The Feathered Oval Effect is a very popular look. And it's easy to do with Photoshop Elements. I used Photoshop Elements 11 for this tutorial but it can be achieved in other versions as well.
Here's a video that shows how to do the technique.
Just follow these 6 steps...
We'll start the Feathered Oval effect by duplicating the Background Layer so that we make all of our changes to the copy layer.
We could go to the Layers panel and click-and-drag the Background Layer onto the Create New Layer icon like we've done in other tutorials.
That would give us an exact duplicate of the Background Layer in the Layers panel and it would be named "Background Copy" by default.
But let's use a keyboard shortcut this time.
Press Command-J on a Mac or Control-J on a PC to create a new duplicate layer of the Background Layer.
The only difference with this method is that the new duplicate layer is named "Layer 1" by default instead of "Background Copy".
Now we can make our changes to Layer 1 and keep the original Background Layer safely unchanged in case we need to start over.
This is the step where we put the oval into the Feathered Oval effect.
Go to the Toolbox and click on the Elliptical Marquee tool from the top-right of the Select section of the Toolbox.
It shares the same space in the Toolbox with the Rectangular Marquee tool so you might see that there instead.
If the Rectangular Marquee tool is there, go ahead and click on it anyway.
Now you'll have to go down to the Tool Options area in the lower-left area of your window and click on the Elliptical Marquee tool from there to choose it.
With the Elliptical Marquee tool active, move your cursor over your image.
Starting somewhere in the upper-left part of your photo, click-and-drag diagonally down and to the right.
Don't worry about the size or where it is, we will adjust that next. Just click-and-drag so that you get an oval selection.
Your oval selection will be indicated by the marching ants.
In this step we'll determine how much of our photo will show in the feathered oval.
Go up to the Select menu and choose Transform Selection.
A bounding box with 8 handles will appear around your selection. You will also see a green checkmark and a red NO symbol.
Now you can adjust the size of your selection by clicking-and-dragging on the handles of the bounding box.
To make the selection taller click-and-drag out and away from the selection on the center-top or center-bottom handles.
To make the selection shorter click-and-drag in towards the center of the selection on the center-top or center-bottom handles.
To make the selection wider click-and-drag out and away from the selection on the center-left or center-right handles.
To make the selection thinner click-and-drag in towards the center of the selection from the center-left or center-right handles.
That explains what the 4 center handles on the bounding box do. What about the 4 corner handles?
Well you can click-and-drag those diagonally, either away from the selection to make the selection both taller and wider. Or towards the center of the selection to make it both shorter and thinner.
The best way to understand how the Transform Selection Bounding Box works is to just start clicking-and-dragging on the handles to see what happens.
And if you want to move your selection without changing its size, first place your cursor anywhere inside of the bounding box. Your cursor will change to a black arrowhead.
Now you can click-and-drag to move your selection to a different area without resizing it.
Once you let go of the mouse button, your selection will move to the new location as shown below.
Once you have your selection sized and positioned how you want it, click on the green checkmark to commit to the changes and the bounding box will go away.
To get that soft edge around the outside of the oval, we have to feather the selection. That's why it's called the Feathered Oval effect ;^)
Go up to the Select menu and choose Feather....
The Feather dialog box will appear.
There is just one field. It is called the Feather Radius and the amount is in Pixels. The higher the number that you enter in the box, the more gradual your feathered oval will be.
But the amount of fading around the edge will be different for different size photos. For large photos or high-resolution photos, you have to enter larger numbers to get the same amount of fade that you would get with a smaller photo.
My photo is about 5x7 inches and 72 pixels per inch (ppi). For this size photo and the amount of fade that I want, I know I need to use 10 pixels. In general, you'll probably be in the 5 to 30 pixel range.
So I type 10 in the field and then click OK to apply that feather.
Right now the inside of the selection is active, but I want to affect the edges of my oval. So I need exactly the opposite part of my photo selected, in other words I need my selection inverted.
To do that, go up to the Select menu and choose Inverse.
Now you can see from the marching ants that the outside of the oval is selected.
We're on the final step and it's a quick one.
Go up to the Edit menu and choose Fill Selection....
The Fill Layer dialog box will appear. Click on the first field in the dialog box which is called Use.
A pop-up list will appear. Choose White from the list by clicking on it. Then click OK to close the dialog box and commit to your choice.
Get rid of the marching ants by going up to the Select menu and choosing Deselect.
Finally we can see what our feathered oval effect looks like.
You might notice that my final looks different from the "after" photo at the beginning of this tutorial. That's because I made a smaller oval selection for this version.
But those are the 6 steps to achieve the Feathered Oval effect using Photoshop Elements.
The only problem with this technique is that you can't really see what the results of your choices are until the very end. Maybe you wish your oval was bigger or smaller. Or maybe you would like to see what a different feather amount would look like.
One solution is to turn off the visibility of Layer 1 by clicking on the eyeball next to it in the Layers panel and then make the Background Layer active and go through all 6 steps again.
You might be saying "WHAT!!?? go through that whole process again!?"
Well it just seems slow the first time you go through it, but once you have the steps down it's pretty quick.
Another way to try different settings is to go back in the History panel if you know how that works. I'm not going to go over that process here but I just wanted to mention it as an option.
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial! - Rick Peterson
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