Adobe teases ‘Focus masks’ for Photoshop CC that let you separate objects from defocused backgrounds

by Felix Esser

posted Thursday, June 12, 2014 at 2:40 PM EDT

Groundbreaking new features usually only make their way into Photoshop when a new version comes out -- but then again, with everything being in the Cloud now, updates will appear continuously and out of the previous scheme based on version numbers. In a recent video, Adobe Photoshop product manager Zorana Gee teases a new feature that reshapes the way object masks can be created.

Labelled 'Focus masks,' the feature creates a mask based on pixels that are in focus vs. pixels that are out of focus, this way basically isolating in-focus subjects from their out-of-focus environment. As with other Photoshop tools, the sensitivity of the mask can be customized and different areas of an image can be masked with different settings, making sure that more complex subjects can be properly masked.

In the video, Gee demonstrates the feature at the example of a photo with a human subject against a slightly defocused background. By applying the 'Focus masks' tool to the subject, it can be isolated from the background based on the difference between in-focus and out-of-focus pixels. Gee then inverts the mask in order to be able to edit the background, and then applies adjustments to it.

Judging from the video, we assume that the 'Focus masks' tool analyzes pixels according to their contrast, and then decides which parts of the image are in focus, and which are out of focus. This of course has a lot of margin for error, for example in low-contrast areas which are in focus, vs. out-of-focus areas with busy bokeh such as defocused foliage. This means that, just as with most other Photoshop features, the automatic mask will have to be customized by the user in many cases.

In theory, 'Focus masks' should be able to distinguish even between only slightly defocused backgrounds and their in-focus counterparts, which would make it possible to further blur an image's background to achieve a full-frame or even medium format subject isolation effect, even when using cameras with APS-C-sized or smaller sensors.

The new feature is scheduled to appear on June 18th, which is only a couple of days from now. It is safe to assume that as soon as it is available to Photoshop CC users, we will see a flood of examples that demonstrate its capabilities. In the final seconds of the video, Gee announces that even more will be coming to Photoshop and the Creative Cloud -- so stay tuned. We'll keep you updated.

Is there anything in particular that you'd like to see in Photoshop CC? Let us know in your comments!

(via dpreview)