart object the Iris Blur filter is greyed out? MODE: 8 bit and RGB selected.

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    Lonnie Lovejoy

    This tutorial has filled in a few blanks for me. Thank you, for an as always, excellent tutorial.

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    Bob Barford

    How about an episode as how to prepare your images to send them to a professional printer? How to adjust brightness of an image so that the final product is not too dark. Sharpness?

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      If you final prints are too dark, then you monitor is likely not calibrated or not calibrated correctly. Most monitors are set too bright from the factory (yes even Macs; I use both Mac and PC). It just looks better on a backlit display when set too bright.

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    I enjoy watching, and learning, from your videos. Problem is I run on Photoshop CS6 extended. If I duplicate the layer then convert it to a smart layer the ‘Iris blur’ option is not available. I can only use the Iris blur option if I do NOT convert to a smart layer. What can I do – apart from entering into an expensive option with Adobe to upgrade to the latest system. Surely you must cater for those of use on CS4, 5 and 6 ??

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    Lovely tutorial as always!
    But can you plz show how to create iris blur in PS CS5?
    In fact would also appreciate if you can show & explain the process of creating Tilt Shift & Field Blur in PS CS5

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    You are the best, Aaron. I always watch your videos. Bought some of your products too. And I just love using that.
    Thanks for that.
    Hope you had a great day.
    Thanks once again for teaching us great stuff. Love you bro.

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    Brian Heller

    Isn’t application of Iris Blur to a Smart Object available in CS6? “Field…”, “Iris…”, and “Tilt-Shift…” blurs are ghosted out in the blur gallery when a Smart Object layer is selected.

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      I thought it was just me but I see others comments about CS6 that the iris blur is greyed out and does not work. Terrific tutorial until I get to that step 🙁

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    So. Very. Cool!!!! The most soft and dreamy episode yet!
    I have a stupid question, though: I am not sure why it is that you duplicate the “window light” layer? What is the difference from just adjusting the single layer with the amount of blur desired??

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      Chris Spicks

      if you just use one layer, your blur will have a consistent even fall off. eg: the blur will be a soft even blur from 100% opacity to 0% opacity. by making two layers, one blur can be harsher and then the other blur would be softer. Imagine looking at a street light in the fog. right around the light is a much brighter halo and then the light falls off.

      In photoshop, if you use the dropshadow tool, you get a blur and a spread option. this is simulating the “spread” effect.

      Photoshop Tutorials: How to Create Soft & Dreamy Photos in Photoshop

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    Aaron, you’re so funny.
    I’m glad you started adding the recap at the ends of these.

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    Trevor Waller

    Skilfully presented as always – but better if the in-video frame of yourself did not conceal part of the photoshop panel???

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    Thomas Connor

    Hi Aaron – great tutorial as always!

    I have a suggestion for you. I took a picture of a lighthouse in Lanzarote a couple of years ago with a finished look in mind, though I’ve not been able to get it right.

    I pictured a real grungy look – lots of noise and sharp contrasts to match the bare stone, concrete and graffiti – can you help????

    Many thanks, and keep the tutorials coming – always room to learn more!

    PS – I have the RAW file if needed.

    Photoshop Tutorials: How to Create Soft & Dreamy Photos in Photoshop

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    Mark Day

    Hi Aaron,

    Apologies if this is a basic Photoshop question. Towards the end of the tutorial you displayed the finished image in full screen mode then used keyboard shortcuts to display before and after.

    Grateful if you could share the keyboard shortcut. Perhaps you could do a tutorial of your 10 favourite keyboard shortcuts?

    Many thanks,


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    Ann Wharton

    Thanks really easy to follow with your explanation. I like the summary at the end it helps understanding

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    Great tutorial as usual, you make it so ,such simpler to understand!, does the white fill from white selection make a vector shape? can be used to add to Ai images, or other vector type work.

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    Fernand De Canne

    Great and excellent tutorial
    What we appreciate the most is that you speak slowly and correct so we to can understand the tutorials while English is not our language
    In Belgium we speak French and Dutch
    Thank you very much for all the tutorials

    Fernand De Canne (Belgium)

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    I duplicated bkgrd layer & converted it to smart object, but wasn’t able to access Iris Blur in Filter layer. I have Photoshop CS6. Thank you for your assistance.

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    Is there any possibility to distinguish CC tutorials from those that will also work on CS?

    I have CS6 and have no intention of moving to CC.

    I do understand that you have to do tutorials for the latest whatever that Adobe adds, but it is frustrating to start a tutorial and discover it will not work, or at least work well in CS6.

    Some way to easily differentiate would be nice. And if it exists, why can I not find it?

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    Fred Doe

    Really nice job making complex adjustments easy to understand! I’m learning a lot from you. Thanks for all of your videos.

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    My Photoshop doesn’t have ‘blur gallery’ or ‘iris blur’. Am I missing something?

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    Anthony Hazlewood

    Nice Tutorial Aaron… Always useful to remember theses things… Thanks Aaron

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    It is very difficulty to clean growing & beautiful photo. How can solve it , is it possible.