When I began to acquire a serious interest in photography, I knew nothing!  I mean that! I didn’t know the first thing about composition, perspective, lighting, exposure, and dozens of even more complex photographic techniques.  As time passed, I learned.  And, I continue to learn thanks in part to many of you!

I’ve realized something very important about learning.  If you really want to learn, you have to be willing to admit that you don’t know!  It sounds simple – but, it’s not so easy to do.  That’s why in a recent post about using the Healing Tool in Photoshop, I simply asked Bob Zeller to walk me through the process…and, he was gracious enough to do just that!  In fact, he made it so simple that I thought there may be others wanting the same type of instruction.  So, I’m introducing this tip using step-by-step instructions that, hopefully, will help anyone wanting to learn.

The photo below happens to be one of those early shots taken before I really knew anything about photography!  This is literally a prime example of someone picking up a camera, pointing it at an object, focussing, and shooting.  One of the first lessons I learned about shooting flowers is to shoot them from a low perspective, as opposed to a perspective from above as in this shot.  You see, when you take the shot from above it becomes nearly impossible to blur the background.  This is a beautiful image, but the background is somewhat distracting.  If you have images similar to this one, all is not lost!!  Thanks to some crafty editing software, much can be done to enhance this image. But, how?

The following images demonstrate the flexibility you have with a photo such as this. Let me walk you though exactly what I’ve done here.

  1. First of all, this image is straight out of the camera with no editing to the shot other than the background blur.  The image is somewhat washed out by the sun, but serves as a good example for this tip.
  2. Next, I uploaded the image into my editing software.  I use Photoshop Elements 8.  If you use something else, I believe the process will still be very similar.
  3. Once uploaded, I clicked on the Selection Tool (the Selection Tool looks like a wand with a dotted lasso at the end – it’s the 8th icon from the top of the tools column to the left) and began to pass it over the background until the entire background had been selected.  The area selected will be indicated by a dotted line surrounding your selection.  This can be tedious at times because the tool will occasionally select an area inside the flower.  So, be careful.  If that continues to happen, I have found if I take my paint brush and select a matching color – I can trace around the edge of the flower.  This will serve as a retaining barrier for the Selection Tool.  If you still have problems with the selection tool bleeding into the flower, reverse the procedure and select the flower.
  4. Once the selection is complete and you’re certain that no area of the flower has been selected, you’re ready to proceed.  Now if you found it necessary to select the flower because of selection bleeding, you will need to invert that process so you actually blur the background and not the flower.
  5. If you need to invert the selection, go to the Select drop down menu and select Inverse.
  6. Once your background has been selected, go to the Filters drop down menu and select Blur.  Then select Gaussian Blur.
  7. When Gaussian Blur is selected, a box will open allowing you to adjust the pixel level.  Make sure you have checked the Preview box if it has not been selected by default.


Gaussian Blur - Radius 10 Pixels

Gaussian Blur - Radius 20 Pixels

Gaussian Blur - Radius 30 Pixels

Gaussian Blur - Radius 50 Pixels

Gaussian Blur - Radius 250 Pixels

I quickly learned that shooting flowers from above was not the best way to present the beauty of the flowers.  Ideally, you want to move to a lower perspective which will allow the background to be further away, giving you the opportunity to select a large aperture which will blur the background naturally.  I talk about Depth of Field in this Photography Tip.

Blurring the background in Photoshop doesn’t completely correct the depth of field issue here.  As you can see the more you blur the background, the more the flower seems to take on a “floating” appearance.  This happens because the stem is hidden beneath the bloom.  But if you stay with a minimal blur, the distraction of the background is effectively lessened.

Once your background is blurred, you’re ready to do any amount of further editing to create whatever you might have in mind.

A Simple Crop Is Added



I hope this helps your editing efforts.  If you’re like me, you tend to use the editing tools most comfortable to you, completely ignoring all the other options.  Let me encourage you to explore and experiment!  You can always retrace your steps and start over.

Happy editing!!


~ by photographyfree4all on February 15, 2011.

17 Responses to “BLUR THAT BACKGROUND…IN PHOTOSHOP Photography Tip #18”

  1. Very interesting…


  2. Wow! You change a so so photo into a really beautiful photo. Thanks for showing us.


  3. It is interesting…isn’t it? I’m glad you stopped by, Barb. It can also be used to eliminate some pretty distracting clutter in a portrait shot of people, too. Thanks, Barb!


  4. Or….. you could just set your aperture to as wide as you can in camera. 2.8/f would work quite nicely in this scenario.


    Granted, if you didn’t do that in the first place your route to fixing it in post is well detailed and described!


  5. You are exactly right, Derrick. It’s always best to create the ideal Depth of Field in camera. But if you can’t, this is a viable alternative – especially for those who may be using a point and shoot camera. I really watch for this…now! 🙂 But, there was a time when I didn’t. Another great comment, Derrick! Thanks for jumping in!! 🙂


  6. Isn’t this such a nice thing to say, Miss Betty! Thank you so much for all your comments! They are always great!


  7. Thank you so much for this tip! I’m still learning about everything, including Photoshop. I especially like the way you showed all the photo starting with the original to the cropped version. What a difference a few adjustments can make. 🙂


  8. Nice tips Steve, you’ll forgive me for this later I hope.
    There is immense argument in photography circle as to what is and what is not acceptable in “editing” to an image and where photography stops and art begins. As a matter of fat that whole statement I just wrote will generate tons of arguments in itself.
    For me, there is a line between processing an image and editing it, that being said, I try to stick to processing rather than editing, but I do edit. And even in editing there is subtle editing that retains the photographic integrity and then drastic editing which leaves the photographic realm and crosses the border into art.
    Now, I’m not saying its a bad thing, just noting the difference. It is obvious that you are not only getting better at what you do but your creativity is expressing itself not only in the excellent photos you take but now in your editing and willingness to share these experiences. I think readers should know the differences appreciate the nuances of these things.
    Excellent post!


  9. Michael, Michael, Michael…I welcome a comment such as this!! You make a very valid point and I’m so glad you did bring it up. I couldn’t agree more! I really find that the more I educate myself about photography, the less editing I have to do. I learn to get the DoF correct in camera. But, this was an early shot of mine…and it was taken with a camera that did not allow for any aperture adjustments. So…I thought it made for a good example of what you might be able to do if you don’t have the camera that will allow the DoF technique. But this comment was absolute fantastic! I hope people will read and understand just what you are saying! I tend to agree with you in this area! great job, Michael!!


  10. For me (in asnwer to Michael’s post), the line is crossed when folks start editing their images to the point of removing things that aren’t there…. like getting rid of cell phone towers, power lines, etc. and then trying to pass it off as if that’s really what it looked like.

    I finally broke down and bought Lightroom and I’m glad that I did it – as I was able to salvage some images that I just couldn’t get right in camera thanks to some bad lighting conditions. But I keep my editing to a minimum – both to what I do and to how much time I spend on it.

    My ultimate goal is to get it as right in camera as I can and then use LR for minor tweaks.

    Even for those with point and shoot cameras – they should be able to adjust to some degree the depth of field if the camera is something like the Canon S95 or G12. In that case I’d tell folks to do what most people do not do – and that’s read the manual and learn how to use the various settings.

    Nice discussion you’ve got going, keep it up!


  11. I think I probably would agree with you in most cases, Derrick. I’m just not ready to say I would never edit in any particular way. I think everyone has an opinion on this one. I’ve seen prints that I think are over processed – but, in some strange way I like them! Other, I don’t. 🙂 I also believe there are times when you move into the area of art – through editing and processing. Most of the time, I’m ok with that, too! I do know this, when I’m taking a picture of a 2 year old that has no intention of “posing” for a picture, and I happen to capture a wonderful natural expression but I didn’t have time to get the clutter out of the background – I was glad to add a simple moderate blur to help make that clutter distraction disappear. 🙂 This is a great discussion, derrick! Thanks for jumping into the fray! 🙂 You and Michael have something going here. Let’s see if anyone else will join!


  12. I wonder how everyone feels about editing people out of a particular shot. I noticed at the Mission San Juan Capistrano, I waited and waited and waited to get a shot without people. Most of the time it was impossible. How would you feel about removing unwanted strangers from a shot? Just curious…


  13. Another reason I’d like to someday get some good photo editing software. Still, I really enjoy Picnik, and recently discovered I can blur things using the ‘wrinkle remover’ option in the ‘touch up’ section.

    I like what you said about having to admit you don’t know something before you can learn it. Profound advice.


  14. Okay, I guess it is time that I jumped in here. I am 76 years old, and I know that photographers have been editing, adjusting, fixing or whatever you want to call it for as many years that I can remember. The thing to remember is the important aim is the finished product.

    Ansel Adams was, to me, one of the greatest of all landscape photographers. He himself, before his death, mentioned that most people would never believe the way his subjects looked before he actually took the photo. He was a master in the darkroom. He used dodging, and burning artfully to enhance, darken, lighten, etc. to obtain strikingly artful photographs.

    An artist with a paintbrush, sitting at his easel, can make a picture and has the the choice of leaving something in or removing it. We photographers, as artists, are no different. Our “digital darkrooms” are no different than a chemical darkroom. We just keep our hands cleaner. I myself, if I discover a beer can in the foreground of one of my photos, I will remove it digitally. If I want to add contrast to make a photo shap more I will do it. If I want to saturate the colors of nearby flowers I will do that. Okay, I am done with my rant. 🙂 But just remember, it is the FINAL RESULT that is important.

    By the way, Steve, that was a well written tutorial about using the gaussian blur.


  15. I knew you had been out of town, Bob, but thought you might have something to add when you returned. I agree with the fact that it’s the final result that really counts. I also believe it’s where the final result ends up that counts as well. For instance, if your intention is to sell the work – I really doubt too many people would appreciate the artistic value of that beer can. But, I always edit copies and maintain the original so that I do have it to fall back on if I want to. If you’re doing photo journalism, them you will likely want to keep the context of the shot true. And in the final analysis…it all depends on the artist/photographer.


  16. I agree with you 100%, Steve. Always, always save the original. You never know when you need for another purpose. You and I are on the same page. 🙂



  17. I’m going to post a couple of shots from the San Juan Capistrano Mission that shows some of the editing I did. I think it will open up a lively discussion. I look forward to your input! Thanks, Bob!


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