A busy background can ruin a photograph. Fortunately, with Photoshop, it is possible to turn down the noise on a background and add a blur instead. When you do this, you give the subject the background it needs. You can also remove faces of strangers, entire crowds, brand names, or other unwanted or distracting elements with the Photoshop backgrounds blur. 

Learning how to blur background on Photoshop is not tough when you follow instructions. There are several steps involved, and having a guide is helpful, especially if you are unsure how to use the f-stops on a DSLR camera or if you use your phone to capture images. 

What is Available in the Blur Gallery? 

Blurring the background in Photoshop is such a popular edit that the app has several different tools for users. One of the favorites is the Gaussian blur in Photoshop, which is named for the mathematician who developed the blurring formula. This Photoshop tool will blur an entire image, or you can use it for specific locations. 

The other choices are more specific. You can use the iris blur to feature a focal point in the image. There is also a motion blur that adds the look of movement in the photo. Motion blur is a fun tool to use when the focus of the picture moves in profile rather than head-on in the image. There is also a blur option in Photoshop that will smooth areas that may have an accidental blur in the background. 

There is another Photoshop option that some users confuse as a blur effect. If you are using Smudge to get a blur effect, you are misusing it. Smudge actually moves the pixels in the image. Blur happens by smoothing the pixels. Smudge creates a messy look, while a blur tool softens an image. 

man riding skateboard out of phone

Why Use Gaussian Blur?

When you need to blur the background in Adobe Photoshop, the quickest tool to use is Gaussian blur. The filter was named for Carl Friedrich Gauss, a German mathematician who developed the linear filter formula.

You use it to reduce image noise in Photoshop and create a blur effect on the original picture. In some cases, you can enhance the blur with a brush tool or change the amount of blur. 

This gallery tool can also be used to soften the edges in place of the tool called Unsharp Masking. Some filter blur options work by sorting the pixels to get the desired look, but Gauss used a formula that involved multiplying and adding. The outcome is more natural and can look rather lovely, like laying a piece of vellum over the original subject. 

Getting to Know Layer Mask

A key element in creating a blurred background is to use a layer mask. It is always wise to work with layers when doing any work in Photoshop to protect the original photo. When you use a layer mask, you are hiding the layer in total or in part. The editor can use the layer mask to erase, delete, or edit part of the photo without permanently editing or deleting it. 

If you are blurring the background in Photoshop, the layer mask lets you protect the integrity of the original picture in the foreground. It enables you to create a composite photo or cut out parts that you want to use later. 

white daisy on blue background

The layer mask comes in three colors: black, white, and gray. You paint it on. Black will hide the layer, gray partially hides it, and white shows the layer. Everything you do with the layer mask can be erased at any point in the editing process. 

Separate the Background from the Foreground

One of the most critical steps in the process is to use layers to separate the foreground item from the filter blur gallery background. There are several tools in the gallery, but the best one is in Photoshop 2020 – Select Subject –  which uses artificial intelligence to figure out the subject. 

If you have an older version of Photoshop, you can use the Pen, Magnetic Lasso, Magic Wand, or Quick Selection. You should click on a tool based on the complexity of the picture. After you have outlined the foreground feature, you should always save it as a new layer and give it a name that is easy to remember: like “foreground subject.”

You should also create a duplicate of the original in a layer you might call “background.” This will be the layer that you blur. Eventually, you will put the foreground subject layer on the back layer. There is more to it, though

Working with the foreground image, you will need to click ok on the New Layer Mask to remove the background. Then, click ok on the foreground subject and the background to put them together as one piece. The layer mask will black out the background on the foreground image, blurring the background layer, and finishing your work. 

Why Should You Blur a Background in Photoshop?

There are several good reasons to blur the back. One of the most popular ideas is to draw more attention to the subject in the foreground. For example, portraits often have a blurred background to avoid distracting from the person in the photo

woman showing eyes behind sweater

Some people also like to create a blur with a brush tool to make the photo enjoyable. A blur effect can be used artistically to changed the depth of field. Besides changing the depth of field, it can also be used to create motion, opposite of blurring the subject. 

If you use the layer mask to create the blur’s look, you can play with the blur gallery and see what options you have. With the layer mask, you can delete anything that you do not like to return to the original image. 

Steps to Blur the Background with Photoshop

There are several steps involved in creating a blurred background. Remember to create layers as you move through the steps to preserve the original photo. To keep the layers and layer masks separate, give them names that you will remember when you click to create them. 

Step 1: Outline the Subject

To begin working on the picture, click to open a photo in the workspace. Then, make a duplicate of it so you do not destroy the photo. Then, choose a tool that allows you to select the part of the image that you want to remain crisp and sharp. The tool you use will depend on the Photoshop version you have, either the Magnetic Tool, Lasso, Pen, or the Select Subject AI option. 

If you have an older version of Photoshop, patiently outline the subject. If you have “Refine Edge” as an option in the menu, use it to create a precise outline. 

Step 2: Create a New Layer and Use Black Paint

While you have the subject outlined, create a new layer. Then, click on the black paint to fill it in. Your subject should be completely black with a noticeable outline. Give this layer a name you will remember. 

Step 3: Create Another Layer and Use the Gradient Tool

Make another new layer. Then, to help you with the blur, use the Gradient Tool to build a layer mask. Everything in the black part of the gradient will remain crisp. The gray showcases the transition, and the white is part of the picture that will be blurred. Click to save the layer. 

Step 4: Record Your Actions and Increase Pixel Size

This is a useful step to click on if you need to back up and do something again. In the Actions panel, click on the white card. Then move to the Image menu and click size to change it to a large width, like 5000. This lets you get a close-up view of the changes you are going to make.

Step 5: Merge, Hide, and Blur

To get the whole photo blurred, select it all. Then, in the Edit menu, select Copy Merged. Create a New Channel and paste your canvas into it. Return to your layers to hide the masks. You will then need to select the background layer and create a duplicate. Then, choose the blur of your choice.

Step 6: Clean Up the Foreground Image

If you find the foreground image looks artificial against the newly blurred background, you can fix that. Choose your first mask, then expand it by at least 10 pixels. Then, create another new background layer. Filter blur it with the Gaussian Blur and watch the pixels around your foreground image. 

two children holding hands

You can soften the edges and make the image look more natural by selecting the layer and adding some contrast in the Select and Modify submenu. Use the Contract option and set it to 15 pixels. Then, click on delete and the blur will disappear with a blended, natural edge on the subject. 

Step 7: Put the Finishing Touches on the Image

The soft, blended edge is probably on the entire image. You must use another mask to cover the blur over the image and reveal the smooth edges. Hide your second mask, then make a new layer mask for the first layer. Click to save the image and remove the recording option. If the photo looks the way you want it to, then you are finished. 

Painting Over the Background

There are some versions of Photoshop that require users to paint over the background. You will use the color that tells the mask what to do. So you will create a new layer mask and paint either white, black, or gray. The colors will help you recognize what happens with the blur. 

How to Quickly Blur a Background in Photoshop

Many of the steps for blurring a layer can be time-consuming. If you have a simple item to cut in the photo, create a layer, and cut it out. Set it aside. Then, create another layer from the original image. Blur the entire picture. Then, place the cut-out image on the blurred photo by dragging into the workspace. 

Then, use the paintbrush tool with a low radius to soften the edges around the foreground item. If you have the time, try using different limits to give the thing a more natural look against the blur. This quick blur might not be ideal, but it is a fast way to change the photo.