Create a dreamy photo effect with Photoshop Elements

This tutorial will show you how to take a photo of that soft, dreamy quality. This is especially good for close-ups and portraits, as it softens the photo and minimizes distracting details. This tutorial will show you some of the benefits of using blend modes, adjustment layers, and clipping masks. Some may consider these advanced features, but you’ll find it’s not that hard.

We’ll be using Photoshop Elements 4 for this tutorial, but the necessary features are available in other versions of Photoshop and Elements, as well as in other photo editors like Paint Shop Pro. If you need help customizing a step, you can ask the discussion forum for help.

Right click and save this training image to your computer: dreamy-start.jpg

To continue, open the practice image in the standard editing mode of Photoshop Elements or any other photo editor you will be working with. You can follow your own image, but you will need to adjust some values ​​when working with another image.

  1. Duplicate a layer, blur and change the blending mode
  2. Adjust brightness/contrast
  3. Copy the merged and add a solid fill layer
  4. Create Clipping Mask Shape
  5. Convert vector shape to pixels
  6. Group with previous to create clipping mask
  7. Adjust Clipping Mask Position
  8. Blur Clipping Mask for a soft edge effect
  9. Add some finishing touches

Duplicate a layer, blur and change the blending mode

With the image open, show the layers palette if it isn’t already open ( Window > Layers † In the layers palette, right click on the background layer and select Duplicate low … Enter a new name for this layer instead of Background copy call it soften and press Okay

The duplicate layer appears in the layers palette and should already be selected. Go to Filter > Gaussian Blur † Enter a value of 8 pixels for the blur radius. If you are working with a different image, you may need to change this value up or down depending on the size of the image. Click Okay and you should get a very blurry image!

But we’re going to change that with the magic of blending modes. At the top of the layers palette you should have a menu with normal as the selected value. This is the blend mode menu. It controls how the current layer blends with the layers below. Change the value here in mode Screen and see what happens to your image. The photo already has this beautiful, dreamy effect. If you feel like you’ve lost too much detail, adjust the Opacity of the Soften layer using the Opacity slider at the top of the Layers palette. We’ve set the Opacity to 75%, but feel free to experiment here.

Adjust brightness/contrast

Locate the button at the top of the layers palette. New Adjustment Layer † Hold down a key alt Parameter on a Mac), click this button and choose from the menu Brightness / Contrast † In the New Layer dialog box, check the box group with Last Low and press Okay † This ensures that the setting Brightness / Contrast affects only the layer soften not all layers below.

Then you should see customization controls Brightness / Contrast † This is subjective, so feel free to experiment with these values ​​to get the “dreamy” quality you like. We increased the brightness to +15 and the contrast to +25. When you’re happy with the values, click Okay

That’s basically all there is to the dreamy effect, but we’ll show you how to give an image a blurred edge effect.

Copy the merged and add a solid fill layer

So far, we’ve done our job without ever changing the original photo. It’s still there, no change in the background layer. You can even hide the Soften layer to remind you what the original looked like. But for the next step we need to merge our layers into one. Instead of using the merge layers command, we’re going to use a merged copy and keep these layers intact.

To do this, run Select > ALL (Ctrl-A) than Edit > Copy Merged and then Edit > Paste † You have a new layer at the top of the layer palette. Double click on the name of the layer and name it “Dreamy Merge”.

In the layers menu New customization select solid color …and drag the cursor up to the top left corner of the Color Picker to fill it with pure white. Click Okay † Drag this layer below the “Dreamy Merged” layer in the layer palette.

Create Clipping Mask Shape

  1. Select the custom shape tool from the toolbar.

  2. In the options bar, click the arrow next to Swatch Form to open the Shapes palette.

  3. Click the small arrow on the Shapes palette and select Crop shapes to load them into the Shapes palette.

  4. Then select Trim shape 10 in the palette.

  5. Make sure that the style is not fixed (a white square with a red line through it) and that the color can be anything.

Convert vector shape to pixels

Click in the top left corner of the image and drag to the bottom right corner to create a shape, but leave some extra space around all the edges of the photo. Then press the button Simplify on the options panel. This converts the shape of a vector object to pixels. Vector objects are great when you need a sharp, clean edge, but we need a soft edge and we can only run the blur filter on a pixel layer.

Group with previous to create clipping mask

After you hit simplify, the shape seems to be gone. It’s there, it’s just behind the “Dreamy Fusion” layer. Click on the “Dreamy Merged” layer in the layers palette to select it, then go to Layer>Group with the previous one. Like magic, the dreamy photo is cropped to the shape of the layer below. That’s why Group from previous command is also called a “clipping group”.

Adjust Clipping Mask Position

Click now Form 1 in the layers palette, then select move tools on the toolbar. Hover over one of the small squares that appear on the sides and corners of the bounding box and click once to enter transform mode. The bounding box changes to a solid line and the options bar displays some transformation options. Swipe the numbers in the rotation box and enter 180. The clipping shape will rotate 180 degrees. Press the button Finch or click on enter to accept it.

This step is optional; we just liked how the shape looks better with the rounded corner on the top edge and it was another chance to teach you something.

If you want to adjust the position of the clipping shape, you can now do that with the Move tool.

Blur Clipping Mask for a soft edge effect

The Shape 1 layer must be selected in the layers palette. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur † Adjust the radius to your liking; The higher the number, the softer the edge effect. We went from 25.

Add some finishing touches

Not necessary † If you want the borders to be a color other than white, just double click the left thumbnail on the layer Color fill 1 and choose another color. You can even hover over the document and it will turn into an eyedropper, allowing you to pick a color from the image. We chose the color of the pink girls shirt.

Save as PSD if you want to keep your layers intact for further editing. As long as you save your layers, you can still change the border color and crop shape. You can even change the dream effect, although you’ll need to paste a new merged copy on top of the shape and color fill layers if you do.

For the final image, we added text and paw prints with a special brush. Check out our paw brush tutorial.

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