Getting a nice blurred background can make a portrait (and most other photos) look amazing. In this article, we show you how to easily blur the background of your images in Adobe Lightroom.
Keeping your background out of focus can be the perfect way to draw the viewers eyes to the main subject of your photograph.
Usually, background blur, or Bokeh as it is known, is achieved in camera when taking the photo by using a large aperture. But sometimes, if your subject is close to the background, or especially if you have to take a shot quickly and don’t have the time to get the settings you need to blur the background, then this doesn’t happen.
In other cases, you may have got the shot how you wanted it at the time, only to see in post production that the background is more distracting than you thought.
In the following quick steps, we’ll show you how you can soften up the background in a photo and bring the focus of your image back onto it’s subject.
Find an Image
First of all, we need to find the image you want to work on, and move it in to the Develop module (Keyboard shortcut ‘D’).
Try a Preset
Sometimes, simply adjusting the color tone of an image can help to reduce the effect of a distracting background.
From the Develop module; experiment a little by applying some presets to your image. Converting it to black and white can also give an image a total change of feel. Think of a portrait of a person standing in front of a thick green hedge. The background would become much darker, and the face of the subject much lighter when viewed in black and white.
If a preset hasn’t helped reduce the impact of a busy background, then next we should try using the brush tool to blur the background.
Using the Brush Tool
The brush tool is used to brush an effect on to a part of your image.
When selected the ‘Mask’ dropdown menu allows you to select what you want the brush to do. This will be a selection or combination of any of the adjustments available in Lightroom, for example ‘Saturation’ or ‘Contrast’.
You can also edit or create Masks. As soon as you make any manual changed to a Mask, this then becomes edited. You can say the current settings as a new mask.
The Brush section of the Brush panel allows you to change the settings for the size, flow, feather and auto mask.
Any time you change the settings of a brush, what you have already painted will remain unchanged.
Here’s a break-down of what the brush settings do, and how they effect the brush tool:
Size - A fairly self-explanatory setting. Adjusting this slider will change the size of the brush.
Flow - This sets the strength or how hard a brush appears.
Feather - This setting changes how soft or hard a brush is.
Auto Mask - This setting is amazing! When active, Lightroom will try and determine where strong changes in contrast are, and interpret theses as borders. Meaning if you’re brushing over a background element, and drift over the foreground subject of an image, the brush will not paint over the foreground.
Density - This sets a limit for the perceived strength of the brush.
Painting the Background
Select the brush tool, and from the dropdown selector, select ‘Sharpening’. Move down to the Sharpening slider and set it right down to -100.
Start painting over your background.
When painting in Lightroom, there are two way of knowing where you’ve already painted. The first is obvious; you can see the changes yourself.
The second way to see where you have painted is by activating the ‘Display Mask’ feature (keyboard shortcut ‘O’). Now, anywhere you have painted with the brush tool will show up red. This is really useful in making sure you haven’t missed any part of the image where you wanted to paint.
Once you have covered most of the image, reduce the size of the brush and work around the edges of the foreground subject. Zooming in on your image will help you here also.
If you do happen to paint over somewhere by mistake, simply paint over the same area while holding ALT (Option on mac). This will temporarily active the erase brush.
Once you’ve completed painting, press enter to save the changes.
Not Blurry Enough?
If after the first attempt at blurring the background with the brush tool you still find the background distracting, there are still a number of tricks you can try.
To change any parameter of what you have already brushed; select the brush tool once more, and click on the black brush point on your image (which denotes the starting point of your last brush).
Clicking once will re-activate that brush, and the already brushed area. You will see in the brush controls panel, Sharpening is at -100. Now, try reducing the brightness of the background by moving the Exposure slider to the left.
You can also achieve a more soft effect by reducing the clarity and texture in the brushed part of the image too.
Finally, you can copy and paste the brush over itself. This will apply the changes of the brush to what is currently on screen - meaning you’re effectively doubling the effect.
Tip: Don’t forget you can compare your before and after images by hitting ‘Y’.