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Yes Please

There will be a time when you will want to have a blurred background rather than your original image.

Maybe you’re background is distracting, or unfavourable. This is particularly true when shooting in a crowd.

A sporting event or carnival will have spectators and a busy background. Both of these are often impossible to crop out of your frame. But a blurred background can fix that in no time.

In this post, we’ll show you the easiest ways to accomplish a blurred background in Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, step-by-step.

Using Photoshop for Blurred Backgrounds

First, open Photoshop and your image.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop interface. How to Create a Blurred Background in Photoshop and Lightroom

In the layers part of the panel on the right, right-click on the background layer.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop interface - opening the background layer. How to Create a Blurred Background in Photoshop and Lightroom

Then select Duplicate Layer. This ensures your modifications are not destructive.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop interface - opening Duplicate layer. How to Create a Blurred Background in Photoshop and Lightroom

After that, you should see two layers. To edit the background layer, double-click on it and then press OK in the pop-up menu.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop interface. Edit Background. How to Create a Blurred Background in Photoshop and Lightroom

With the top layer selected, go to the top menu and select Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop interface - opening the blur tools. How to Create a Blurred Background in Photoshop and Lightroom

A preview box will appear, asking for the amount of Gaussian Blur to add. Here, you can choose how strong the blur is. Then press OK.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop interface - opening the background layer. How to Create a Blurred Background in Photoshop and Lightroom

With the layer still selected, click on the half-moon button at the bottom of the panel. This creates a new adjustment layer.

Now select levels. This creates a mask that you can work with. If the blur is too strong, click Edit>Undo and go for something weaker.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop interface - opening the background layer. How to Create a Blurred Background in Photoshop and Lightroom

Here comes the complicated part. Select the top layer that has the mask applied to it…

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop interface - opening the background layer. How to Create a Blurred Background in Photoshop and Lightroom

…and then drag it between the other two layers. This puts the top layer at the front, and the middle layer just under it.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop interface - opening the background layer. How to Create a Blurred Background in Photoshop and Lightroom

Now press the Alt key and hover the cursor between the middle and top layers. A small box with an arrow should appear.

Left-click on it. The top layer icon will then move to the right, with a little arrow next to it. That mask and the top layer now work together.

Click on the white rectangle in the Levels layer. Then press Alt+Delete. The mask will now become black (and the original image is revealed again).

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop interface - opening the background layer. How to Create a Blurred Background in Photoshop and Lightroom

Find the Brush tool on the left tool panel.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop interface - brush tool. How to Create a Blurred Background in Photoshop and Lightroom

Here, I changed the brush to have a strength of 200px, with a somewhat soft harshness. This will help it blend in better.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop interface - opening the brush tool. How to Create a Blurred Background in Photoshop and Lightroom

Apply the brush to the image, only selecting the areas that you want to be blurred. This is because you are painting the top blurred image onto the revealed image using the mask.

You will see the black mask image become white where you apply the blur.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop interface - apply the blur. How to Create a Blurred Background in Photoshop and Lightroom

If you make any mistakes, use the Eraser tool to go over the areas to revert them back to their original state.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop interface - eraser tool. How to Create a Blurred Background in Photoshop and Lightroom

Using Lightroom for Blurred Backgrounds

First, find your image in the Library module in Lightroom.

Screenshot of Adobe Lightroom interface - opening the library. How to Create a Blurred Background in Photoshop and Lightroom

Select it and then head on over to the Develop module, 2nd tab along.

Screenshot of Adobe Lightroom interface - Develop module . How to Create a Blurred Background in Photoshop and Lightroom

We are going to use the adjustment brush, which is found under the histogram on the right-hand side.

Screenshot of Adobe Lightroom interface - finding the adjustment brush. How to Create a Blurred Background in Photoshop and Lightroom

When you click on the adjustment brush, a panel will open below it. Sharpness is what we’re interested in.

Screenshot of Adobe Lightroom interface - adjustment brush. How to Create a Blurred Background in Photoshop and Lightroom

Make sure the tab Show Selected Mask Overlay is selected. This will turn your selected areas red, so you know which areas you are selecting.

Screenshot of Adobe Lightroom interface . How to Create a Blurred Background in Photoshop and Lightroom

Using a big brush, click and drag the areas you want to select.

Screenshot of Adobe Lightroom interface . How to Create a Blurred Background in Photoshop and Lightroom

To select those complicated areas around the model, click on the preview in the top left corner of Lightroom. You can then use this to zoom in and navigate the image.

Screenshot of Adobe Lightroom interface - select complicated areas. How to Create a Blurred Background in Photoshop and Lightroom

Bring the sharpness slider down (left) by clicking and dragging to your desired effect. In our image, the background and the model are close, requiring a few adjustment brush masks layered on top of each other.

To do this, complete the mask, reduce the sharpness and then press enter. Redo the steps again, and you will be left with the following dots, each representing an adjustment layer mask.

Screenshot of Adobe Lightroom interface - before and after image. How to Create a Blurred Background in Photoshop and Lightroom

Here, the images look too similar to notice the subtle difference of the blurred background.

Screenshot of Adobe Lightroom interface - before and after image. How to Create a Blurred Background in Photoshop and Lightroom

By cropping the image and zooming in, you can see the effect of the adjustment brush mask and the subsequent blurred background.

Screenshot of Adobe Lightroom interface - zoomed. How to Create a Blurred Background in Photoshop and Lightroom

And there you have it! A blurred image after the fact. You no longer have to worry if you don’t manage to get this effect during the shoot.

Craig Hull

Craig is a photographer originally from the West Midlands (go Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath) currently based in Budapest. There isn't much photography he hasn't tried, but his favourite photographic areas are street and documentary photography. Show him a darkroom and he'll be happy in there for days. As long as there are music and snacks. Find him at craighullphotography.co.uk and Instagram/craighullphoto