Taking ‘Photoshop on the Edge’ to the Next Level | Reflect Digital

After our design team outing to Designers Fiesta 2017 in London, I left feeling inspired yet somewhat frustrated. Due to time schedules, a few of the talks just didn’t have the time to delve deep enough; in particular, the talk titled ‘Photoshop on the Edge’.  The majority of the talk was aimed at beginners and consisted of outdated techniques.  However, there were a couple of techniques that got my attention, so I felt the urge to put them to practice and take ‘Photoshop on the Edge’ to the next level.

I started by taking 2 photos from my favourite free image stock website Unsplash.com: A portrait photo and a seaside photo for the background replacement.

The following tutorial will show you how I work with edges – refining, blending, enhancing, sharpening and blurring.

Stage 1: Background Replacement – Refining the Edge

1. Begin with cutting out the lady and applying a mask. I tend to use the Pen Tool for flexibility and smooth sharp edges, however, for speed, you may prefer to use the Magic Wand Tool or the Quick Selection Tool.

2. Next copy in the seaside background - to better match the light direction I flipped the image.

3. To remove the white sharp edges, refine the mask using Select and Mask (Select > Select and Mask). Set the radius of the Edge Detection to around 12px. Then set the Shift Edge to around -15%. This will soften and blend the edges into the new background and is a great technique when cutting out hair.

4. One of the methods mentioned at Designers Fiesta was to use Defringe…I haven’t used this outdated technique for around 15 years!  Using Masks gives you greater control and editability.

Stage 2: Sharpening – using the High Pass filter

The High Pass filter allows you to sharpen details while retaining soft skin textures:

1. Start by duplicating the lady layer and converting it into a Smart Object. This keeps the sharpening adjustment editable. Go to Filter > Other > High Pass and set the radius to around 4px. At the moment you are probably thinking ‘how is this grey image going to improve my image!?’… this is exactly what my past thoughts were!

2. Apply the filter and set the layer blending mode to Overlay or Soft Light, depending on your preference.

This has done a great job at sharpening the detail, however, I feel the skin texture has been sharpened too much. No problem, we can simply add a mask to the High Pass layer and mask out the areas that need softening.

The High Pass filter is something I have taken away from Designers Fiesta and will implement into my future workflow.

Stage 3: Dodge and Burn – The Non-Destructive Methods

Dodge (lighten) and Burn (darken) are great tools for increasing the contrast of specific areas or shifting the light direction of an image. However using these tools comes with a problem - they are destructive (not editable).

At the moment, her face is very light underneath her hat and dark on her right cheek. As the light is coming from the right, her hat would be casting a shadow across the top of her face and the light would be hitting the lower part of her right cheek. To adjust this, we can use non-destructive dodge and burn – I will explain two methods.

Method One: 50% Grey Layer set to Soft Light

The quickest way to do this is to option/alt click on the new layer icon, set the mode to Soft Light and check ‘Fill with soft-light neutral colour (50% gray)’. We can now use the brush tool, set to black (darken) or white (lighten), and brush (set to 10-20% opacity) onto the grey layer. To undo, you simply brush over with 50% grey.

Method Two: Screen and Multiply Level Adjustment Layers

Create two new Level Adjustment Layers, set one to Screen (lighten) and the other to Multiply (darken). Set both to 20% opacity and invert their masks to black. We can now use a white brush on either layer to reveal light and dark to specific areas.

For this image, I used a mixture of both methods.

Stage 4: Add Sun Glare Using Overlay

To help blend her into the new scene, we now need to add some sun glare catching on the edges of the hat, hair and face. Add a new layer, set to Overlay and select a bright mid orange/yellow. Set your brush to a low opacity and slowly build up the orange tones to the right edges. I also added some tones to enhance the sunshine on the water and sand.

Stage 5: How to Add Realistic Background De-focus

To give that professional photographic look, we’ll add background de-focus by using the Lens Blur filter. First we need to prepare a depth map:

1. Group all your layers together, create a copy and merge the group copy so you are left with a flattened layer. You can now hide the original group of editable layers.

2. To create a depth map, we need to create a mask. Items that are white on the mask will be kept in focus. Duplicate (option/alt click) the mask from your original lady cut out, to the flattened layer. Now add a white transparent gradient from foreground to the horizon. This will create a sense of distance.

3. Disable the layer mask and with the image selected, go to Filter > Blur > Lens Blur. Under Depth Map Source select: Layer Mask, a Blur Focal Distance of 0 and check Invert. Then finally set the Iris Radius (the amount of blur) to around 50.

The Lens Blur filter is a technique I’ve recently learnt and I’ll never look back!


Hope you found my Photoshop tips and techniques useful. I am always keen to hear about alternative methods so feel free to share your techniques in the comments below. 



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