Adding Background Blur for a Shallow Depth of Field

Do you have a great shot but wish you were able to get a little more depth of field background blur in the photo? It is always better to get it naturally in camera with a fast lens, but what if you are not able to? Well, if you want to spend the extra time post-processing your photos, you can add some extra background blur to your shot. Colin Smith from PhotoshopCAFE demonstrates how he added background blur to simulate the lovely blur without adding halos to your photo.

The first step is the most time-consuming one, you need to start off with a great selection of your subject as this lays the foundation for the rest. There are many different ways to start your selection, use your preferred method but make sure it is a precise selection before proceeding to the next step. Smith follows up by using content aware to fill in the void of the subject, makes the blurring effect more realistic and prevents the haloing effect from happening. Also, keep in mind how the blurring would occur naturally, you can’t have the entire background blurred at the same amount. Using Field Blur you can set up multiple pins to set different amounts of blurring in the image. I would suggest that you don’t overuse or go crazy with the amount of blurring you choose to apply.

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16 Comments

Anonymous's picture

I've basically always done the same thing except for using Gaussian blur with a gradient mask instead of field blur, which I was unfamiliar with before this. Thanks!

Leigh Smith's picture

Field blur is a fairly new feature. It does a pretty good job of mimicking lens blur. But still not perfect. I HATE fake DoF. Its almost alway noticeable unless implemented really subtly. But usually looks like crap.

Anonymous's picture

I spend almost as much time editing photos taken by others, as my own. You do what you have to. :-/

Jonathan Barge's picture

You also have to keep in mind that often the general public will not be as critical, sometimes tricks like these are invaluable for commercial purposes (I work as a graphic designer as well as photographer) and at the end of the day most of the time I use these sorts of techniques are for Social Media posts and ads that generally are on a very tight deadline and leaves no time for re-shoots.

It's not something you'd do to a photo for fine art photography or anything you'll be putting in a gallery but for a quick fix and tight deadline it's essential.

Spy Black's picture

Yes but it's also a look of it's own, if you ignore the desire to emulate optical DOF and bokeh. Nothing wrong with using Gaussian blur, or any of the other blur types for creative effects. We don't need to live by the limits of optical sources only anymore.

Dave Kavanagh's picture

Good video. Its a technique I'm not usually a fan of, mostly because its usually done in a very unbelievable way. With moderation and some good techniques like the video above it can be effective though.

Michael Kormos's picture

Not sure I see the appeal or logic here. A 7+ minute Photoshop process to add fake blur to a photo, when one could simply use the right lens to obtain the same result in 0.2 seconds. Not to mention that Gaussian Blur cannot accurately replicate the intricacies of real bokeh produced by lens. It will always look faux.

Don't get me wrong, I am all for sharing knowledge and experience through tips and tricks, but some of these tutorials seem to be produced solely for the sake of creating content. (i.e. "seven tips on shooting birds at the zoo".)

Anonymous's picture

It's useful for when you didn't take the photo or didn't have the "right lens" at the time. His example was a stock photo. Sorta like spending thousands of dollars and months of your life correcting crooked teeth when one could simply be born with a perfect set. :-)

Michael Kormos's picture

Ha! The only difference is, you don't have a choice what teeth you're born with. :-D

Anonymous's picture

...or the photo you're given to work with. :-/

BTW. I visited your site. Great photos! :-)
Clearly, you took them and were able to use the right lens. ;-)

Michael Kormos's picture

Thank you, kind sir!!

Anonymous's picture

I'm not kind but I am honest.

too sad my best lens is f4 with aps-c. not getting much blur. photoshop is a good way to add just little bit of really subtle blur

Anonymous's picture

There are still ways to add blur with camera, subject and background placement. The stock photo from the example could have gotten very nice blur with an f/4 lens.

Jonathan Barge's picture

Shooting commercially you'll often find that there is not time or it is not possible to re-create a shoot. Often things depth of field can be overlooked by an art director or client and they won't realise things are not right until seeing the image in-situ and often a great deal of time after a shoot. This is where tricks like this come in handy.

Christian Berens's picture

nice technique, and fairly useful, but I do love my Nikkor 200mm ƒ/2 :D