Blurring the Background

One of the challenges of using a compact camera with a slow zoom lens is that it’s difficult to blur the background when required. Michael Willems here describes one technique – but it isn’t always possible.

But there’s another technique. You can blur the background in Photoshop. Yes, it is cheating and it is hard to do well so that it looks authentic. But I thought I would try an example.

I took this photo at Bang Sue Subway Station in northern Bangkok.

Bang Sue Junction Map

Is He There?

It was shot using the lens’s maximum aperture: F2.9, wide open.

It’s nice and sharp and I like the reflection of the student in the stainless steel guard rail. But the red taxi and tree in the background are a bit distracting.

In this case it is very easy to mask out the background. If part of the subject, especially hair, is commingled with the background it gets very time-consuming.

So I made a mask of the background in Photoshop and blurred it using the Photoshop “Lens Blur” filter. I could have used “Gaussian Blur” but I wanted to experiment. Lens Blur gives you lots of flexibility.

I also desaturated the background a little bit to give it more of an autumn tone. Not that we have autumn in Bangkok, but I am from a temperate country.

Here’s the result:

Is He There? (Mark 2)

I think it is better as it reduces the distraction of the bright red taxi and focuses more on the anxious university student.

What do you think of the effect? Is the photo obviously Photoshopped or could I convince you that I used a F1.4 lens?

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5 Responses to “Blurring the Background”

  1. mdee88 Says:

    I always tell people you can do anything with a P&S-so long as you’ve got photoshop =) I wouldn’t be convinced that it’s from a f1.4-bokeh isn’t as pretty but I could be convinced that it’s from a 1.8. But you would have to blur the foreground as well. If you’ve noticed these lenses used at their biggest opening provides just a small part of the photo in focus.

    • BKKPhotographer Says:

      Yes, there’s definitely more I could do by using a gradient mask and blurring proportionally to the distance.

      Do you think the effort is worthwhile? Is the blurred picture more appealing? I think so, in this case as the background was distracting from the student.

      • mdee88 Says:

        The effort is worthwhile if only you will be printing the image or possibly showing it off on flickr. I used my Canon G7 and photoshopped the photos til the colors popped and got a lot of attention on flickr.

  2. Michael Willems Says:

    The blurred picture os definitely better. If you do not have an SLR and cannot get closer, PS is a great way of approaching the same effect.

    • BKKPhotographer Says:

      Thanks. I could do a Mark 3 blurring the white sign behind her a little bit.

      One think I’ve never understood about Photoshop is why the Blur tool had such a limited effect. You more-or-less have to use a Blur Filter to get a significant effect.

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