Not long ago I was looking at one of the portrait pictures I had made when shooting on film in a Mamiya C33 camera many years ago and rued the fact that I had not opened up the aperture enough to reduce the depth of field and so blur the background. The result was that the background was just too sharp and so tended to take the eye away from the sitter. To my mind, it destroyed what was a good image of the model.
In film days, that meant that the transparency was all but useless; today, we have Photoshop. So I scanned the transparency and began my experiments with what I thought was the most likely way to achieve the result I was after — to tone down the background by blurring it but to leave the model sharp.
I opened the scanned file and made a duplicate layer. From the Filters drop down menu I selected Blur>Gaussian Blur and played with the slider until I had the background as I wanted it. Of course, this adjustment did not only apply to the background but it blurred the whole image. I then made a Layer Mask (if the Layers dialogue box is not already open, select ‘Layers’ from the Windows drop-down menu at the top of the screen, then click on the grey square with a white circle in it at the bottom of the Layers dialogue box) and inverted it by clicking on it and then clicking Control ‘I’ so that it wiped out the adjustment I had just made and the unadjusted image re-appeared. I made sure that the white square was on top at the bottom of the Tools menu and selected the Brush Tool, adjusted the size to suit and began brushing over the background so that the blurred adjustment began to show through. I had the brush set to 25% so that I could maintain a fine control over the brushing. This approach did work but, having used Photoshop since version 1, I knew that there were always several methods to achieve a result so I began searching through my photographic library and soon found some answers.
More ways of improving your portrait pictures can be found in my e-book in formats for tablet readers and your computer.