A Beginner’s Guide to Blurring Backgrounds in Adobe Lightroom
It’s no secret that Photoshop reigns supreme in the world of photo editing. It’s a massive program with incredible capabilities, from custom filters to animation. But most of the time, even the pros just want to apply simple edits to their photos. This is where Lightroom really shines. It’s a simple program that’s easier to learn, and it has all the tools you’re likely to need—plus an awesome, efficient management system for storing and organizing your images. Lightroom lets you import, manage, edit, rename, and even watermark your photos in a completely non-destructive way—unlike Photoshop—and even allows you to import your photos RAW for Photographers who would prefer to avoid JPEG compression.
So now that we’ve told you all the reasons you should be using Lightroom, let’s get to why you’re really here. One of the most common photo editing tricks used to bring attention to your foreground subject is to blur the background. Softening these “out-of-focus” areas tells your viewer where to look and what’s important in the scene, without losing the visual interest or context provided by the background. While a lot of photographers will simply start scrubbing out the detail with the Photoshop “blur” tool, Lightroom actually has a tool for exactly this purpose, allowing you to add depth without destroying your background pixels.
Not a photographer yourself? If you’re a designer working with client images or stock photos, blurring in Lightroom can help you quickly and easily focus the image to emphasize your advertising or message.
Regardless of what images you’re working with, this simple trick couldn’t be faster—it only takes about two minutes.
Step One: Import Your Image:
To import your image, open up Lightroom and click “Import” on the bottom left. From here, the easiest way to upload the image is to simply drag and drop the file into the center of the screen. Click “Import”—it’s on the bottom right this time, just to be tricky.
Now that you’ve imported the image you want to edit, you are probably in the “Library” module. Go ahead and toggle over to the Develop Module along the top of the screen—if you don’t see it, hover your cursor along the top edge of the Lightroom screen and it should pop up.
This is the experimental section of Lightroom, and it’s where you’re going to make all your edits—don’t worry, thanks to Lightroom’s non-destructive editing format, you won’t accidentally harm the original, so feel free to play around with the effects!
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Step Two: Start Painting
The first thing you’re going to need to do is click on the “Adjustment Brush,” as you can see below. Once you do, you should see a ton of custom effect settings appear beneath the brush, as well as the word “New.” What we’re basically going to do is create a layer mask, allowing us to apply the changes only within the mask and leave the unselected areas as they are.
Go ahead and click “New” to create your mask, and then click “show selected mask overlay” along the bottom panel in order to view which areas you have covered with your mask.
While we’re getting set up, this seems like a good idea to go over your brushes. If you scroll along the custom effect settings, you should see a whole section devoted to brushes. You’re probably fairly familiar with how these brushes work, but as a quick refresher:
- Size: Defines how large or small the brush will be.
- Feather: Defines the hardness or softness of the brush (whether it will fade along the edges or create a hard edge).
- Flow: Defines the intensity of the stroke.
Go ahead and set your brushes up the way you would like them. We kept our brush on the smaller side, with 100% flow and feathering.
And we’re ready to paint! Using your brush, color in the entire area you want to blur our. Because you clicked “show selected mask overlay,” the area you paint will turn a sheer red.
Pro Tip: If you accidentally cover an object (or part of an object) that you wanted to keep sharp, click on “erase” to brush off the unwanted areas.
Step Three: Apply the Blur effect
Once you’re done painting, uncheck “show selected mask overlay” and you will be able to see the changes on the image as you adjust the parameters in the right panel.
The two areas we will be adjusting are sharpness and clarity. For this image, we want to get the most blur we can for the background, so we set both values at -100. Go ahead and play with the values to get the look you’re going for.
As you can see, the background is a now a fair bit blurred, and the figure in the foreground stands out more than she did in the original. If you feel this is not enough blur, or you want to apply another layer only to certain areas (for example, areas further in the background), simply repeat the process. Click on “New” to start a new adjustment and repeat steps 2-3.
We went ahead and repeated the process to create our final image.
Step Four: Save Your Work
As we’ve said, Lightroom uses non-destructive editing. To save and export your photos, click “Done,” then return to the “Library” module (next to “Develop” in the top nav bar). Once here, select your photo and click “Export.” A dialogue box will pop up allowing you to save and rename your image to a folder of your choice, among a myriad of other editing and resizing options. For more on exporting files in Lightroom, see our recent post on resizing images in Lightroom.
And there you have it! The results with this tool are subtle but can be repeated as many times as you need, and every edit will be saved along the way, leaving your original image untouched—no more panicking about destroying pixels or compulsively hitting CTRL+S.
When you don’t have time to shoot and edit your own image, save time and money with royalty-free stock graphics. After all, even the fastest editing tricks aren’t quite as quick as clicking “Download.”