Draw focus to your subject with this complete step-by-step tutorial on how to blur backgrounds in Photoshop!
In this Photoshop tutorial, you will learn how to easily create the shallow depth of field effect (out of focus background) without an expensive lens.
You will learn about selections, Layer Masks, Smart Objects, and the Tilt-Shift Blur to blur your photo’s background.
Steps to Blurring The Background in Photoshop
- Duplicate Your Original Image
- Make a Selection Out of The Main Subject
- Expand The Selection
- Remove The Main Subject with Content-Aware Fill
- Remove The Background From The Model Layer
- Contract the Mask with the Minimum Filter
- Blur The Background with The Tilt-Shift Filter
- Fine-Tune The Layer Mask
- Paint Hair Back Into Your Image
- Paint Hair with a Custom Brush
- Final Adjustments with Camera Raw
Duplicate Your Original Image
Start the process by duplicating your image layer and renaming the duplicate layer to “Foreground.”
You can right-click to duplicate, or use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl J (Windows) or Command J (macOS).
Make a Selection Out of The Main Subject
The next step is to remove the background from the main subject to avoid edge halos upon blurring the image, and to give you more flexibility when masking the Foreground element.
To create a selection with the latest version of Photoshop, choose Select > Subject and allow Adobe Sensei, Photoshop’s Artificial Intelligence (AI), to study the entire image, find the subject, and create a selection out of it.
Expand The Selection
Create a gap between the selection and the edge of the subject’s body by choosing Select > Modify > Expand.
Choose the appropriate pixel value for the selection to expand into and press OK.
Make sure that there is a gap between the edge of the selection and the edge of the main subject.
Remove The Main Subject with Content-Aware Fill
Choose Edit > Content-Aware Fill to remove the subject from the layer and fill in space where the selection used to be.
The content-Aware will fill with similar pixels to the surrounding edges. Please note that the result doesn’t have to be perfect. As long the contents inside the fill are similar to the surrounding areas this technique should work.
Then, set the Output to Duplicate Layer and press OK.
On the Layers panel, you will find the generated Background copy where the photo’s main subject has been removed.
Remove The Background From The Model Layer
One crucial step on how to blur backgrounds in Photoshop is removing the background from the Model layer.
At this point, you can focus on the Foreground layer and disable the Background layer and its copy.
With the selection still active, apply it as a Layer Mask by clicking on the New Layer Mask icon.
Since the selection was expanded earlier, you can contract the edges by selecting the Layer Mask.
Contract the Mask with the Minimum Filter
Choose Filter > Other > Minimum.
The mask was expanded to 5 pixels. On the Minimum window, you can also set the Radius to 5 pixels, so it returns to its original selection.
Since you are working with a human subject, set the Preserve to Roundness.
Then, press OK to apply the filter.
Blur The Background with The Tilt-Shift Filter
First, convert the Background copy layer into a Smart Object so that you have the ability to edit the blur at a later time.
Then, choose Filter > Blur Gallery > Tilt-Shift.
The Tilt-Shift filter applies blurriness to your photo in a gradual manner. All the pixels between the two solid lines will remain the same.
Meanwhile, the pixels between the solid line and the dashed line will have a gradual transition to blurriness, determined by Blur slider.
You can then drag the lines to make it seem as if the images get blurrier as it recedes into the background, much like a real photo. In most cases, the area where the person is standing will remain in focus and not blurry.
Fine-Tune The Layer Mask
While the Select Subject tool achieves a great job at automatically creating a selection of the subject, it sure isn’t perfect.
Fine-tune the Layer Mask by selecting the Brush tool and painting with white (to reveal) and black (to hide) pixels.
Paint Hair Back Into Your Image
First, hide the stray pixels that are too difficult to select. Do so by painting with black on the Layer Mask.
Then, create a New Layer and rename it to “Hair.”
Select the Brush tool and set the Size and Hardness to the minimum value and use it to paint in the “stray hairs” for a more natural look.
For a more realistic look, use the Eyedropper tool to sample the subject’s hair colors and use that for the hair color.
Paint Hair with a Custom Brush
In a previous PTC tutorial, we uncovered how you could create your own hairbrush and use it to paint in hair that was not included in the Layer Mask.
If you don’t have the Hair Brush, you can download it here:319 – PTC Hair Brush (1820 downloads)
If you already have that in your cloud, use the Brush to paint the stray hairs with one click and utilize the Transform tool to distort/rotate the “hair” until it fits well with the rest of the subject’s hair.
Final Adjustments with Camera Raw
To edit the image as a whole, place all the layers into a Smart Object.
Then, select Filter > Camera Raw Filter and use the available tools to enhance the details, colors, and tonality, of the image.
That is the tutorial on how to blur backgrounds in Photoshop that can draw the focus of the viewers towards your subject. If you liked this tutorial, you can also click here to learn how you can add bokeh effect to your photos!