How to Blur a Background in Photoshop

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How to blur a background

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Depth of field tricks like a blurred background can make a photo look far more professional, or just focus in on the elements of the image you want to draw attention to. Whatever your reasoning, learning how to blur a background in Photoshop is a great way to add a neat look to your pictures to help them stand out from the crowd.

The following guide focuses on the Adobe Photoshop CC version 20.0.4. Most methods will also work with older versions of Photoshop, but the methodology may not be as exact.

What to Use to Blur a Background

The actual blurring of a background is the most exciting part of the process, but you need the right tools. Here's a few different ways you can do it.

Magic Wand

The Magic Wand (fourth from the top in the Tools menu) is the quickest and easiest tool for selecting a background, even if it has its drawbacks. It works best on pictures with a clear background that heavily contrasts with the foreground. Once selected, click or tap the background of your picture to select it. You can hold Shift to continue to select additional elements if required.

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

Lasso

If your background is too complicated for the Magic Wand, the Lasso tool gives you more control over how to select it.

The standard Lasso lets you free draw your selection; Polygonal Lasso lets you draw straight lines. The Magnetic Lasso will try to stick to the edges of part of your image, in our case, the background. Click or tap and hold the Lasso tool (third from the top in the Tools menu) to choose which one to use.

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.

Quick Mask

A much more hands-on method of selecting the background, it’s the second tool from the bottom of the Tools bar and looks like a greyscale EU flag.

  1. Select the Quick Mask tool.

  2. Select the Brush tool from the Tools menu, then use careful brush strokes to paint over everything you want to select. It will turn red.

  3. When finished, select the Quick Mask icon again to take a look at your complete selection.

You can also use the Erase tool to fine tune your selection.

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

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

How to Blur in Photoshop

Now that you've selected your background you can begin the process of blurring it. There are a few different ways you can go about it to achieve different effects. Give the aforementioned tools a try and see what you think of the results.

Gaussian Blur

The most basic of all blurs, but often the most effective, Gaussian Blur merges and overlaps all pixels together creating a generalized blur effect.

  1. Select Gaussian Blur, then use the slider to decide how blurred you want your background to be.

  2. You can use the preview window to take a look at a portion of your image, or select the Preview box to see what it would look like across the whole image.

    How to blur
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  3. When you're happy with the result, select OK and wait for it to be applied.

Motion Blur

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

  1. Select Motion Blur.

  2. Use the Distance modifier to change how strong a blur effect you want.

  3. You can also change the angle of the motion by entering a number in the corresponding box, or click and drag the small reticule.

Lens Blur

For a more subtle blurring more akin to what's achieved by using a shallow depth of field when taking the picture, use Lens Blur. It has a myriad of options to play with, including:

  • Radius: Affects the strength of the blur.
  • Shape and Blade Curvature: Adjusts the virtual lens that will shape the blur.
  • Specular highlights: Used to increase 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.

Radial Blur

For a unique look, try applying a Radial Blur. It's not a natural look for an image, but really makes your foreground subject appear as though they just stepped through some sort of portal.