How to Blur a Background in Photoshop

Get professional backgrounds without being an expert photographer

What to Know

  • Select the background, then Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur > OK.
  • The Magic Wand is the quickest, easiest way to select a background.
  • You can use Gaussian, Motion, Lens or Radial blur tools to reach the desired effect.

This article covers discuss a four different ways to achieve a blurring effect and explains how to select the background so you can begin.

The methods used here apply to Adobe Photoshop 2020. They'll also work with older versions, although the exact steps might vary slightly.

First, Select the Background

Before you blur the background, you must select it. There are a few ways to do this.

Use the Magic Wand

Fourth from the top in the Tools menu, the Magic Wand tool gives you the quickest and easiest way to select the background. This method works best on a photo with a clear background that contrasts with the foreground.

The Magic Wand in Photoshop

Select the Magic Wand and click on the background. Hold down Shift to select additional elements if required. If the tool isn't selecting much of the background, increase the Tolerance at the top of the screen.

The Tolerance setting for the Magic Wand

If you don't see the Tools menu, select Window > Tools from the top menu bar.

Use the Lasso

If your background is too complicated for the Magic Wand, try the Lasso tool, which gives you even more control.

The standard Lasso lets you free-draw your selection; Polygonal Lasso lets you draw in straight lines. The Magnetic Lasso tries to stick to the edges or borders of objects in your image.

Click or tap and hold the Lasso tool (third from the top in the Tools menu) to choose one of the three Lasso tools.

The Lasso tool in Photoshop

Make sure to draw completely around whatever you want to select. You can always "close" the selection early by pressing Ctrl or CMD, then click or tap anywhere on the image.

Use Quick Mask

This is a much more hands-on method of selecting the background.

  1. Select the Quick Mask tool. It's the second tool from the bottom of the Tools bar and looks like a grayscale EU flag.

    The Quick Mask tool in Photoshop
  2. Select the Brush tool from the Tools menu, and then use careful brush strokes to paint over your subject. It will turn red. Use the Size menu at the top of the screen to increase and decrease the size of your brush as necessary.

    If you don't see red strokes when you paint, press X on your keyboard to ensure you're painting with black. If you make a mistake, press X again to switch to white, and then paint over the area again to deselect it.

    The Brush tool in Photoshop
  3. When finished, select the Quick Mask icon again to see your selection.

    If you find that you've actually selected the foreground rather than the background, just press CMD (or Ctrl) + Shift + I to invert your selection.

    A highlighted background in Photoshop

Whatever method you use, be careful not to click or tap anywhere in the main window once you've selected the background; this could invalidate your selection. If you do, press CMD (or Ctrl on Windows) + Z to undo your action, or press CMD (or Ctrl) + Alt + Z to undo several steps.

How to Blur the Selected Background

Now that you've selected your background, you can choose from several different blurring options to achieve various effects.

Gaussian Blur

The most basic but effective of blur tools, Gaussian Blur merges and overlaps all pixels to create a generalized blur effect.

  1. Select Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.

    The Gaussian Blur command in Photoshop
  2. Use the slider to decide how blurred you want the background to be.

    Use the preview window to look at a portion of your image, or select Preview to see the whole image.

    The Radius slider for Gaussian Blur in Photoshop[
  3. When you're happy with the result, select OK.

    The OK button in the Gaussian Blur window
  4. Photoshop will apply the blur effect to the selected area only. Press Command/Ctrl+D to deselect and see the final result.

    An image in Photoshop with a blurred background

Motion Blur

This effect gives the impression of movement, as if the background is moving at high speed or the photographer is quickly moving past it.

  1. Select Filter > Blur > Motion Blur.

    The Motion Blur option in Photoshop
  2. Use the Distance modifier to change the strength of the blur effect.

    The Distance slider in the Motion Blur window
  3. If desired, change the angle of the motion by entering a number in the corresponding box, or click and drag the small reticule.

    It'll be easier to see how the angle affects the final effect if you adjust it after setting the distance.

    The Angle adjustment in Motion Blur
  4. Select OK to accept the changes.

    The OK button
  5. Photoshop will apply the blur effect to the selected area only. Press Command/Ctrl+D to deselect and see the final result.

    An image with a Motion Blur effect added.

Lens Blur

For a more subtle blurring that's akin to a shallow depth of field in photography, use Lens Blur. It has a number of options to play with, including:

  • Radius: Affects the strength of the blur.
  • Shape and Blade Curvature: Adjust the virtual lens that shapes the blur.
  • Specular highlights: Increases the brightness of some portions of the image to imitate a longer exposure than when the image was initially taken.

Play around with the settings until you find the effect you like, then select OK.

Lens Blur options in Photoshop

Radial Blur

For a unique look, try applying a Radial Blur. It's not a natural look, but it makes your foreground subject appear as though it emerged through some sort of portal.

Radial Blur doesn't include a preview, so you may have to try several options until you get the effect you want.

An image in Photoshop with a Radial Blur applied to it