Street iPhoneography in my home city of Lincoln, captured using the classic Hipstamatic app and then edited because I wanted a shallow depth of field.

I love shooting ‘wide open’ to achieve a shallow depth of field. This helps focus the eye on the subject but also adds a sense of mystery to the background not to mention the beautful ‘bokeh’ effect of out of focus light spots. In iPhoneography, this effect straight out of camera is restricted to macro type shots where the camera is almost as close as its focusing range will allow. We therefore have to mimic the effect using apps in post processing. This can be a challenge.

This iPhoneography tutorial looks at the quickest possible way I could find to mimic the effect satisfactorily on an image with some challenging aspects.

iPhone photography apps used:

VSCOcam - Made It Home

{ made it home }


Process and apps used

Note: AfterFocus reduces resolution on iPad3 to 2,048 x 2,048. On an iPhone5 it has much higher resolution capability.

Hipstamatic ~ initial capture. This combination is Lucifer VI lens and Nike AO DLX film:

Hipstamatic - Lucifer VI lens / AO DLX Film

Filterstorm ~ crop border away retaining the 1:1 ratio. No need for me to re-size as the resolution is well above the 2,000 x 2,000 minimum I look for:

iPhoneography - filterstorm crop

Snapseed ~ add the standard Drama filter:

This is { image one }:

snapseed - standard drama filter

This iPhoneography image presented 2 main challenges when attempting to achieve a reasonably realistic depth of focus. These are outlined on the 2 images below. Specifically:

  • The area likely to be in focus is defined by an approximate reverse ‘L’ shape, and
  • Masking the focused area manually without severely impacting quality would be very difficult primarily because of the wheel spokes which should ideally be in focus whilst the path beyond should be moving out of focus. Additionally as the capture is in black and white some of the automated masking tools are likely to be less effective than normal.

iPhoneography depth of field - horizontal and vertical focal area

iPhoneography depth of field - fine detail

Ultimately, I decided that manual masking was not an option and so adopted the following process…

AfterFocus ~ using just the ‘fading background’ tool I positioned the focal line across the horizontal area I wanted in focus and turned on the ‘bokeh’ option. Blur amount is left at standard preset:

This is { image two }:

afterfocus - no-mask / fading background / bokeh

Filterstorm ~ I need to add another focal line vertically but AfterFocus only allows ‘fading background’ to be applied horizontally. I therefore bring image one in to Filterstorm where it is rotated 90 degrees:

filterstorm - rotate

AfterFocus ~ I repeat the earlier process. Using just the ‘fading background’ tool I positioned the focal line across the now horizontal area I wanted in focus and turned on the ‘bokeh’ option. Blur amount is left at standard preset:

This is { image three }:

afterfocus - no mask / fading background / bokeh

Filterstorm ~ I re-orientate image three by rotating back through 90 degrees:

This is { image four }:

filterstorm - rotate

Superimpose ~ images three and four are imported and layered under ‘normal’ with a transparency set at 50pct. At this point I feel the effect I am looking for with the rear wheel is achieved. The spokes are quite sharp whilst the background through them is out of focus. Focusing is ‘soft’ and I quite like that look but some sharpening could be considered. I chose not to:

This is { image five }:

superimpose - blend normal 50pct

Superimpose ~ I need to correct the ghosting effect on the figure. Image four is imported over image five and a shallow gradient linear mask applied vertically so that image four gradually merges with image five working right to left. This is to fully apply the vertical focal line which was watered down by the previous process. Layers are blended under ‘normal’ at 0pct transparency:

Screen Grab

superimpose - blend / mask

VSCOcam ~ The final image is imported in to VSCOcam and the standard B3 filter applied (a classic BW filter). Although the image is already black and white, automated adjustments in highlight, shadow, contrast, exposure, and various other settings are applied. These can be adjusted but I accept the standard settings:

The image is uploaded to my VSCO grid which can be viewed at

iPhoneography VSCOcam B3




  1. Very Interesting work-flow to get a full bokeh all around the focus area.

    You might want to try Tadaa 3D, they have quite sophisticated bokeh engine, that they claim much better than AfterFocus or BigLens.


    • Skip says:

      Hi, thanks Chris. I read a little about that. Will take a more detailed look. I’m not sure about the bokeh engine would need to compare but for this image it’s the masking capability that’s the issue and this image really didn’t suit masking at all.

  2. tillie says:

    thanks for the excellent detail in your workflow skip. i just recently discovered your site and really look forward to future content. great stuff here…

  3. Anthony Hutchinson says:

    Once again another nicely done tutorial. One question. Why not use the manual mode in AfterFocus which allows you to manually select the areas of focus/out-of-focus, instead of rotating the image?

    • Skip says:

      Hi Anthony thank you. Certainly I could have done that and I normally do adopt that approach – this workflow is one example: . On this occasion though I was concerned about getting an accurate mask. I’m not suggesting using the manual or intelligent masking tools would be the wrong approach. I just felt this image would work better using the fading background tool in isolation and where the two versions meet when blended (at that problem back wheel) I felt worked well. I do think it would be handy if that tool could be used vertically as well as horizontally. As always there’s never a right or wrong answer.

  4. Great image Skip. Some nice tips to try out later for myself. |Thanks again for sharing.

  5. […] para combinar distintas aplicaciones y adaptarlas a las distintas situaciones. Podemos ver ejemplos aquí o […]

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