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How to blur a background in photos

Introducing a background blur to your photos can draw attention to a specific subject, such as an individual in a portrait or an item in a still life, while adding a professional flair to your image. This beautiful background blur, also known as bokeh, can be achieved even after shooting your photo, thanks to advances in editing software. This guide will walk you through the process on iOS, Android, Windows, and MacOS.

Difficulty

Moderate

Duration

10 minutes

What You Need

  • A PC or mobile device

  • One of the mobile, desktop, or web apps we've recommended below

  • An image file you want to edit

Blurring photos on iOS

If you haven’t taken your photograph yet, you can use Portrait Mode to automatically blur the background. Note that while this can sometimes work for other subjects, it’s best for photos of people.

But if you didn’t shoot the photo in Portrait Mode, you can create the effect after the fact using an app. We like Blur Photo Editor Background by Connects Ltd. in the App Store, which allows you to edit photos with high levels of precision — but it does require a $5-per-month subscription.

Step 1: Grant permission to access photos, then select the photo you wish to alter.

Step 2: Click the Portrait button in the lower-right corner.

Step 3: Drag your finger over the subject you wish to keep in focus.

Step 4: If needed, adjust the Intensity and Brush Size sliders to better aid your task.

Step 5: Once finished, select the Check Mark icon in the lower right.

Step 6: Click the Save button in the upper-right corner to save your work.

Blurring photos on Android

Some Android phones, such as Samsung’s Galaxy lineup, offer similar Portrait Mode abilities to the iPhone for automatically blurring the background of your photographs. Otherwise, if your phone doesn’t provide the capacity within the stock camera app, we would recommend downloading the Auto Blur Background app by Judi Studio from the Google Play Store. Once you have the app installed, follow these steps:

Step 1: Click the large Portrait button.

Step 2: Grant permission to access photos, then select the photo you wish to alter.

Step 3: The app will then immediately analyze and blur your background automatically. You can also select the Focus option (bottom left corner) to manually focus and blur certain parts of your photo using the Draw and Eraser tools.

Step 4: Tap the Blur icon and adjust the slider to increase or decrease the intensity of your blur, then tap the Back Button Arrow icon.

Step 5: Once finished, select the Save icon in the lower-right corner to save your work.

Note: If you wish to blur a background without a person using the Auto Blur Background app, once the application is open, tap on the Landscape or Shape options instead of Portrait.

Blurring photos on Windows/MacOS

While Windows and MacOS both contain simple apps to add background blur to images, we’ll be focusing on using one of the most popular photo editing packages available — Adobe Photoshop. If you would rather use a different application, you can see our list of the best Photoshop alternatives. Otherwise, once Photoshop is installed on your machine, follow these steps to introduce a simple background blur to your image.

Step 1: Open the photo you wish to alter in Photoshop (File > Open).

Step 2: On the right side of the screen, under the Layers section, right-click your photo and select Duplicate Layer.

Step 3: Ensure the top layer in the Layers section is chosen, then apply a Gaussian Blur filter (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur). For the current radius, enter 50, then click OK.

Step 4: Next, select the Erase tool in the left-hand toolbar. You may wish to adjust the hardness of the tool to around 50% using the top toolbar.

Step 5: Begin to erase the areas that you wish to be clear and sharp. Take your time, as the process may take a bit of patience.

Step 6: If needed, adjust the size of your erase tool as you work, using the Size adjuster in the top toolbar — this will allow you to work on finer details.

Step 7: Save the image (File > Save). You may also want to export a smaller version for the web or social media (File > Export > Export As…).

Tip: While working, you can change the opacity of the blurred layer to see fine details better below. Achieve this by clicking on the layer in the Layers section, then using the Opacity selector. Remember to return this setting to a higher number once finished.

This is one of the simplest and fastest ways to blur a background in Photoshop, but it won’t be the most realistic. If you want more control over the blur in your photo, complete with the ability to simulate depth-of-field falloff, see our tutorial on Photoshop’s Field Blur tool.

Fast blurring with web app Fotor

If you don’t want to download and learn a new app or you’re short on time, you can also visit a web app for quick blurring on a photo you’re working on. We recommend the app Fotor for this particular project. Click the link to visit the web app and get started.

Step 1: Select Open Image on the top menu to upload your photo.

Step 2: Go to the Adjust menu on the left-hand side. Then scroll until you see Advanced Edits.

Step 3: Under Advanced Edits, you've got two options: Blur and Blur - Brush.

Blur is more of an autofocus feature where you can choose between Circular or Linear focus and quickly drag that focus around to where you want the focus to be, blurring everything else outside of it. In Blur, you can also adjust the size of the focus area and the blur's intensity. When you're done adjusting click Apply.

Blur — Brush is more like a manual focus. It gives you more control and lets you fine-tune the details with customizable Brush and Eraser tools. But it can take longer to use depending on how much you want to blur and it's a premium feature meaning you'll have to sign up for a paid account (at least a free trial) to remove the watermark. The regular Blur feature is free and doesn't have a watermark.

Step 4: When finished, click the blue Download button in the top right corner. You'll be prompted to sign up for a free account in order to download your edited photo.

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