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How to achieve a believable background blur in Photoshop without the weird edges or "halo" effects.

How to add Believable Background Blur in Photoshop

I often get asked “how do I make my backgrounds blurry?” While the best (and easiest) way is in camera using a wide aperture, sometimes it’s fun to experiment with editing, too. So, in this tutorial I’ll show you step-by-step how to add believable background blur in Photoshop. If you’d prefer a video tutorial on the process, click here.

Let’s dive in!

Step 1. Duplicate your background layer


You can do this by right-clicking and hitting Duplicate Layer, or hitting Ctrl + J on your keyboard. You can also drag your background layer over the little sheet of paper icon at the bottom of your layers panel.

Step 2. Clone out your subject


With your new layer selected, grab the Clone Tool and remove your subject from the image. Try to cover the subject using areas of the photo that are similar in color to the area behind your subject so that it looks believable. Don’t worry if it isn’t 100% perfect, this layer will be getting blurred.

(If you skip this cloning step before blurring, you may notice that the color of your subjects skin or clothes ends up blended in with your blur and can make the blurring process look fake. Cloning the subject out of the photo before blurring ensures there will be no ‘halo’ around your subject and the edges will be clean and precise.)

Step 3. Add Blur


Once your subject has been completely removed from your photo, you can now add blur. You can find the various blur filters by going to Filter > Blur from the top menu bar in Photoshop.  My favorite blurring filters for adding believable background blur are ‘Lens Blur’ and ‘Field Blur’. I’ll be using ‘Field Blur’ for this tutorial.

Step 4. Adjust your blur settings


– When the Field Blur panel pops up, you can use your mouse to spin the dial in the center of the image to increase or decrease the blur. There’s also a slider off to the right hand side you can use as well.

Add blur to your liking and select OK when done.

Step 5. Add a layer mask


After blurring and then hitting OK, you will notice your entire image is blurred. We will need to add a layer mask in order to reveal the subject underneath and paint this blur where we want it.

To do this, select the Layer Mask button at the bottom of your layers panel. (The button that looks like a rectangle with a circle inside.)

After clicking this button, you will notice there is now a white box on your blurred layer.

Step 6. Invert your mask & select your brush tool


Once your white layer mask has been added to the blurred layer, you will need to make the layer mask black to hide the blurred effect from the image until we are ready to paint it on.

1.) To turn the layer mask black, I made sure that the white layer mask box was selected and then I used the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + I  (Cmd + I  if you’re on a Mac) to invert the color to black. Once your mask turns black, you’ll notice that the blur is hidden from your photo.

2.)Select the Brush Tool

3.) Set your foreground color to white

Step 7. Paint to apply the blur effect


Set the opacity of your brush to 100% and begin painting around the edges of your photo. You can use a large brush for now, but be sure to reduce the size of your brush when getting close to your subject.

Step 8. Blur around your subject


Once you’ve blurred the majority of the background, you will then want to zoom in and use a smaller brush to get closer to your subject. Using a small brush will allow you to have more precision when adding the blur close to the edges of your subject. You can also increase the hardness of your brush to allow you to get cleaner edges as well.

*Tip – When blurring near hair, reduce the Opacity or Flow of your brush to allow you to subtly blur between the strands without removing the texture of the hair. Be sure to bring your Opacity and Flow back up to 100% before moving on to other areas. If your opacity or flow is less than 100% on other areas, you may notice a weird texture on your images that lessens the believability of the blurred effect.*

Step 9. Double check your work


Zoom back out and check for any areas that you may have missed. You can switch your brush color to black to remove the blur effect from anything you may have blurred by accident.

Feel free to zoom in closely once more to inspect all edges. Once you’ve filled in all areas of your image with blur, you’re finished!

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Showing 7 comments
  • Patti A

    Thanks so much for this. I have CS5 and don’t believe there is Field Blur. But I am going to try it with Lens Blur. Hope your feeling better!

    • Morgan

      Thanks for the well wishes, Patti! 🙂 You are very kind!
      And Lens Blur is a great one as well, I hope you enjoy putting it to use on your photo! 🙂

  • April L

    I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate your work & showing us the techniques you use to achieve different effects. Even though I learned so much in college for Photography classes, there is so much more out there I don’t know and they don’t teach you! (Depending on the Professor) So thank you so much!!!

  • Hootiebell

    For some reason, when I go to select the brush tool to blur the background it does nothing?? I don’t know what I am doing wrong.

    • Morgan

      Hi there, So sorry you are having some trouble! When you are attempting to use the Brush tool, which steps in the tutorial have you accomplished so far? If I know where you’re at in the process, I can better understand what might be causing the problem and give you some tips to help! Feel free to shoot me an email so we can figure it out. 🙂
      And if you could attach a screen shot of your full Photoshop window, that would be an awesome help as well! Chat soon,

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