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How to Blur a Background in Lightroom

One of the most common misfortunes in a photo is to have distracting elements in the background. Luckily we can use powerful editing software like Adobe Lightroom to add blur in the background of the image. In this Lightroom tutorial, you’ll find out how to make the background blurred by applying the blur effect in Lightroom.

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How to Blur out the background Lightroom CC – Step by Step

You have a few options when it comes to blurring your background and we’re about to explore all of them, but first things first – to begin you’ll need to import your image in Lightroom.

Step 1: Import Your Photo

Make sure you’re in the Library module. On the left side of your screen, you will be able to see a panel (which consists of a few other panels) and right at the bottom of it, you should see a button that says Import. Click on it

Step 2: Create a Mask That Only Affects the Background

At this point you have three options in Lightroom to create the mask that you need for the blur effect. We’ll start with the most time-consuming (and probably the most precise): the Adjustment Brush tool.

First Mask Option: the Adjustment Brush tool

I personally feel like this method is the best one because it gives you a lot of control over the selection you make. Now let’s see how it works.

Firstly make sure you are in the Develop module. After that, take a look at the top right corner of your screen. What you’ll find there is the Adjustment Brush Tool.

Local adjustment brush in Lightroom

Once you enter this panel you’ll see there are quite a few options to customize this particular tool. If you want to use the shortcut on your keyboard for the Adjustment Brush – simply press K.

The most important aspects of this tool in our case are Size, Feather & Flow – these will help you determine the edges of your selections. Feather determines how hard or how soft the brush is. Flow tells it how “strong” the brush is or in other words how many clicks away it is from reaching its full strength capacity. 

Brush settings in Lightroom

Armed with the Adjustment Brush, you can easily create a mask with precision. When you start painting over the image you’ll definitely need to see exactly what you’re doing at the moment. Press O on your keyboard, which will reveal the mask you’ve done so far and it will show it in red color. If you want to get rid of the marking – simply press again O and it will disappear. 

mask created with the brush tool in LR

Second Masking Option: the Radial Filter

If you don’t want to use the brush for creating the mask, you have a couple of other options as well.

For example, if you have an image with a simple central composition where you need the whole background blurred, the quickest way may turn out to be using the Radial filter.

The Radial Filter is located to the left of the Adjustment Brush tool icon which we’ve just discussed above. 

radial adjustment filter in Lightroom

Firstly you need to position the circle on the photo. Click hold on the center of your subject and drag outwards until the circle is outside your subject. Press O to see what parts of the image are affected. Everything that’s under the red haze is going to be affected by the adjustments you make.

Selection mask made with the radial adjustment tool in LR

The problem with the Radial blur option is that the selection is not very precise. To fine-tune it, grab the brush which is located within the radial filter.

Here you have two alternatives: either to add more to the selection with the brush itself or to take out of it by grabbing the Erase brush tool. The brush within the Radial filter will help you tweak the selection and most importantly: to make improvements. 

Third Option: The Graduated Filter

use the gradient tool to create a linear graduated blur effect in lightroom

The third option that I’m going to share is quite similar to the second one. It’s in fact the other popular filter in Lightroom: the Graduated Filter. The icon is a rectangle orientated vertically and it’s located to the left of the Radial Filter. For quick selection, you can press M when you’re already in the Develop module.

Place the filter over the area of your photo which you want blurred and don’t forget to press O so you show the selected mask overlay. The more intense the red haze is the more affected (more blurred) this area is going to get. You can still adjust further the placement of the filter by moving it around and paying attention to the effect it causes.

gradient overlay tool in Lightroom

Identical to the Radial blur you have a Brush located within the same panel. If you click on this brush you’ll see that you can add or remove bits and pieces of the selection. To erase the selection hold ALT and brush over the desired area or simply click on “eraser” at the bottom of the filer panel.

It’s really helpful to know that you can regulate the brush effect size just by pressing the “[” and the “]” buttons on your keyboard. The first one makes the brush smaller and the second one makes it bigger.

In many cases, you’ll have to deal with more detailed fragments from the image and it’s best if you zoom in to keep a close eye on the selection. If you have a graphic tablet, it will surely up your brush game, the only downside is that it’s highly addictive!

Step 3: Decrease Texture, Sharpness and Clarity

When you’re fully ready with the mask, you’ll have to create the blur effect itself. This is done by decreasing the Sharpness and Clarity of the background. You can also decrease Texture if it adds to the blur effect.

texture and sharpness

For the full amount of blur setting the values of Clarity and Sharpness sliders to -100 is acceptable, but in reality, it’s often over the top. If you’re going for a more natural effect trying playing with the values until you manage to adjust the blur effect to your liking in Lightroom.

Final words

Knowing how to blur in Lightroom is a powerful way to go back in time and “change” the settings of your camera in post-production. It can surely enhance your photo and make it look better, but it can also completely save it from going to the virtual trash bin!

Do you use another approach to use Lightroom for background blur, please let us know in the comments below?

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