Draw your viewer’s attention from one part of a shot to another by adding a rack focus effect in Adobe Premiere Pro that animates blurriness, or bokeh.
Woman holds tablet that displays ad for Elevation Footwear where a hiker sits on a high ledge in a rocky landscape

What you'll need

This sample file is an Adobe Stock asset you can use to practice what you learn in this tutorial. If you want to use the sample file beyond this tutorial, you can purchase a license on Adobe Stock. Check out the ReadMe file in the folder for the terms that apply to your use of this sample file. Any reference to “Elevation Footwear” is for demonstration purposes only and is not intended to refer to any actual organization, products, services, or creative work.

Bokeh is the pleasing effect resulting from the gentle blurring of objects outside the depth of field of a lens. By carefully applying a mask in Adobe Premiere Pro, you can achieve a similar result on footage that was not shot this way in camera — and by keyframing the blur effect on that mask, you can simulate a focus pull or rack focus effect.

Starting in the Editing workspace, apply the Gaussian Blur effect (Shift+7) to your clip in V1. In the Effect Controls panel (Shift+5), increase the Blurriness value to see the effect. Click the Repeat Edge Pixels option to clean up your edges. In the Opacity section, use one of the three mask shape tools to draw a mask in the Program Monitor around the subject you want to isolate in your focus pull. Our example assumes that this area of interest lies in the foreground. If the subject moves across the frame, you’ll need to keyframe the Mask Path to follow it. Finally, click Inverted. 

Adobe Premiere Pro shows the Editing workspace. In the Program Monitor a mask hides the hiker and a Gaussian Blur effect is applied

Drag the feathering handle (open circle) and mask expansion square to smooth the transition between the sharp details and blurriness. 

Program Monitor shows the feathering handle and mask expansion increased

Option/Alt-drag a duplicate video clip up to V2. Select the clip below it on V1, delete the opacity mask, and reset its Gaussian Blur effect. You should now see a clip that’s blurry except for where you drew the mask. 

Duplicate clip appears in timeline, Gaussian Blur effect is reset, and Program Monitor shows simulated shallow focus

To simulate a focus pull, set two Blurriness keyframes in each clip the same distance apart, ranging from zero to whatever value works for your footage. Reverse the order of the keyframe values between these two clips. For example, if the top clip has values of 0 and 25, set them to 25 and 0 in the bottom clip. As you play the sequence, you’ll see the focus range from far away to close up, or vice versa.

Gaussian Blur effect in Effect Controls panel shows two Blurriness keyframes, set at 25 and 0

Try adding more keyframes so that the area of focus cycles between objects in the distance and those that are close up, as determined by the position of the opacity mask. 

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03/04/2020

Adobe Stock contributors: Tiffany, Kaspars Grinvalds

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