Lightroom Tutorials

Blurring Backgrounds

This Lightroom Tutorials will dramatically improve your images by using a powerful feature of Adobe Lightroom to make adjustments to parts of your image. This is known as local adjustments and knowing how to do it in lightroom means you’ll have less need to switch to other editing tools such as photoshop.

In this tutorial you will discover how to use the adjustment brush to blur the background in order to make your subject stand out (see the before and after shots below).

before after

Click here to discover the quickest way to master Lightroom

So, lets get started – get yourself a cup of coffee, start up lightroom, find yourself an image to practice on and …

Lightroom Tutorials Step 1
Choosing the Blur Area

Select the image that you want to edit and go to the “Develop” module.

Click on the Adjustment brush just below the Histogram Panel (or press K on the keyboard).

lightroom-tutorials-histogram

The Adjustment Brush Panel will be displayed showing all of the adjustments that you can make.

lightroom-tutorials-adjustment-brush-panel

Move the mouse pointer over the image you are editing – it will change to a cursor with a cross hair (plus sign) and two concentric circles.

lightroom-tutorials-cross-hair

Tick the “Show Selected Mask Overlay” tick box in the panel below the image that you are editing (Press O to toggle this between ticked and unticked). You will see the reason for ticking this later.

lightroom-tutorials-show-selected-mask-overlay

Click anywhere in your image and hold the mouse button down. Move the mouse about.

Two things will happen:
lightroom-tutorials-edit-pin

Wherever you drag the mouse a red “Mask Overlay” will be painted.

An “Edit Pin” will be placed on the image.

The Show Selected Mask Overlay tick box was ticked so that you can see the Mask Overlay being painted in red.

If you accidentally paint somewhere that you didn’t intend to, simply select the erase brush by clicking on erase and paint over the area. You can temporarily activate the erase brush by holding down the Alt key and painting. When you release the Alt key the brush you were using previously will now be selected.

lightroom-tutorials-erase
Use the adjustment brush to paint a mask over the background area that you want to blur. The image below shows the background area that I chose for my wolf photo.


A great way to quickly become a professional at processing your images in Lightroom is to watch these training videos.

Lightroom Tutorials Step 2
Adjusting The Blur Area

Any alterations now made in the Adjustment Brush Panel will now apply to the mask you have just painted.
Untick the “Show Selected Mask Overlay” (Press O to toggle this between ticked and unticked). You will see that the red paint over the mask overlay can no longer be seen. N.B. The mask overlay is still there, just not painted red.

lightroom-tutorials-show-selected-mask-overlay-unticked

If you want to see where the mask is just hover your cursor over the edit pin and the red paint will be seen again.

Set all of the sliders to zero, except for the clarity and sharpness sliders. These should be set to -100.

exposureblushblur

Observe what happens to the are that you painted over – it will blur.

If you are happy with the adjustment you have made click “done”

Lightroom Tutorials Step 3
Painting Adjustments Directly

Sometimes it is easier to paint the mask first with the Show Selected Mask tick box ticked and then apply the adjustments using the sliders (as in steps 1 and 2). Other times it is easier to untick the “Show selected mask overlay” tick box and just paint the adjustments directly.

In this section you will paint adjustments directly.

Select the image that you want to edit and go to the Develop module by clicking on Develop.

lightroom-tutorials-develop

Click on the Adjustment brush just below the Histogram Panel (or press K on the keyboard).

 

lightroom-tutorials-histogram

The Adjustment Brush Panel will be displayed showing all of the adjustments that you can make.
lightroom-tutorials-adjustment-brush-panel

Set all sliders to zero, Clarity to -100, Sharpness to -100, Brush size to 8, Feather to 50, Flow to 100, Density to 100.

Untick the “Show Selected Mask Overlay” tick box in the panel below the image that you are editing.

lightroom-tutorials-show-selected-mask-overlay-unticked

Click anywhere in your image and, while holding the mouse button down move the cursor around. You will see the areas that you paint blurring.

Lightroom Tutorials Step 4
Adjusting the brush size

As you paint a mask, you can adjust the size of the brush using the size slider. You can reduce the brush size with the [ key and increas it with the ] key. Even better – If you have a mouse with a wheel rotate the wheel to increase or decrease the brush size. Experiment with the three ways of changing the brush size to see which you prefer, I tend to use the mouse wheel as it is extremely quick.

After step 3, the brush size was 8.

lightroom-tutorials-medium-brush

Reduce the brush size when you need to do detail work. Here it is reduced to 4.

lightroom-tutorials-small-brush

Increase the brush size when you need to paint over large areas. Here it is increased to 24.
lightroom-tutorials-large-brush

You can preset two brushes – brush A and Brush B. I tend to have Brush A set to a medium size for general work and then brush B set to a small size for detail work. You can then easily toggle between the two by using the / shortcut key. Click here for a full list of Lightroom Keyboard Shortcuts.

Lightroom Tutorials Step 5
Multiple Masks and Edit Pins

 

Select the adjustment brush again and paint another mask. You will now see a second Edit Pin appear. All adjustments will now be applied to this mask.

lightroom-tutorials-2editpins

You can apply as many masks as you want to and any adjustments made will be made to the selected mask. This means that if you want to blur the image even more, you can apply a second mask and blur it.

To select a different mask, click on its edit pin. This will change to black and all edits will now be made to this mask.

Lightroom Tutorials Step 6
Auto Mask

Auto Mask is a great feature to help select areas and not spill over into other areas. Tick Auto Mask and start painting over part of the image. (Shortcut A toggles this on or off)

As you paint, Lightroom will only paint over areas that the cross hair touches. I have Auto Mask selected almost all of the time as it allows me to easily paint areas for the mask without spilling over onto other areas.

 

lightroom-tutorials-automask
Auto Mask is not intended to be the equivalent of Photoshop’s Lasso tool. It helps you to select a mask and not cross over onto areas that you don’t want the mask applied to. The more contrast there is between the boundaries, the better it works.

Lightroom Tutorials Step 7
Paint and Erase

Paint and Erase is another useful technique for selecting a mask.

Paint over the approximate area that you want to mask. For example in the image below I wanted to create a mask where everything but the dragonfly is selected.

Select the entire image by increasing the size of the brush, turning feather right down to 0 and selecting “Show Selected Mask Overlay”. Then paint over the entire image.

dragonfy-select-all

Reduce the size of the brush, zoom into the dragonfly, tick “Show Selected Mask Overlay”, tick and “Auto Mask”, set feather to 100 and zoom into the image.

Select Erase.
lightroom-tutorials-erase

Carefully erase the mask around the dragonfly. How accurately you use the erase brush will depend on what you are doing with the mask. For example in the mask below I plan to blur the background so don’t need to be too acurate with the erase brush.

dragonfy-erase

Tip: When painting a mask, holding down the Alt key will switch to the erase brush for as long as it is held down, allowing you to quickly erase part of a mask – give it a try.

Lightroom Tutorials Step 8
Toggling Brush Adjustment On and Off

 

If you want to clearly see what effect your adjustments have made, click on the “turn on / off brush adjustment” switch at the bottom of the adjustment brush panel. Clicking on it again will turn them back on.

lightroom-tutorials-togglebrush

Lightroom Tutorials Step 9
Removing all adjustments

If you want to remove all adjustments, click on “Reset” at the bottom of the Adjustment Brush Panel.

lightroom-tutorials-reset

Adjustment Brush Shortcuts

Open adjustment brush – K

Toggle Auto mask on/off – A

Toggle between brush A and brush B – /

Toggle between adjustment brush and eraser – Hold Down Alt (option)

Apply adjustment and start new one – return enter

Change Mask Overlay Color – Shift O to cycle

ShowHide Mask Overlay O

Show Hide Edit pins – H

Decrease brush size – [

Increase brush size – ]

Increase / Decrease brush size – Mouse wheel

Decrease Feather Shift [

Increase Feather Shift ]

Increase/Decrease Feather Shift and Mouse Wheel

Set Flow ammount 1-9, 0 for 100%

Constrain adjustments to a straight line- Shift and drag mouse

Click here for a full list of Lightroom Keyboard Shortcuts


Further Reading

All Lightroom Tutorials

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