How to Blur a Background in Lightroom

by Jun 23, 2022Photo Editing Tutorials

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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How to Blur a Background in Lightroom

I’m sure that you’ve seen photos where the background is blurred, making the subject stand out from their surroundings. Of course, the best way to achieve this is in camera (as I explained in this article), but what if that isn’t possible?

When that happens, it’s best to turn to tools like Photoshop or Affinity Photo. But many photographers don’t use these tools and instead only work with Adobe Lightroom. So, this article explains a simple method you can use in Lightroom to blur the background in a photograph.

To do this, we need to overcome two problems:

  1. How to accurately select the subject in our photo?
  2. How do we apply a blur effect because Lightroom doesn’t (at the time of writing) have a blur slider?

Let’s look at how we can address both problems using the following image where the background would benefit from a little more blur.

Starting photo before we blur the backgound in Lightroom

Selecting the Subject in Lightroom

Until recently, if you wanted to select an object or person in Lightroom you needed to use a combination of tools like the Selection Brush. It was possible to do this as I explain in this article, but it wasn’t easy. Fortunately, a Lightroom release in late 2021 change this by adding a new “Select Subject” feature.

To use the Select Subject option, click the Masking icon below the histogram to reveal a list of options. You can see the Masking icon indicated by the arrow in this screenshot.

Lightroom select subject feature

You can then choose the “Select Subject” option from the list.

After a few seconds, Lightroom will complete the selection of the main subject in the photograph. This works remarkably well with most photos, although there does need to be a clear object featured in the frame. If there isn’t, this method doesn’t work, and you will need to use a manual selection method mentioned in the article above.

Here’s a screenshot of our example image once the selection is made.

subject selected in Lightroom

The subject is selected which is indicated by a red overlay mask. Also, in the top right of the screenshot, you can see the Masks panel with the newly created mask.

Any adjustments we now apply in Lightroom will affect the area covered by the red mask. This is the opposite of what we need because we want to blur the background and not the subject. We therefore need to invert our selection.

To invert the selection, click on the mask in the Masks panel. You will then see it expand to reveal the subject selection below as in this screenshot.

Masks panel with the Subject selection displayed

When you move the mouse pointer over the “Subject” selection, three white dots appear to the right indicating a popup menu. Click these and choose the “Invert” option from the list. This inverts the selection so that the background is then covered by the red overlay.

Background seelcted in Lightroom

Now our adjustments are applied to the background rather than the subject.

If you want to learn more about how to use and combine the different selection tools in Lightroom, I have a detailed book on the subject. You can find “Mastering Selections & Masks in Lightroom CC” on the books page of this website as well as on Amazon and other online retailers.

Blurring the Background in Lightroom

Having selected the background in our photo, let’s examine the second problem of how to blur it when Lightroom doesn’t provide a blur control. To overcome this, we need to use one or more of the following controls:

  • Sharpen
  • Clarity
  • Texture

All three controls allow for negative adjustments which will create a level of blur.

Control you can use to blur the background in Lightroom

With the Sharpness slider you need to move the slider beyond -50. Values between 0 and -50 remove any sharpening applied to the image in the Detail panel of Lightroom. But beyond this, the image begins to blur.

Negative Clarity too applies a softening effect as does negative Texture, although the two produce different effects. If you apply too large a negative value with Clarity, the effect is more of a glow, and it doesn’t look like blur so use this with caution.

If you decide the effect isn’t sufficiently strong from these controls, try duplicating the mask in the Masks panel. You can do this by clicking the three dots to the right of the mask and selecting the option in the popup menu. You can then apply your additional adjustments.

Another problem you might run into is when the blur spills over into the subject, creating a kind of halo. To see how to correct this, watch the video in the summary section below.

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Summary of How to Blur a Background in Lightroom

I hope that you’ve seen that it is possible to blur a photo background in Lightroom although there are some problems you need to overcome. That’s why you should also watch the following video where I demonstrate the process described in this article.

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You can also watch this video on my YouTube channel. I publish a new video every week, often based on subscribers’ requests and feedback. Subscribe to my YouTube channel now and be sure not to miss future videos.

Of course, if you have Adobe Photoshop, you can use that to select a subject, separating it from the background. Then you can then either blur the background (using the Gaussian Blur filter) or remove it completely as I explain in this article about how to remove a background in Photoshop.

If you found this article helpful, please take a moment to share it with other Lightroom users.

More Lightroom Tutorials

You’ll find more high quality, free tutorials on my Adobe Lightroom Tutorials page.

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