Blurring a Too-Busy Background

Sometimes you take a great photo, but the background is way too busy. Here's a simple way to de-emphasize a too-busy background so that you can showcase the important part of the photo. This technique works just as well in PI6 too.

blur background

Use one of your own photos, or you can follow along and use this photo.

The Lasso selection tool is very useful when you're trying to select something from a busy background. Choose the Lasso, select "Snap to edges," Sensitivity=5, Soft edge=2. Make a selection around the girl. Note that the screen shot below shows "Add to an existing selection" Mode selected. Rarely will you get a perfect selection first time out. Add and subtract to the selection as needed. Be sure to double click to close the selection.

make a lasso selection

Right click on the selection and choose Convert to Object. You should notice that the broken line around the girl becomes animated, signifying that it is an object (as opposed to the static broken line indicating a selection). Zoom in so you can see what you're doing, then select the Object Paint Eraser. I used the default attributes, but you can edit the Eraser attributes as needed for your particular image. Go around the object and erase bits of the background that should not be there. When you've cleaned up the edges of the object, hit the space bar to deactivate it.

To blur the background, select Effect, Blur & Sharpen, Gaussian Blur. I'm using the default thumbnail, but you can select another one or click Options to tweak the Gaussian Blur settings if you like.

gaussian blur dialog box

Click OK to apply the Gaussian Blur. Note that the blur is applied to the base image only. The object you cut out previously will remain sharply focused. Zoom in again to be sure that you have nice clean edges on the girl object. If you don't, click on it to make it active, then use the Eraser tool as needed.

With the Pick or Standard Selection tool, click on the girl object to make it active. Let's add a shadow to help it stand out better. Right click and select Shadow. When the Shadow dialog box opens, add a shadow with the attributes shown below.

add a shadow

Consider the direction of the main source of light in your photo when adding a shadow. You might want to have it fall in another direction, or add a small shadow around all edges, depending on your particular photo. Click OK to close the Shadow dialog box.

Finally, let's add some dramatic lighting. Choose Effect, Magic Light. When the Light dialog box opens, you could select one of the thumbnails, but rarely do these yellow lights look good as they are. Instead, click Options to open a secondary dialog box. Edit the color of the Light to white.

magic light

Click the Preview button to see how the settings affect the photo. If you're not happy with it, click Continue to return to the Light dialog box. Edit further and try again, until you get an attractive result. Click OK to apply the light. Right click and Merge All to finish editing the photo. If you have hard edges where the hair meets the background, lightly click on these areas with the Blur Retouch tool.

Here's the same technique applied to another image, a photo of a pelican. This bird is already casting a shadow, so only a slight, 3 pixel shadow was added around the edges to help it stand out better.

blur technique on different photo

This tutorial uploaded 3/29/02

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