Note: there are several updates to this entry at the bottom.
Okay, let’s get started.
- The most important part of this process is picking a good photo. There are basically 2 key components: aerial photography and strong lighting. You want this to look like you took the picture standing next to a model that’s lit by a shop lamp.
- Open your photo and create a new transparent layer named Mask.
- Right click the new layer and select “Add layer mask”
- Reset your colors by pressing the [d] key. You should have black as foreground and white as background now.
- Grab the gradient tool, select the FG to BG (RGB) gradient, and set the shape to Bi-linear.
- Now pick out an imaginary focal point somewhere on your picture. When you take real closeup pictures of small objects with a nice camera, the focal point will be in sharp focus while the rest will be out of focus.
- Once you’ve got your focal point, click and drag the gradient in a vertical path starting from the focal point. It doesn’t matter if it’s perfect. This may take you a few tries to get just the way you want it. Note that you won’t be able to see the gradient in your image, just in the mask thumbnail in the layers dialog.
- Right click the Mask layer, and select “Mask to selection”. Now you’ll see some marching ants in a rectangle, but don’t be deceived. The selection area indicated by the ants only indicates pixels that are more than 50% selected. If you take a look at the Selection Editor dialog, you’ll see what the selection really looks like. (By the way, if anyone knows a better way to simulate Photoshop’s quick mask, I’d love to hear it.)
- Activate the Background layer and click Filters>Blur>Gaussian blur. I used a 15 pixel radius, but you’ll probably want to experiment with different levels of blur. Press [Ctrl]+[Shift]+[a] to deselect.
- Now for the color. Again, you’ll probably want to experiment as the values in this step are highly subjective. Here’s what I did: click Layer>Colors>Brightness-Contrast and bump the contrast up to 15. Then I bumped the color up a bit in the curves dialog (Layer>Colors>Curves).
That’s pretty much it. I mentioned several times that you’ll want to experiment, and I’ll say it again. This isn’t a formula so much as a guideline. The values for any of the above steps will need to be adjusted to taste for any photo, unless you pick this exact photo and you want it to look exactly like I made it look.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial adaptation. Thank you for following along.
Update: I realized after reading Alexanders comment that we could eliminate a couple of steps, so the article has been modified.
Update 2: Commenter Achim has pointed out the Focus Blur plugin made by Kyoichiro Suda. This really is a nice plugin, and I’ve been having fun with it today, but you must be using linux and you must have the libgimp2.0-dev package installed. For those reasons, I’m not going to include a tutorial for it because I think it’s just too exclusionary. If you’re savvy and you want a more powerful blur option, I highly recommend it.
Here’s the same photo blurred with the Focus Blur plugin:
Update 3: I was looking through the keyboard shortcut options and found the Quickmask! It’s [Shift]+[Q]. There is also a tiny little button in the lower-left corner of the image window that toggles the quickmask. I may do some short tutorials on its use in the future.