How To Soften Edges Of A Photo With Photoshop Elements

The idea for this tutorial about How To Soften Edges Of A Photo came from Diane on my facebook page.

I always try to find out what people really want to know how to do in Photoshop Elements. So I posted a fill-in-the-blank comment. This is exactly what I posted:

Fill in the blank: The one thing that I would love to learn how to do or learn more about in Photoshop Elements is ____________________.

There were a couple of people that were interested in masking and a couple of folks wanted to know how to combine photos together.

And then Diane filled in the blank with "how to soften edges of a photo". I decided to address that request because I thought I could use it as a building block to get to the masking and combining photos requests.

Here's the basic effects we're going to learn:

Or, you might like one of these better:

The difference between the 3 final results comes down to changing just one number in the process. I'll explain after going through the basic instructions.

Here's a video that shows how to do the technique.

So let's get started and see how we can soften edges of a photo in a few easy steps…

Step 1. -
  Duplicate The Background Layer.

Let's duplicate the Background Layer so that our changes are made on the duplicate and our original Background Layer remains safely untouched, you know, in case we screw up.

Go to the Layers panel and click-and-drag the Background Layer onto the Create New Layer icon. It looks like a piece of paper with a dog-eared corner.

That will add an exact duplicate of the Background Layer. It will be named Background Copy by default and it will be above the Background Layer in the Layers panel. It's the layer that we'll make our changes on.

Step 2. -
  Make A Selection.

Go up to the Select menu and choose All. Or use the keyboard shortcut: Command-A on a Mac or Control-A on a PC.

That will put a selection around the outside of your entire photo as indicated by the selection marquee or marching ants.

Step 3. -
  Transform Selection.

To soften edges of a photo you need to tell Elements where to begin fading away your photo's edges. That's the reason for this step.

Go way down to the Lower-left of your window. Make sure that Tool Options (instead of Photo Bin) is active. You can tell that it's active by the lite gray box around it.

If it doesn't have the lite gray box around it, you can make it active by clicking on it.

Go up to the Select menu again and this time choose Transform Selection.

A bounding box with 8 handles appears around your photo. Also a green checkmark and a red No symbol appear below your photo.

You can click-and-drag on those handles to change the size of your selection. But for this technique we're going to transform by the numbers.

You might have noticed that the Tool Options at the bottom of your window also changed when you chose Transform Selection.

It gives us some options for transforming our selection. We're going to focus on the Width and Height fields. By default they're at 100%.

First, make sure that the Constrain Proportions box (located right below the W and H fields) is checked. If it's not, click on it to check it.

Now double click inside of the Width field right on 100.00 to highlight it. Now type in 85. Because Constrain Proportions is checked, the Height field will also change to 85.

Notice that the selection changes to reflect the new size. Click on the green checkmark to make the bounding box go away and to commit to the change.

Now you can get an idea of where the softened edges of your photo are going to be.

Step 4. -
  Feather Selection.

Guess what? We're going back up to the Select menu. This time choose Feather.... Or you can avoid the Select menu by using the keyboard shortcut: Command-Option-F on a Mac or Control-Alt-F on a PC.

The Feather Selection dialog box will appear.

Type 10 in the Feather Radius box. Then click OK to confirm your choice and the dialog box will close.

The Feather amount is what will tell Elements how much to soften edges of a photo. So the amount that you enter for the Feather Radius in the dialog box determines how gradual the fading of the edges is.

A higher number results in a more gradual softening of the edges of a photo.

You might notice that the corners of the marching ants marquee are slightly rounded now that we've added a feather to our selection.

Step 5. -  Invert Selection.

Right now the area inside of our selection marquee is what is selected. But we actually want the area outside of the marquee to be selected.

Remember, this is how to soften edges of a photo. In other words we want exactly the opposite of what's now selected.

We can easily do that by visiting our old friend the Select menu. Move your cursor down to Inverse and click on it. Or you could use the keyboard shortcut: Shift-Command-I on a Mac or Shift-Control-I on a PC.

You can tell from the marching ants that the edge of our photo is what's now selected.

Step 6. -  Fill Selection With White.

For the final step to soften edges of a photo, all we need to do is to fill the selection with white. 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 the command.

Now we can finally see what our effect looks like. Well… almost. Those distracting marching ants are in the way.

We don't need our selection any more so go up to the Select menu and choose Deselect. Or use the keyboard shortcut: Command-D on a Mac or Control-D on a PC.

We're done! That's all it takes to soften edges of a photo, just 6 easy steps!   Once again here is the before-and-after of the photo:

How To Change The Results...

If you exactly follow these steps to soften edges of a photo you'll probably get slightly different results than what we got on this photo.

That's because the size of your photo is most likely not the exact same size as mine. The size could refer to either the width-and-height  or to the resolution.

The general rule is: The larger the photo, the less gradual the fade.

My photo was 6.5" x 8.6" and 72 pixels per inch (ppi).

If my photo was twice the size in dimensions (13" x 17.2"). But the same resolution (72ppi). And I applied the same feather amount as we did in Step 4 (10pixels), the fade on the edges would be much less.

It would look more like the photo below.

Everything was done exactly the same as in the steps above. Yet notice how the fade around the edges is less gradual than what we achieved in the photo above. So what's the difference? The width and height are double what the photo above is.

I know it looks the same size. That's because I took the screen shot at 50% so we could see a good comparison to our other results.

There are 2 other things besides the size that will affect the results that you get when you soften edges of a photo.

One is the amount you use for the selection transformation.

We used 85% for the selection transformation in Step 3. That cut pretty far into our photo with the result being that we lost some of the photo around the edges.

If instead you would use 95% and keep the feather amount the same, it would look like the image below.

The rule for selection transformation is: The larger the percentage number, the more of your photo that will remain.

The only thing I did different to get these results was to change the amount of selection transformation that we used in the tutorial. Instead of 85%, I used 95%.

I said there were 2 other things besides the photos size that will affect the results that you get.

The other one is the amount of feather that you apply.

We used 10 pixels for the feather amount in Step 4. Remember, the feather amount determines how gradual and soft the edges fade.

If instead you would use 20 pixels for the feather and keep the selection transformation amount the same, it would look like the image below.

The rule for the amount of feather is: The higher the number of pixels for the feather, the more gradual the fade.

The only thing I did different to get these results was to change the amount of feather that we used in Step 4 of the tutorial. Instead of 10 pixels, I used 20 pixels.

I actually like this version the best. It has a nice gradual fade, yet we didn't lose much of the photo.

So play around with the selection transformation and the feather amount until you get the results that you like.

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