7 min read

How to Blur Background in Lightroom

7 min read

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Photographer with a blurred background

When you search ‘how to blur background in Lightroom’ you may be a little disappointed at the results you find. Blurring backgrounds is such a fundamental photography technique it’s reasonable to think Lightroom would include practical tools to help achieve this look. 

It is possible to add a certain amount of blur to the background of a photo in Lightroom, but at the time I’m writing this article, Lightroom is not really geared up to blur backgrounds well. Having pointed this out, I will take you through a series of steps in Lightroom that will provide the best blur possible with this software.

How Do You Blur a Background?

The best way to blur a background is to set your camera controls and your subject location as you are taking photos.

Using a wide aperture setting, a lower f-stop number will help you blur the background in your photos. The wider the aperture you choose, the shallower the depth of field is. This is the amount of the photo that’s in acceptably sharp focus. 

The further your subject is from the background, the more the background will blur. One main mistake when you are positioning a subject to photograph it is placing it too close to the background. Doing this it will make it more challenging to blur the background.

Kayan girl with a parasol and naturally blurred background.
© Kevin Landwer-Johan. Photo taken with a 105mm lens at f/2.8 on a camera with a full-frame sensor shows a nice naturally blurred background.

Getting closer to your subject will also help to blur the background in your photos. The closer you are to your subject, the shallower the depth of field is. 

Using a longer focal length lens, more blur will appear in the background. The blur effect is enhanced with longer lenses because they compress the image more than lenses of wider focal lengths.

Sensor size in your camera also has a major impact on how the blur background appears in your photos. The smaller the sensor size, the more challenging it is to get an optical blur in the background. Smartphones have very small sensors and tiny lenses, so the best way to create a blur background is to do it with an app or by blurring the background in Lightroom or with other software.

Using a camera with a full-frame sensor, or larger, it’s much easier to capture photos with a blur effect in the background. 

Blur the Background In Camera

So to avoid using Lightroom, background blur is done by:

  • Having a large sensor camera
  • Using a wide aperture setting
  • Keeping your subject away from the background
  • Getting in close to your subject
  • Using a longer lens.
hand made decoration with blurred background.
© Kevin Landwer-Johan. Photo taken with a35mm lens at f/1.4 on a camera with a full frame sensor.

Is There a Blur Tool in Lightroom?

No, there is no tool in Lightroom dedicated to creating blur. If you want to create a blurred background in a photo where the background detail is sharp, you need to get a bit creative in how you use some of the Lightroom tools.

If you have a photo where there’s not much sharpness in the background, it makes it easier and more effective to blur the background in Lightroom. Starting with a photo that has a high degree of sharpness in the whole composition, makes blurring the background in Lightroom more of a challenge.

airport scene with background blur using lightroom.
© Kevin Landwer-Johan. Background blurred using Lightroom.

Steps to Blur a Background in Lightroom

Once you’ve chosen the photo you want to edit, open it in the Develop Module. Here you’ll be working with the set of tools in the panel to the right of your screen. If you cannot see this tool panel, press the F8 key or click on the triangle on the right of your screen.

Step 1: Select Your Subject

With your image open in the develop module, first, you will need to select the area of your photo you want to blur. To do this you can use the Adjustment Brush, the Graduated Filter, or the Radial Filter. Which of these tools you use will depend on the photo you are working on. 

With photos where there’s a clear line between what you want to blu and where you want to see sharpness, the graduated filter will be the best option. In other photos, you may have a subject that stands out and can be encompassed using the radial filter. More complicated subjects will need to be edited using the adjustment brush. This allows a more freehand approach to selecting the area you want to work on.

Whichever tool you choose to use, make sure to be as precise as possible with it when you are making your selection. Including too much of your composition where you want to retain the sharpness will return a poor result.

lightroom screen grab showing blur background overlay.

Quick Tip

To easily see the selected mask overlay, press the O key. This brings up a colored overlay of the mask you are creating. To change the color of the selected mask overlay, press the Shift key and the O key. 

Expanding your selection so it covers a little more than your subject helps to create a smoother transition when you apply some feathering to it. You will do this in the next step.

Each of these tools functions a little bit differently. You can make various adjustments to each to get the results you want. Experiment and practice to figure out which one will work best with the photo you are editing. Once you have some experience with them it will be easier to choose the one you know will work best.

One More Quick Tip

Make sure you have created a mask that will not affect your subject. If the mask is affecting your subject, you’ll need to change it. Using the radial filter this is done simply by checking the Inverse check-box. With the graduated filter and the adjustment brush, you will need to redefine the area you wish to work on.

With both the graduated and radial filters, you can refine the selection using a brush. Click on the brush option near the top of the panel. You can either paint or erase with the brush. The controls for the brush appear beneath the main set of sliders when you have it selected.

lightroom screen grab illustrating the erase tool when making a blur background in lightroom.

Step 2: Apply Feathering

Adjust the amount of feathering on your selection. This will make the transition between your subject and the background blur more natural-looking.

If your selection is too tight around your subject, when you feather it your subject may be affected. This is why it’s important to make sure your selection includes a little more than only your subject.

Lightroom edits are lossless. If you discover later that you have feathered too much or not enough you can simply adjust your setting so that it looks right.

When you have ‘show selected mask’ turned on, you will see how much feathering is taking effect.

Step 3: Apply the Blur in Lightroom

In the tools panel, working with the Texture, Clarity, and Sharpness sliders is the most effective means of adding blur to your edit.

Drag these sliders to the left and watch the effect on your photo. The further you take them to the left, the more blurred the edit becomes. To see how the photo is looking at this stage it will be best not to show the selected mask. Simply press the O key again to do this.

Depending on the original sharpness of the photo, you will see more or less blur effect. With this photo, the background was already somewhat blurred. Even though my aperture was set to f/11, because I was so close to the flower, the background was not sharp. Using the radial filter it was easy to select the flower head and use the three sliders to add more blur.

flower with a blur background in Lightroom.

I used the graduated filter to make my selection on this photo. I have dragged each slider to the extreme left. The result is not terrific because I have pushed the sliders too far and this has created an aura-like effect that looks fake.

glacier with ice and blurred background.

To make the selection for this photo, using the adjustment brush tool was my best option. I painted around the couple using a small brush size and a medium amount of feathering. Then I made my brush larger and painted across the whole of the background. I’d used a 105mm lens set at f/11 on a full-frame camera. The rice and trees in the background were pretty sharp and the blur effect in Lightroom has made a significant difference.

couple with background blur made using Lightroom.
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Being Precise with Blurring a Background

Because the amount of blur is applied evenly, it often does not look natural as it does when the blur is created by having a shallow depth of field. When you control the amount of blur with your camera settings and distances as you take a photo, the blur is gradual in circumstances where you can see background that’s close to your subject. 

This is apparent in the photo of the coupe above. Had I used a narrower aperture, the rice closer to them would appear less blurred than the rice in the distance.

You can mimic this look in Lightroom by applying more than one mask to a photo and gradually adding blur of different amounts to various parts of your composition.

As with all photo editing, there is always more than one method to achieve the same or similar results. Practice also means you become more skilled at applying the techniques you use to obtain better results.

Pick out a selection of different photos that have more or less blur in them. Experiment with these steps to see how realistic you can blur background in Lightroom.

Hopefully you have found this article helpful when you have searched for how to blur background in Lightroom.

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Kevin bought his first camera in the early 1980s and started working in the photography department of a daily newspaper a few years later. His whole career is focused on photography and he’s covered a multitude of subjects. He loves to photograph people the most. During the past decade, Kevin has begun to teach and write more, sharing his passion for photography with anyone who’s willing to learn.
Kevin bought his first camera in the early 1980s and started working in the photography department of a daily newspaper a few years later. His whole career is focused on photography and he’s covered a multitude of subjects. He loves to photograph people the most. During the past decade, Kevin has begun to teach and write more, sharing his passion for photography with anyone who’s willing to learn.

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