We’ve used this technique more often than we’ve thought. Blurring the background on a photo is an essential Photoshop skill you need to have if you’re a photographer, amateur or professional. It can be used to add an artistic touch or hide some imperfection in the photo.
Let’s face it… Photobombs do happen.
You’ve taken that award winning photo, but as you go to post it, you notice Uncle Roger in the background making a really stupid face and effectively destroying the picture.
Perhaps your subject is a person on a city street at night, and you’d like to accomplish a background something like this:
Luckily Photoshop comes with the Blur Gallery of which we will take advantage of three of the five available options in this tutorial. The effects are quick and easy and will easily leave just the focus on just your subject.
For this Photoshop how-to we will be using a photo of a woman on a city street in Tokyo at night:
Credit: Wikimediaimages on Pixabay
Blurring a photo background offers a quick and easy way to stylize a photo, bring out an artistic flair, or just hide Uncle Roger’s photobomb!
Blurring a Background In Photoshop CC Using Blur Gallery Tutorial
For each of the examples, I recommend that you convert your image to a smart object by choosing Layer > Smart Objects > Convery to Smart Object. This will allow the filters to be applied non-destructively.
#1. Field Blur
Of the three filters Field Blur is the easiest to use but can also be the most time consuming and we will show you why. With your image open in Photoshop and converted to a smart object choose Filter > Blur Gallery > Field Blur… When the editing window opens up you will see one Blur Pin with the entire image blurred. If you click on the pin you can do any of the following:
- Placing your cursor next to the adjustment ring, the gray ring surrounding the pin, click and drag up or down to increase or decrease the blur. For an exact blur value, use the Blur Tools panel.
- You can click and drag the blur pin to a new position.
- With the pin selected you can also delete it.
Now that we know how to use the pins we can add more pins to further specify the areas that we want to be blurred.
If you move your cursor away from the first pin you will get a “+” next to your cursor that will allow us to drop another blur pin.
With each pin you can add more blur to an area or you can restrict blur from happening in that area by setting it to zero. The more blur pins that you add and the more that you adjust the blur settings
As you can see it takes quite a few pins to get the effect that we are going for. Each pin has its own setting for blur allowing us to focus in on just the woman. Most of your pins will be inside or around the image that you are trying to keep sharp.
By pressing M you can see the blur mask. The areas in white are what is blurred and the areas in black are what is being protected from being blurred.
Once you are happy with your image you can select the OK button in the top toolbar.
Here we can see our final image, which looks pretty good!
If you zoom in you will find some areas that need to be touched up around her, but overall much quicker than using the Marquee tool and playing with different featherings.
#2. Iris Blur
Our next filter is the Iris Blur Filter found under the same menu location Filters > Blur Gallery > Iris Blur. What you will notice with this filter is that it allows a lot more adjustment for each pin than the Field Blur. When you first select Iris Blur and the filter window pops up you will see a blur pin like you did before. There will also be an oval with a few handles that help you modify the blur, as well as controls to the right. Below you will see an illustration showing what each handle and control modifies:
- Center Pin
- Blur Ring
- Feather Handles
- Ellipse Handles
- Roundness Knob
- Control Panel
- Blu Effects
Just as you modified the intensity of the blur with the adjustment ring in the Field Blur Filter, you can do the same here or enter your exact figure in the right panel. This will modify the intensity of the blur outside of the ellipse. Next, the ellipse is the main point of control as it decides where the blur starts.
Anything outside of the ellipse will be blurred at full strength. You can change the shaped of the ellipse by clicking and grabbing any of the four square Ellipse Handles on the ellipse ring and even turn the ellipse into a rectangle with the Roundness Knob.
Here you can see how the Roundness Knob changes the ellipse into a rounded rectangle.
You can rotate or change the size of the ellipse by placing your cursor alongside any of the Ellipse Handles and dragging. If you click and drag inside of the ellipse it will allow you to reposition the entire ellipse.
Next to further modify the blur you can use the Feather Handles.
These handles decipher the transition of the gradient between what you want crisp and the partial blur moving out to the ellipse. The further away the handles are from the ellipse the smoother and more gradual the blur transition will be. When you click on one Feather Handle you will notice that all of the handles move together. In order to move one separately from the others hold down the Option/Alt key as you drag.
Once you have the effect that you are looking for go ahead and press OK in the top toolbar.
The Iris Blur Filter is a very powerful effect and allows for a lot of adjustments. While we just used one pin the Iris Blur Filter does allow you to add more pins by clicking outside of the ellipse. All of the adjustments work the same as above for the additional pins allowing making it even more powerful if you need more than one focal point.
#3. Tilt-Shift Blur
This filter replicates the effects of the extreme perspective control lenses, basically allowing the user to have focus on a portion of an image that is not in the center of the lens.
For this example, we are going to use this image of a castle that’s a better use of the Tilt-Shift Blur:
When you first open the filter, just like with the other filters, an adjustment ring will be at the center of the image, but this time accompanied by a set of dashed lines appearing on either side of it. These dashed lines represent the boundary where the fully blurred portions of the image are from the start of the gradient to the protected part of the image.
You can move the protected area by clicking and dragging on the pin or even rotate it by placing your cursor just outside of the small circle on either solid line and clicking and dragging. If you would like to narrow or widen the protected area click and drag on the dashed lines. To control how gradual the gradient is, click on the solid line and drag it closer or further from the dashed line. Then to control the intensity of the blur you click and drag the adjustment ring like you did with the other two filters.
In addition, you can add a motion blur effect along The foreground of the image by adjusting the Distortion slider in the panel to the right. If you would like to apply this to both sides then select the Symmetric Distortion checkbox.
Once you are you have the effect that you are looking for click OK in the top toolbar so see the final photo.
As if this post was not long enough there are a few extra cool features that will really make your images pop.
#4. Additional Features
For each of these filters, there is a panel to the right called Effects. What these controls do is allows us to convert out-of-focus areas into highlights using bokeh effect.
- Light Bokeh – Controls the intensity. The further right the slider, the more pronounced the effect.
- Bokeh Color – Increases the intensity of the saturation of the bokeh.
- Light Range – This lets you specify the spectrum of the tonal values affected by the first two controls. Just move the black and white triangles in to specify your end points.
Below you will see an example. What you will notice is that you are modifying the colors outside of your protected area. Also, note that the Light Bokeh slider must be higher than 0% to see any changes.
With all of the filters there is a toolbar at the top that allows a few extra features:
- Selection Bleed – Controls the amount of bleed to feathers into the selected area.
- Focus – Allows you to change the focus of the protected area if you wanted it to be slightly out of focus as well.
- Save Mask to Channels – Creates a mask based on the blur you have created in the Channels Panel. You can later reload this mask at any time and use additional Photoshop tools to add more blur.
- High Quality – This will create more a more accurate preview of your blur, but will also decrease the performance of your computer.
Now that we have shown you multiple examples of the powerful Blur Gallery it is now your turn to go experiment. Eventually, you will find which filter works best for the effect that you are looking for and be able to blur out those unfortunate photobombers quickly and easily!