How Do I Make Photos Look Dreamy?

How to get the dreamy effect in Photoshop

The original photo was mostly blue and yellow, but after experimenting with a colour balance adjustment I found a colour combination of purples and yellows that I liked. I then did some more tweaking for contrast, lightened the sky, performed a little noise reduction and sharpening… and then I realized I didn’t like how sharp the whole image was! See below for what I mean.Boats docked along False Creek at night in Vancouver, BC

I figured that the image would look a lot nicer if the boats were a bit “dreamy” looking. So, I duplicated the image onto a new layer and added enough gaussian blur just so that the fine details were no longer present. (If you want the effect to be more dramatic, increase the blur until the image is unrecognizable.) I then changed the opacity of the gaussian blur layer to 50%—this will allow you to see the sharper details of the layer below, while seeing a kind of ghost-like layer over top. I then masked only the top and bottom of the image using my gradient tool with black as the foreground colour, so that only the boats would look dreamy (which makes sense, since this is where the light would be traveling from). Below is an image with a layer of gaussian blur set at 40px, which was then scaled down to 50% opacity.

False Creek 91 v3 © 2014 Jenn Lin

Generally, to pull off the “dreamy” effect, you also need some sort of light source in your image. You can create a fake one if you don’t have one by painting white on a new layer and changing the blend mode to screen or some other variation and lowering the opacity until you get something of your liking. Positioned in the right place, the light in addition to the blur usually does the trick, but the subject and composition of the photo is also important. You also don’t want your whole image to be blurry, and so you should leave some areas relatively sharper. Otherwise, it runs the risk of just looking like a blurry image.

False Creek 91 v4 before after © 2014 Jenn Lin copy

To recap, you need:

1) a sharp image with a visible light source to begin

2) to duplicate the image onto a new layer and add a gaussian blur

3) reduce the opacity of the blurred layer

4) mask out any areas you want to keep sharp

Seen any images that pull this effect off quite nicely? Feel free to share below! :)


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