Tuesday, 3 December 2019


Sometimes you want to take one of your holiday photos and make it a little more sparkly and festive. You could buy bokeh brushes but it’s really easy to make your own. Let me show you how.

First, open a holiday photo and select the brush tool either with keyboard shortcut B or using the toolbar. I’ll use a hard round brush for sharpness. I ended up selecting about a 200 pixel brush here.

Well, that’s no good! Straight lines aren’t what I need. Let’s try to introduce some randomness.

In the brush settings panel, I’ll click the checkbox on Shape Dynamics and then click in that shaded rectangle which brings up selections specific to that option. Increasing size jitter will vary the size of the dots. Increasing the minimum diameter will ensure the dots stay fairly large which would be realistic for reflecting tree lights. Increasing the roundness jitter a little makes the circles not quite perfect, again for a little more realism.

Now that’s more like it! I opened a new layer above my photo and painted using my brush tool to see how it was looking. I didn’t use one continuous stroke, instead using several for variety. But it still feels a little too perfect…

So I click on Scattering to add more randomness. This brings up another menu with options. I increased the scatter to 800% and the count to 3. The count decides how many additional brush tips will be added to the selection. A larger count would be too busy in this application. Choosing the fade of 10 means that the scattering is gradually reduced based on the number of steps I chose.

Now we’ll work on the opacity of the dots. I could turn the opacity down on the entire layer but that gives no variation in color. So we’ll select the transfer option in the brush panel and that gives us the option of an opacity jitter slider like we used scatter in our last example. Now the color of my dots varies from dark to light in each stroke of my brush.

I’m ready to start brushing now. I used the eyedropper to select the color of the snowflake and clicked several times from the top left to the bottom right. Then, I selected a lighter color and did it again. It’s starting to look like bokeh!

I’ll click on each brush layer in my layers panel and add a Gaussian blur to it. I played around with the radius and decided on 9. You’ll notice that the dots are still a little strong looking. Let’s fix that.

I reduced the opacity on both brush layers so that it looked more realistic. It turned out to be about 60%. We could call it done at this point and scrapbook this photo as is. Or we could go the extra step and add a little more sparkle.

I use my line tool, nested under the rectangle tool, select drawing in pixels instead of in a shape. I choose a small weight of 2 pixels because I want to draw a thin line.

I draw a tiny line and then apply a motion blur to it like so. I want the edges of the line to extend.

Then I duplicate that layer and use the transform tool to rotate it 90 degrees. I merge those two layers together, duplicate THAT layer and rotate it 45 degrees to create a little starburst. Another touch is to slightly reduce the size of one half of the starburst to make it less symmetrical.

To get the little hazy circle around the starburst, I’ll use my elliptical tool to draw a circle around the starburst. Then I’ll add a tiny 1 pixel stroke to create the line. Next, add a Gaussian blur to the stroked circle. That’s perfect! Now I can merge the layers, duplicate it, resize the copies to varying sizes and place them over some of the lights on my photo to create sparkles.

Is there an easy button for this? I searched the custom tools and found a sun shape that is quite similar. There is a tiny circle inside but it works fine when placed over the tree lights on my photo.

Zoomed in and at full opacity these are a little obvious. But that’s an easy fix, just reduce the size and opacity until they are just a nice sparkle over the lights. I also erased a couple of the bokeh dots that were distracting on top of the tree. Here’s my final version with multiple sparkles included. What do you think?

I hope I’ve given you a little trick you can use with your photos this holiday season.


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