How To Use The New Focus Area Feature Of Photoshop CC 2014

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How To Use The Photoshop Focus Area Feature

A photo of berries with the Focus Area feature of Photoshop applied.
Photos with depth of field are great candidates.

In June of 2014, Adobe released an update to Photoshop that included a really neat feature named Focus Area Selection. What it does is to enable a designer to make some pretty tight selections around the in focus area of an image. What makes this so interesting is there is no reliance on the selection tools that use contrast, colour or edges as the selection criteria. This feature hunts down in focus pixels and selects them. Once the selection is made you can apply some interesting depth of field effects or anything else that catches your creative muse.

We start with the image you see here. The plan is to select the berries and a couple of in focus leaves. Attempting this with such things as the Lasso tool presents you with a rather labor intensive task. If your intention is to work smart, not hard then the Focus Area Selection feature is about to make your life easier. Let’s get started.

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How To Select Focus Area

The Focus Area panel is shown.
Photoshop finds the in focus area.

Obviously you need to open an image with something that is in focus. Once the image opens you select Select > Focus Area, the dialog box shown opens and Photoshop goes to work finding the Focus Area. When it finishes everything that is not in focus is, essentially, hidden in the white area.  

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The Focus Area Tools

The Tools on the left side of the Focus Area panel are shown.
The Focus Area Tools.

Down the left side of the dialog box are four tools. The top two - Magnifying Glass and Grabber Hand -let you zoom in on the area and move around within the area. The two brushes allow you to add to or subtract from the selection in much the same way you would paint a mask in Photoshop.

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Using The Focus Area View Mode

The View Mode features of the Focus Area panel are shown.
You choose how the image looks while editing.

 The View Mode pop-down presents you with several ways of looking at the image. In my case I prefer to see how it looks masked and selected On Layers. The default is On White.

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Using The In-Focus Range Slider

The In Focus Range slider in the Focus Area Paramerts is shown.
In Focus Range adds or removes ares to or from the selection.

This slider takes a bit of getting used to. Moving it to the left adds more of the image to the selection and moving it right subtracts from the selection. In many respects think of it as a feature that allows you to refine the area of the selection and to remove stray areas in the selection.

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Using The Image Noise Level Slider

The Image Noise level slider in the Advanced area of the panel is shown.
Remove noise from the selection.

If there is noise in the image, especially in the blurred area, this can affect the selection by including those areas. This slider helps the tool remove any noise that may be showing in selection.

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How To Refine Your Selection

Using a brush to refine the selectiob is shown.
Use a brush to add to your selection.

 There are areas in the berries that should be added to the selection because they are appearing as transparent areas. To fix this you select the top paintbrush, adjust the brush tip size by pressing the ] or [ keys to make it bigger or smaller. Then click or drag over the area to be added or subtracted.

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How To Refine The Edge Of The Selection

The Refine Edges panel is shown.
Clean up the selection's edges.

 Your final adjustment will be made by clicking the Refine Edge button at the bottom of the dialog box. This will close the dialog box and open the Photoshop Refine Edges dialog box. I selected the Smart Radius option and set a value of 2. Smart Radius is really nothing more than an edge detection algorithm which automatically adjusts the radius for hard and soft edges found in the border region. This is really useful for hair but, in this case, a value of 2 keeps it tight to the edges of the berries and leaves.  I didn’t want a hard edge so I set the Smooth value to 2 and the Feather value to .5.

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Viewing The Selection

The Focus Area selection is visible in the final image preview,
The selection is made.

 Click OK and the dialog box closes. What you see is a nice tight selection that could be further refined or used for some Photoshop magic.