Adding a bokeh background

Hoverfly in flight

I was pleased the other day to capture this little hoverfly in mid hover with the light captured in its wings.  However, the original shot wasn’t quite as nice.

The background is my patio.  It is smooth and doesn’t distract the eye away from the subject but it is not very pretty.  A lovely smooth green would have been ideal but the hoverfly ignored my polite request that it hover over the lawn.  So I decided to improve the shot with a little photoshop magic.

Homemade texture

I have a growing collection of what I call “garden bokeh” images.  They are easy to make. Just find a pretty flower bed and some dappled light and, using manual focus, twiddle the focus ring until you get something you like.  Then snap.  (I like the soft circles that a wide aperture brings – the above is f3.2 – but if you want harder shapes, go for a narrower aperture.)  After a bit of experimenting, I decided on this pink, white and green shot for my new background.  Then it was an easy matter of copying and pasting the bokeh image onto my original.  I usually experiment with various blend modes.  Depending on the look you are after, you are likely to end up using soft light, overlay, hard light, multiply or screen.  The last two have quite a defined impact: multiply will apply the shadows in the new layer whereas screen will apply the highlights.  The other three overlay all tones but with varying intensity.  In this case, hard light worked best.  If the bokeh had been more contrasty, a softer overlay would probably have been better. Then a small amount of black brushing where the new layer was slightly obscuring the hoverfly and, hey presto!

It’s really no different from using a texture, except the over-layer doesn’t actually have any texture, just soft bubbles of colour.

Is it cheating?  Not at all, in my opinion.  Both images were taken by me and it is no different from double exposing film or choosing a complementary background in a studio.  What do you think?