Make Photos Dreamlike With These 4 Tools

Delicate, dreamy pictures aren’t always possible without computer editing. But once the hardest work—a well-taken shot that you’re satisfied with—is done, you just have to fine-tune the details. These include colors, softness, and light.

Often in my shots I find that, though everything looks good at first sight, once I press the trigger, the result feels dry somehow. One possible cause is bad light. That’s easy to fix on a computer. Do that, and your photo will suddenly be shinier—transformed. In Zoner Photo Studio you’ll find lots of simple tools for quickly and easily turning a boring photo into a dreamlike one. Today we’ll be looking at a few such tools in the Editor.

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The Gradient Filter

One very simple and quick tool—the Gradient Filter—is in both the Develop module and the Editor. The Editor version has a shortcut key, Shift+G.

gradient_filter

Use this filter when you want to give a picture more light—soft light. What’s great about this filter is that you can make it any color you’d like, to push a photo towards warm or cool tones.

For my first example I chose a photo of roses, where a dreamy effect is a perfect fit.

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Click and drag on the picture to add the gradient filter. Use a light yellow color. Set the filter’s Mode to Screen. That lets the original picture shine through.

I used the Gradient Filter on this picture and chose a soft yellow color. I used the Screen mode.

I used the Gradient Filter on this picture and chose a soft yellow color. I used the Screen mode.

You can also drag the filter’s guidelines to rotate it or change the transition width. Once you’re ready with the effect, click Apply.

The final photo. The flowers feel soft, almost like from a fairy tale.

The final photo. The flowers feel soft, almost like from a fairy tale.

Tilt-shift Effect

Use the Tilt-shift Effect in the Editor’s Effects tools. Its shortcut key is Shift+F. Tilt-shift partially blurs the picture to simulate depth of field. If you’re not getting this effect by using an actual tilt-shift lens because they’re so expensive, then you’re not alone, and you’re in luck: the tool in ZPS is a good imitation. You’ll also appreciate it if you don’t have a fast lens.

tilt_shift_effect

This tool can handle lots of tricks—like faking bokeh. But you have to watch out so that the blurring is only where you want and doesn’t extend into parts that you want to have sharp. So watch out where the light is coming from. After all, you’re interfering in the original picture and changing not only its colors, but also its light diffusion. You’ll have to later add light to the photo and brighten part of it so that everything feels natural. I’ll explain all this through the example of a picture of a girl below.

The original photo of a girl at a window. Nikon D3300, AF-S NIKKOR 18-55 mm 1:3.5-5.6 G II, 1/60 s, f/5, ISO 800, focal length 52 mm

The original photo of a girl at a window.
Nikon D3300, AF-S NIKKOR 18-55 mm 1:3.5-5.6 G II, 1/60 s, f/5, ISO 800, focal length 52 mm

Here I want to blur the background only, and so I’ll be working in the Editor with the Selection Brush (Shift+Q) to mark the girl so that I can leave her sharp. I then invert the selection (Ctrl+Shift+I) so that my edits will affect only the background and other areas behind the girl.

Using selections, you can easily mark just the part of a picture that you want to work with—in this case, the background behind the person.

Using selections, you can easily mark just the part of a picture that you want to work with—in this case, the background behind the person.

I then used the Tilt-shift Effect. That instantly blurred the background, dissolving all the distracting objects such as the door handle. Use the Blur slider towards the bottom to set how much to blur the selected part of the picture. The higher the value here, the more the light will be changed into what’s called “bokeh.” For more dramatic blurring, make use of a second filter—Lens Flare.

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At the end you can also try adding Lens Flare (Shift+R), also a part of the Effects tools. Notice how I’ve manually brightened a part of the girl’s face a little. I did this because the light flowing in from the left diffused when I used Tilt-shift. I adjusted it so that it would throw correctly oriented, natural-looking shadows again.

You can combine the Tilt-shift effect with e.g. Lens Flare.

You can combine the Tilt-shift effect with e.g. Lens Flare.

The final picture.

The final picture.

Lens Flare

I really love Lens Flare, because it always fills a picture with light and gives it a lovely dreamy atmosphere. As seen above, it’s among the Editor’s Effects tools.

lens_flare

The original photo of the girl by the red door. Nikon D3300, AF-S NIKKOR 18-55 mm 1:3.5-5.6 G II, 1/30 s, f/5.6, ISO 200, focal length 55 mm

The original photo of the girl by the red door.
Nikon D3300, AF-S NIKKOR 18-55 mm 1:3.5-5.6 G II, 1/30 s, f/5.6, ISO 200, focal length 55 mm

At the top right and the bottom left corner you can see that I’ve again used the Tilt-shift effect to soften the edges. I then visited Lens Flare, where I left on the checkboxes for Light spot, Light halo, and Additional halos. But it’s up to you what you leave in yours. Because the girl is turned towards the right, I chose a light source in the top left corner. I left it blue, because in combination with the red background it forms a magical contrast.

You can set the Lens Flare effect’s size and color, as well as what elements it should include.

You can set the Lens Flare effect’s size and color, as well as what elements it should include.

The final photo.

The final photo.

Gradient

The last tool I’d like to mention is Gradient. You’ll find it in the Drawing Tools group. It is very similar to the Gradient Filter, and just as simple and quick.

gradient

The original photo of meadow flowers. Nikon D3300, AF-S NIKKOR 18-55 mm 1:3.5-5.6 G II, 1/60 s, f/4.0, ISO 640, focal length 18 mm

The original photo of meadow flowers.
Nikon D3300, AF-S NIKKOR 18-55 mm 1:3.5-5.6 G II, 1/60 s, f/4.0, ISO 640, focal length 18 mm

In the Gradient tool, you set for yourself what colors to use for the gradient. You can create any color combination this way. Click and drag in the picture to set the gradient’s angle and width. I would recommend setting the Mode to Screen, just as you would with the Gradient Filter.

meadow_flowers_edit_1

To set the gradient’s colors, click on the Gradient bar. This shows the Gradient Editor window. Click the arrows above the gradient, and in the Color box, choose the color you want.

The Gradient tool is a simple, intuitive, and effective way to add some dreaminess to a picture. Choose any colors you’d like, and set the mode to Screen. I chose a combination of black and ochre.

The Gradient tool is a simple, intuitive, and effective way to add some dreaminess to a picture. Choose any colors you’d like, and set the mode to Screen. I chose a combination of black and ochre.

The final photo.

The final photo.

There are lots of ways to make a photo dreamlike, from taking pictures through glass to post-editing in Zoner Photo Studio. ZPS offers lots of ways to alter light and depth of field to make a photo feel softer.

If you have your own tips and tools for making photos feel dreamlike, please leave a comment to let us know!

Want to try some of these effects on your photos? Download Zoner Photo studio, try it 30 days for free, and see what you can do.

Last updated 25. April 2017

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Author: Lenora J.

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