Digital Photography Now - www.dpnow.com  
 
advertisements
Comprehensive price comparison shopping through DPNow and PriceGrabber

home :: Features :: Technique tips
7th July 2011
Blur those backgrounds in Photoshop
by Ian Burley
8133: Blur those backgrounds in Photoshop

Edit your photos to blur the background cleanly

Spot the naturally blurred background and how it was like before

If you have ever taken a portrait or a picture of an object that has a distracting background, this article may be for you. We explore how you can make the background less distracting, while keeping the main subject as it was intended to be. It may seem challenging, but it need not be. I'm would not claim to be a post-processing image re-touch specialist at all, so if I can do this - you probably can too!

We're using Photoshop in this tutorial, but the techniques should be of use to anyone using one of the other main photo editing packages, like Corel Paint Shop Pro, for example. We will use a simple trick to enable you to blur the background without generating an unsightly tell-tale halo around your subject. This is useful if a busy background is too close so it's too sharp and distracting, or if your camera can't easily blur the background, like compact cameras and smartphone cameras.

If you shoot portraits and you have a camera with a large enough sensor, and/or a lens that has a wide enough aperture, you can get nicely de-focussed backgrounds easily, just like this.

But if you depend on a compact camera, or a bridge-type camera with superzoom lens, you may be faced with sharper and more distracting backgrounds like this.

Of course it's possible to use a photo editing tool like Photoshop to outline the main subject and selectively blur the background, as we have done above. But tell-tale blurry halos around the edges of the subject (like the shoulder area above), and lost edge details can be a problem. This problem gets even worse if you are working with small low resolution files for web-use, for example.

But with a bit of simple application you can make very convincing blurred backgrounds while avoiding halos and even keep fine details like hair. This article shows you how.

 

 

Click on image above to open a larger view in a new window.

Here's the image we're starting with, the leaves in the background and, especially, the bark on the tree trunk are too distracting for the primary subject.

Click on image above to open a larger view in a new window.

First we need to use the Quick Selection tool or equivalent to separate the subject from the background. Around the areas where there is a clear boundary I have made the selection tight, but less so where we want to preserve fine details, like hair.

Click on image above to open a larger view in a new window.

Next I invert the selection so I can temporarily remove the subject.

Click on image above to open a larger view in a new window.

Make sure the selection is not feathered or edge-softened. The Select > Refine Edge controls in Photoshop manages this.

Click on image above to open a larger view in a new window.

Now I'm going to cut the selection to the clip board.

Click on image above to open a larger view in a new window.

This leaves the background on its own. At this stage, and probably best for safety, you can paste the cut-out subject into a new window that has been opened as an empty transparent image. It's also handy if you need to fine-tune the transparency of the edges.

Click on image above to open a larger view in a new window.

In the mean time you can use the Gaussian Blur filter to blur the background.

Click on image above to open a larger view in a new window.

The blur looks great, but as the blurring process stretches the area it is applied to, if we pasted back the subject there would be discernable halo where the boundary of the extracted subject ended. To avoid this we're going to shrink the background slightly. This way, the original subject will cover the blurry boundary of the background. You may need to experiment to get the re-size perfectly right.

Click on image above to open a larger view in a new window.

Here is our subject living temporarily in a transparent background as suggested earlier. We need to soften some of the edges before we return the subject to the original background.

Click on image above to open a larger view in a new window.

I would recommend using the Quick Mask tool that allows you to modify your selection and any edges by using the brush tool.

Click on image above to open a larger view in a new window.

Finally, paste the subject back into the blurred background and you are almost home. Inevitably there will be some errors, like the whit blotch in the middle-right here. These are fairly easy to fix with some cloning - best using feathered selections so that they blend in better.

And there you have it - if I can do it, I'll bet you can too!

 

 

Reader feedback:

Discuss this story:

Helpful website for just about everything.

Gina Helpful website for just about everything.
I found a very helpful set of help cards/cheat sheets for everyone - not just beginners and wanted t... (more)

Pops Re: Helpful website for just about everything.
Thanks Gina. Placed the link in favs for look later... (more)

Autumn Re: Helpful website for just about everything.
Me too Gina. Thanks. It looks very good.:)... (more)

Caz Re: Helpful website for just about everything.
Excellent! saw the link on facebook, and have shared it :)... (more)

ekkl Re: Helpful website for just about everything.
Thanks for sharing Gina :)... (more)

 
advertisements
©2001-2014 Digital Photography Now, All Rights Reserved.