How to blur the background in Photoshop
Here is a step-by-step tutorial on blurring the background of a photo in Photoshop 2023. If you want to watch the video to see this process in-depth, please click here to view it on YouTube.
Step 1: Duplicate the layer
To begin, select the background layer and duplicate it. You can do this quickly with the keyboard shortcut Cmd + J (Mac) or Ctrl + J (Win).
Step 2: Select and mask the subject
Next, you’ll want to select and mask the subject on the top layer. I will go to Select > Subject for this image, and the family is selected.
Then, in the Layers panel, I click the Add layer mask icon, which masks the layer so that only the family is visible in this layer. (Note: No difference will be visible yet, since both layers contain the same contents.)
Step 3: Fill the background layer
In this step, you’ll fill the background layer using content aware so that the family is not visible in the background layer. You don’t want to skip this step, as when you blur the background, if the family is still there, you’ll see a “halo” of their blurred bodies. By filling the family with content-aware fill, you’ll avoid this halo. Here’s how:
- Hide the top layer by clicking the eyeball to the left of the layer thumbnail (the layer that you just masked).
- Press and hold the Cmd (Mac) or Ctrl (Win) key and click the mask. This will create a selection from the mask you created in the previous step.
- Go to Select > Modify > Expand to make the selected area larger. I am using a pixel amount of 50 pixels for this image, but if your image is larger or smaller than this size (4145 x 5439 pixels at 240 resolution) you may need to alter this amount.
- Go to Edit > Fill and choose Content Aware from the Contents drop-down.
- Deselect the area with the keyboard shortcut Cmd + D (Mac) or Ctrl + D (Win).
Note: Don’t worry if you see odd or pixelated areas in your fill area; once the image is blurred, these areas will dissipate and likely will not be apparent in your final image.
This shows the selection after it has been expanded.
This shows the selection after it has been filled.
Step 4: Blur the background
Now it’s time to blur the background! If you like, you may want to convert the background to a Smart Object (as shown below) to allow you to make changes to your blur if it needs adjustments.
- Optional: Right-click over the background layer and choose Convert to Smart Object.
- Make the top layer visible by clicking the eyeball to the left of the layer thumbnail. This will make it easier to compare the blurred background with the subject so that you add the correct amount of blur for your photo.
- With the background layer selected, go to Filter > Blur Gallery > Field Blur.
- Increase the Blur slider to a reasonable amount for your photo (for this image, I set it to 45 px). It’s also a good idea to add a touch of Grain using the Noise panel to help keep the photo looking realistic, as blurring a photo can remove the natural grain from your photo. (You might also want to zoom in to try and match the grain of the background with your subject.)
- When finished, click OK at the top.
Optional: Convert the background layer to a Smart Object for greater flexibility in your editing.
Add blur and grain to the background layer.
Step 5: Remove the foreground blur with masking
The family looks like it is floating on the blurry background, so additional masking is required to give this a realistic look. Here’s how:
- Click the layer mask on the top layer to activate it.
- Access the Gradient tool from the toolbar.
- Press D on your keyboard to set the default color swatches (White and Black).
- In the toolbar options at the top, choose the Linear Gradient, and set the color to Foreground to Transparent (white to transparent).
- Draw a gradient, starting at the bottom of the subject and upwards. You can hold the SHIFT key to keep your gradient straight. For this image, I started at the feet and dragged up to about the middle of the image frame.
Select the Linear Gradient with the “White to Transparent” color option.
Draw a gradient, starting at the base of the subject.
The finished image with the foreground in focus to ground the subject.