• Price When Reviewed: 136

  • Pros: Excellent, realistic-looking results; great fine-tuning controls.

  • Cons: Using the plug-in often requires manual cutouts, which are time-consuming.

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

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This review is taken from our group test of Photoshop CS4 plug-ins.

Bokeh is the real-world photographic technique for creating images where the subject is largely in focus and the background is blurred. The effect is usually caused by using a shallow depth-of-field with a large aperture lens (such as Canon’s EF 85mm f/1.2 II), or a telephoto or macro lens; it’s common in wedding, sports or nature photography.

Alien Skin’s plug-in fakes this effect, which is great if you or your photographer doesn’t have access to such lenses, or you want to add this effect at the end of a composition.

After applying the plug-in, you can choose the type of lens you want, or just use the default setting. This is for sticklers, as we saw little difference between the lens options. More important is the amount of bokeh and whether you apply it over the whole image, with a round unblurred focal region (and the focus dropping away from this gradually), or a flat gradient of focus from one region to another (here called planar). Both focal regions include handle-driven controls that are fast and easy to use.

The downside is that, unless the depth of the image allows smoothly flat or round dropping-away of focus, you’re still going to need to cut out the foreground subject before applying your bokeh – which can be time-consuming. Both the acorn (above) and taps (below) were cut out in Photoshop before applying full and radial bokeh respectively.

Bokeh includes fine-tuning controls over aperture type – including the diaphram shape and the ‘creaminess’ over the highlights – and vignetting, to mimic real lenses in a way that Photoshop’s blur tools can’t match.

It supports the 64-bit Vista version of Photoshop and 16-bit images, but not 32-bit ones (or CMYK pictures).

Supported hosts: Photoshop CS3/CS4, Fireworks CS4