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How to Blur out a Background in Photoshop: In-Depth Tutorial

Updated on September 26, 2017

Shallow Depth of Field = Blurred Out Background

Have you ever seen those professional photos that have the blurred out background? Have you ever wanted to know how to get the same result? It is actually really easy to create photos with blurred backgrounds. This simple tutorial will help you make your photos look more professional in just a few steps.

To use the tutorial below, you will need a copy of Photoshop. In the tutorial, I am using Photoshop CS4. I also suggest that you use an image that is easy to make a selection from. Photos with lots of detail and fine lines will be difficult to use with this tutorial.

Depth of Field

Photos that have blurred backgrounds actually have what is called a shallow depth of field.
Photos that have blurred backgrounds actually have what is called a shallow depth of field. | Source

Why Blur Out a Background?

Why would you want to blur the background of a photo? There are actually many reasons:

  • You may want to draw more attention to your subject by blurring out the background. Often times you want an image with a single point of interest and a blurred background helps with this.
  • The background might be too complex or distracting; in that case a soft blur will lower the effect of the distracting background. This is probably the most common reason why someone would choose to blur out the background.
  • A soft, blurry background also helps create a mood in your photo. A blurred out background can help create a "dreamy" or soft feeling to a photo.

How to Blur Out a Background Using Your Camera

To take photos that have blurred out backgrounds you will need a camera that allows you shoot in aperture priority mode; it is often times marked as an "A" on the camera's dial. When in aperture priority mode you will want to drop the aperture down as far as you can. The further you drop your aperture the shallower your depth of field will become which is what creates the blurred out background.

If you don't have a camera that has an aperture priority mode you can try setting your camera to "macro" mode. If that doesn't work you'll need to blur the background in Photoshop which is discussed below.

A quick selection is a "quick and dirty" way to make a selection.  It works best when your selection is a fairly simple object.  It also helps if your object is in front of a simple or contrasting background.
A quick selection is a "quick and dirty" way to make a selection. It works best when your selection is a fairly simple object. It also helps if your object is in front of a simple or contrasting background.

Blur Out Background Tutorial

Step 1

To begin, you will need to open Photoshop and then open the photo you would like to work on.

Step 2

Once you have the photo open you will need to make a duplicate background layer. To create a duplicate layer you need to right-click on the layer and select duplicate layer. This will be the layer that you will work off of. Now you need to make a selection. There are many ways to make a selection, but I'm not going to dive too deep into that in this tutorial. Since the image I'm working with here has simple lines I have decided to make a selection using the "quick selection" tool, which is a very quick and easy way to make a selection. The whiskers are going to be too difficult to select so I have decided to blur them out and remove them. This is why it is always better to capture the photo correctly right out of the camera. To learn how to take photos with blurred out backgrounds see the blue box above.

Step 3

When making your quick selection you will have a + symbol in the middle of your circle which means where ever you move the cursor while holding down the left mouse button you will add to the selection. If you want to subtract from the selection you need to press the alt key while you hold down the left mouse button. When the alt key is held down the + symbol in the circle will turn into a - symbol.

Click on the photo to make larger.  As you can see I have a dotted line around the cat which represents my selection.  The dotted line is often times referred to as "marching ants".
Click on the photo to make larger. As you can see I have a dotted line around the cat which represents my selection. The dotted line is often times referred to as "marching ants".

Step 4

Now that you have made your selection you are done with the most complicated and difficult portion of blurring out the background. Now you need to select the Gaussian blur filter. To find this filter go to: Filter --> Blur --> Gaussian Blur as shown below.

Step 5

The Gaussian Blur window will pop up, where you can view a preview and control the amount of blur used in the image. I would recommend using a value between 2 and 5. For this photo I used a value of 5 as you can see from the image on the right.

Step 6

Finally, you just need to deselect (Ctrl+D) your selection to remove the dotted line. At this point you can either flatten the image and save as a JPG file or leave the layers and save as a PSD type file. You should now have a photo with a blurred out background, like the one shown below.

Here is the final product.  As you can see the background is now blurred out.
Here is the final product. As you can see the background is now blurred out.

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    • redfive profile image

      Levy Tate 3 years ago from California, USA

      Photos with shallow DOF are always interesting. Thanks for this easy breezy tutorial ;-) Voted up!

    • nifwlseirff profile image

      Kymberly Fergusson 5 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

      I don't have Photoshop, and was wondering how this was done. Nice tutorial and split frame!

      There are a number of on-camera tricks that can increase background blur - I think I've only used the A/V setting twice in the time I've had this camera!

    • livelonger profile image

      Jason Menayan 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Impressive and clear tutorial. I agree that a shallow depth of field really makes your subject pop off the photo, but sometimes you don't have a lot of control in your camera to do so. This is a great technique to mimic the effect.

      Your split-frame pic of your cat really beautifully illustrates what's going on.

    • Robin profile image

      Robin Edmondson 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Fantastic tutorial. I need to get photoshop; I'm nervous about the amount of time it will suck up though. There are endless possibilites with what you can do with your photos!

    • alipuckett profile image

      alipuckett 5 years ago

      Nice step-by-step tutorial! Blurring the background is a great way to make the foreground image really POP!

    • centp002 profile image

      centp002 5 years ago

      Photoshop is amazing. You can do anything you want with it! I love it!