Have you ever taken a photo of a subject that ends up overshadowed by a noisy background? It’s frustrating and diminishes the feel of the entire image. If only you could soften or blur the background to make your subject stand out. 

What if we told you that you could fix those photos? You just need to learn how to blur background in Lightroom to make your subject pop!

Altering the Background of a Photo in Post-Production

Adobe Photoshop is more than capable of editing background in photos, but there are several reasons to choose Adobe Lightroom. First, Lightroom is a superior option for managing your photos. It also handles a lot of basic editing features, including the chance to blur the background.

Lightroom is easier to use, especially for beginners. It’s easier to create collections and move images around. Adobe Lightroom also gives you the ability to copy or sync edits to multiple photos at one time.

Why You May Want to Blur Background in Lightroom

Why should you use a blur? Sure, there are other ways to make your subject pop, but a blur helps your photo in other ways.

  • It adds focus to your subject without creating a floating look.
  • The blur gives your photo a timeless, almost dreamy quality.
  • You can hide unwanted elements, like other people or street signs.  

Options for How to Blur Background in Lightroom

There are a few different ways to use Lightroom blur background. You may want to try each method to find the one that works best for you. 

To begin, regardless of which method you choose to use, import your image to Adobe Lightroom. You need to open the Develop Module from the top toolbar. 

#1 Creating the Blur with Brushes

If you choose to use the brush, click on “Adjustment Brush.” Create a layer mask (mask overlay) by clicking “new.” Make sure you click “show selected mask overlay” at the bottom of the screen when you’re creating a layer mask. 

Step 1: Adjustment Brush Settings

Once you’ve selected “show selected mask overlay”. You need to change the settings of the adjustment brush before applying anything to your photo. Each adjustment helps blur the background, so you may want to play around with them a little.

  • Brush size – smaller is better because it gives you more control
  • Sharpness – we suggest starting at -100
  • Clarity – for the most dramatic results, start at -100
  • Exposure reduces the brightness created by reducing sharpness and clarity, so you may want to ease into it.
  • Feather determines the hardness of the brush lines, so you probably want to start at 100 to blur the background.
  • Flow is the strength of the brush. You can start lower and build up, but 100 gives the maximum. 
brush panel lightroom

Step 2: Apply the Blur Effect

Using your adjustment brush, paint the blur on the image wherever you want to apply it. Keep in mind, you probably want to leave a slight border around your subject.  

Step 3 (Optional): Make Corrections

Did you blur some areas unintentionally? Don’t worry, you can correct it with the “erase” brush to remove the blur effect to resharpen those areas. 

erase panel

Step 4: Create a Custom Blur Preset

When you find settings that work for you, save it as a custom blur preset to use on future projects. It will save you time down the road when you want to blur the background in Lightroom. 

#2 Creating the Effect with Radial Filters

The fastest way to add a blurring effect to a photo is with a radial filter. You don’t have as many customization options with a radial filter, but it softens the background around a selected shape, usually a circle or an oval. 

radial filter panel lightroom

Step 1: Adjust Feather Setting

You can still adjust the feather setting with radial filters. Since you’re not applying the effect with a brush, you probably want to set your feather at a mid-level (50).  

Step 2: Invert Mask (Optional)

If you want the effect to apply to the area inside the circle or oval, you need to take an extra step, inverting mask. Select the “invert mask” option to extend the filter inside your selected space. 

Step 3: Adjust the Radial Filter

Select an area inside the frame and adjust the size and shape. When you like the place and size, you can make the final adjustment. 

Step 4: Adjust Clarity

You may need to adjust the clarity to get the effect you desire. However, sliding it up to -100 may be a bit much. Again, you probably want to go for a mid-level setting, like -50. 

Step 5: Remove the Effect

One of the benefits of Lightroom is how easily you can correct a mistake. Simply use the erase brush to remove the effect from certain areas. 

If you just don’t like the results, it’s not a big deal. Since you created a mask overlay, you can remove the selected mask and start over.

Save your work and create a preset for the radial filter if you like it. 

#3 Creating the Effect with Graduated Filters

If the brush method is too much and the radial filter isn’t enough to blur the background, try using a graduated filter. It’s the middle ground of Lightroom blur effect, and it just involves clicking and dragging. 

graduated filter panel lightroom

Step 1: Place and Drag the Graduated Filter

Simple drag from the outside edge toward the center of your photo. You can use a graduated filter horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.  

Step 2: Make Adjustments

Three lines appear when you place the graduated filter. Adjusting the space between the lines alters the transition of the effect. The further apart the lines are, the softer the transition. 

Step 3: Add More Graduated Filters

It’s possible to add additional filters to get the effect you desire. Just right-click on the small filter dot to duplicate the graduated filter. Be careful not to overdo it. 

Step 4 (Optional): Remove the Blur

Again, if you don’t like how the photo turned out, select your trusty “erase” brush and go to work. As a side note, it’s easier to make these corrections if you use the colored overlay.

Don’t forget to save your work. You can also create presets for the graduated filters. 

#4 Creating the Blur with High Contrast Black and White from Color

Wait! We have one more method for you to use. Black and white photos can be more impressive than the color image. It only takes a few steps to shift into a high-contrast black and white image.

Step 1: Adjust Your Color Image

You need to begin with an RGB image. Click on the Develop module and find the “Fill Light” option. Move the slider to +60. Don’t panic if it doesn’t look great, it will. 

Step 2: Adjust the Black Levels

Now, find the Black slider and move it in the positive direction. Have fun with this step, and adjust it until you see good contrast. 

Step 3: Convert to the Image to Black and White

Go to the Treatment menu and find the options for Color or Black and White. Select Black and White. Find the graduated filter and set it at a negative number. Again, you may need to play around a bit to get the right look. 

Step 4: Finish and Save the Image

Save your image as a high-contrast black and white photo. You can also save your selections as a preset for future use. 

Bokeh and A Bit of Theory

If you’re a beginner, you may not know what bokeh is or why it matters. In photography, bokeh refers to the parts of an image that aren’t in focus. Bokeh happens when parts of the shot fall outside a lens’s DOF (depth of field) and can be intentional or accidental.

The out-of-focus areas occur because of lens design. Depending on the aperture you use, the bokeh shapes change. Cameras with multiple aperture settings allow you to play around with different shapes. Of note, a mirror lens has no aperture, so it creates different out-of-focus shapes.  

Digital Blur Isn’t Always Ideal

Creating a blur digitally doesn’t always translate to a better shot. It’s difficult to create a gradual blurring of the background. You can end up with disappointing results. Depending on the photo, it can result in sharp edges or extended blur that diminishes your subject. 

Bonus: How to Skip the Blur Edits and Do It In-Camera

Would you rather skip the editing altogether? You can achieve the blur in-camera with a little effort and an understanding of your camera’s capabilities. You can alter your DOF by adjusting the aperture, subject distance, and focal length.  

Maximizing the DOF

To create a sharper landscape, your aperture should be higher (try doubling your f-numbers) and your focal length shorter. Set up a reasonable distance from your subject. Try to keep your focus around a third of the way into the setting. 

Minimizing the DOF

If you prefer to set your subject apart from the background and create a beautiful blur, you want to minimize the DOF. Use small f-numbers (aperture), longer focal length, and set up closer to your subject. 

Using Adobe Lightroom Background Blur to Improve Photos

Lightroom is a beginner-friendly option for managing and lightly editing photos. With this step-by-step guide, you should be able to make the most of this technique in no time!