How to blur the background in Photoshop – 5 easy steps

Beautiful portraits have one thing in common: High sharpness of the subject and blurred background. This effect is optimally achieved by using a lens with a shallow depth of field.

However, if you do not succeed directly during the photoshoot, we can help by blurring the background in Photoshop. Let’s look at how to blur the background in Photoshop in five easy steps.

  1. Open the image in Photoshop
  2. Select the subject
  3. Remove the subject from the background
  4. Blur the background
  5. Finetune the subject and background

Open the image in Photoshop.

When choosing a photo on which we want to blur the background, it is always better to select an image in RAW format. After opening, let’s duplicate the background layer. This is a mandatory step in each photoshop editing workflow because we want to keep our original image untouched.

Let’s analyze the image. We want to make our subject sharp and the background out of focus to guide the observer’s eyes primarily on our subject. 

Now we make another duplication of the background original layer. So we will get three layers: the original background as a backup, the second layer we will use for blur the background effect, and the third one we will use for selecting the subject.

Select the subject to blur the background

Click on the top layer to select it. Now select the pen tool. Start selecting the subject. Try to make a precious selection and keep the selection path within the object. Don’t worry when you do not select all small detail on the selection edge. We will fix it later on. 

When you finished the whole path around the subject right-click to the area within the selection path. A dialog box will appear. Select the “Make selection” option.

Make selection - how to blur the background

The next step is to make a layer mask based on the current selection. So while the selection is active, go to the bottom right and click on the layer mask icon. A layer mask is automatically generated, and the selection disappears.

Remove the subject from the background

Our next task is to remove the subject from the layer that will be blurred. Click on the middle layer to make it selected. Now select the Spot healing brush. Set the appropriate size and make it soft. Start to paint over the subject to remove it. We need to recreate the background layer without the subject and then to blur this background layer. 

Gradually we paint over the subject, and we see that the spot healing brush removes the subject and replaces it with the surrounding parts of the picture.

Blur the background

Convert Layer to a Smart Object

If we have successfully removed the subject from the background, we can perform blurring the background itself.

As a first step, we will set the current layer as a Smart Object. Right-click on the active middle layer. A dialog box will appear and now select the Convert to Smart Object option. Smart Object will ensure that after applying the blur, we can return at any time and change the blur filter settings.

Use Blur Gallery

To achieve a correct and reliable blur, we must choose the right filter. Tilt-Shift Blur is best for simulating depth of field. So go to Filter-> Blur gallery-> Tilt-Shift. A separate dialog box for settings will open. When setting, we use two solid lines and two dashed lines.

The area between two solid lines represents maximum sharpness. The area between the solid line and the dashed line represents a gradual blur. The degree of total blur is set using the Blur slider.

We adjust the transition’s intensity between the maximum sharpness and the maximum blur by moving the lines. As we move the lines apart, we will achieve a longer gradual transition.

And vice versa, when we move them more towards each other, we will achieve a shorter and harder transition.

So we try to get our subject between two full lines to make the subject sharp. Next, we will focus mainly on the upper part of the image, which should be blurred.

As we have already described, by shifting the lines away from each other or towards each other, we achieve more or less blur. At the same time, we check the degree of Blur using the Blur slider. When we are satisfied with the result, press the OK button.

Finetune the subject and background

Since we used the pen tool in the selection process, it was not possible to include all the small details such as the hair at the edge of the selection. Now let’s return these details to our picture so that the whole subject looks realistic and does not look cut off.

Please create a new duplicate background layer and place it on top of all layers. Create a layer mask on this active layer and fill it with black. This will completely cover the layer.

The next step is to set this layer to Lighten Blending Mode. Subsequently, we will paint with a brush in a Layer Mask and reveal only the light parts. In our case, these are hair and small details on the edge of our subject.

Finally, let’s evaluate the full effect. I realized that I had set the blur too intensely. But it doesn’t matter because we set our background layer as a Smart Object. You can now click on Blur Gallery within the Smart Object layer and bring up the Blur Gallery settings again.

At the same time, I noticed that it would be good to blur the right part of the image, so I’ll add a separate additional Blur, and it’s the Field blur. So select Field Blur in the Blur Gallery and click on the area where this blur should be applied. Again, you can adjust the intensity of the Blur.

Let’s set Noise lastly. Set the Noise value to about 20 to 30 to achieve a realistic blurred background with a little bit of noise.

Finally, click the OK button again, and all new settings will be applied to the Smart Object – our background layer.

Finally, we can apply further final improvements like Camera Raw filter for increasing vibrance, contrast, or balance the levels of shadows.

Conclusion

As you can see, Photoshop can achieve background blur if you couldn’t reach it directly during shooting or if you didn’t have a lens with the correct depth of field.

It is essential to devote enough time to make an accurate selection using the pen tool and then to set the blur parameters.

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