how to blur background in lightroom

How to Blur Background in Lightroom

Have you ever have those times when you wish you’d shot something with a wider aperture, so your image would have that dreamy background blur behind your subject?

Or maybe like me, you just simply forgot to adjust your aperture? Don’t worry, I won’t tell if you won’t.

Getting this right in camera is preferable, but did you know you can fake a background blur in Lightroom pretty easily? With the skillful use of brushes and filters, you’can hardly tell the difference.

I’m going to walk you through 3 different (and easy) ways to blur the background in Lightroom. Regardless of which option you choose, the first 2 steps are identical.

Let's get started:

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Step 1. Choose a Blur Method

You can blur a background in Lightroom using any one or more of these 3 tools:

  1. Brushes
  2. Radial Filters
  3. Graduated Filters

Depending on the option you choose, first click on the brush, radial filter, or graduated filter icon just below your histogram in Lightroom. Select ‘New’ and then click on the arrows to open up your menu of selections.

lightroom blur

Step 2. Adjust Sharpness, Clarity & Exposure

Next you will need to set the blur effect that you want to be applied to your image using the Lightroom brush, radial filter or graduated filter tool options. These options are very similar for each tool.

I usually begin by selecting the default ‘Sharpness’ menu item. From there, simply drag the sharpness slider all the way back to -100. (TIP: If you’re not a fan of sliders, you can also click the number to the right of the slider and simply type in the value you would like to use).

In addition to bringing the sharpness all the way down, I also bring the clarity slider all the way down. I like to see the most dramatic effect first and then adjust the sliders up from there as I go.

lightroom settings to blur a background

Lastly, I bring down the exposure just a bit as well. Reducing sharpness and clarity tends to create unexpected brightness because you are removing some contrast. Make sure all the other sliders are set to zero. (Tip: You can double click on the slider name to reset sliders to zero).

Now that we’ve got the first 2 steps out of the way, let's get into more detail about how to use each individual adjustment tool.

Blur Method #1: Brushes

The Lightroom Brush is an incredibly versatile and incredibly powerful tool. Of the three methods we’ll discuss today, brushes offer the most directed control. You can literally paint on the blur wherever you want it and apply additional brush layers to specified parts of the image!

Here's my starting image:

blur background in lightroom

Step 3. Adjust Feather & Flow

Use the feather and flow sliders to adjust how strong you want the effect to be.

Step 4. Brush on the Blur

Using the targeted adjustment brush, ‘Paint’ the blur effect on your image wherever you like. (TIP: Hit the ‘O’ key to see a colored overlay of where the effect is being applied. My overlay is set to red but you may have set yours to be a different color. Either way, the more opaque the color, the stronger the effect will be).

TIP #2: I like to set my flow to around 40 or so and simply paint on additional layers for additional blur if needed.

lightroom blur background

Optional Step 5. Remove Blur

If you accidentally blur an area of your image that you wanted to remain sharp, you can select the ‘Erase’ brush and remove it from those areas. This is much easier to do when utilizing the colored overlay.

Final Image with Blur Added:

how to blur in lightroom

Blur Method #2: Radial Filters

What radial filters lack in control, they make up for in time-saving ability. More often than not, radial filters will be your quickest option.

Unlike brushes, radial filters are limited in that they can only be applied in some variation of a round or oval shape. This is a great option if you want to apply blur all-around your subject. Something I do really appreciate about radial filters is that they apply the blur evenly.

Here's my starting image:

how to blur image in lightroom

Step 3. Adjust Feather

Adjust the feathering to your taste. I like to keep mine around 50 so that the transition from sharp to blurred is smooth.

Step 4. Invert Mask (If Desired)

Click ‘Invert Mask’ if you would like to apply your edits inside the circle/oval. Leave this box unchecked if you want to apply your edits outside the circle/oval.

Step 5. Place & Size the Radial Filter 

Select a spot within the frame, then click and drag until your filter is the size and shape you desire.

how to blur the background in lightroom

Step 6. Adjust Clarity

Pull the clarity slider up if needed (-100 is a pretty drastic effect that can be mitigated when using brushes because you can control the opacity of the brush). With the radial filter, you don’t have the same amount of control so you will need to adjust the clarity slider directly to lessen the effect).

Optional Step 7. Remove Blur

Again, if you accidentally blur an area that you would like to remain sharp, you can select the ‘Erase’ brush and remove the blur from those areas. This is much easier to do if you’re utilizing the colored overlay.

Final Image with Blur Added:

lightroom blur tool

Blur Method #3: Graduated Filters

Graduated filters have long since been my FAVORITE way to create background blur because I feel like I get the best of both worlds. With graduated filters, I can utilize more control than I can with radial filters AND I also get a more even application than I can with brushes!

Here's my starting image:

how to blur something in lightroom

Step 3. Place and Drag Graduated Filter

Graduated filters are a simple click and drag from the outside edge of the frame toward the center. Graduated filters can be horizontal, vertical or any variation of diagonal. You can even rotate them by hovering over the centerline.

Step 4. Adjust the Effect Transition

When you place your graduated filter, you will see three lines. (Tip: you can hide or show these lines by tapping the ‘H’ key). The closer the lines are to each other, the more abrupt the effect transition will be. If the lines are further apart, the effect transition will be softer.

blur effect lightroom

Step 5. Add Additional Graduated Filters

You can add additional graduated filters as needed or right click on the small circular filter dot to duplicate the filter. But be careful as this can often be too dramatic and will probably need some further tweaking. (TIP: This option is available with all three tools we’ve discussed here).

Optional Step 6. Remove Blur

As with brushes and radial filters, if you accidentally blur an area you would like to remain sharp, you can select the ‘Erase’ brush and remove it from those areas. Again this is much easier to do if you’re utilizing the colored overlay.

Final Image with Blur Added:

how to blur background in lightroom

Save Your Settings as a Custom Blur Preset

After you’ve finished using one of these techniques (or a combination) to blur your background, you can click the + symbol in the upper right hand side of the ‘Presets’ module on the left hand side of Lightroom to save a new preset using the brushes or filters you’ve just created. This is an easy way to apply blur in the future without having to retrace all of these steps.

Conclusion

So, next time you miss capturing a nice blurry background in-camera, just remember that there’s an easy way to add that dreamy blur to your images in Lightroom!

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