Digital Darkroom; Basic Blur Filters Photoshop

The Digital Darkroom is a series of posts aimed at beginners and those interested in Digital Photography and Editing. In previous weeks we have looked at basic adjustments, curves, editing colour with the HSL/Color panels, black and white toning, split toning, local adjustments, sharpening, noise reduction and Lens Correction and Camera Calibration in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw. Moving into Photoshop we have looked at the program’s layout,basic adjustments to light, basic adjustments to colour, basic black and white adjustments, Basic Sharpening, Basic Noise Reduction, Creating Presets and Actions, Basic Masks, Making Selections, Refining Selections, Using the Pen Tool, Clone Stamp, Heal Tool, Patch Tool, Content Aware, Smart Objects,  introduction to Filters and this week basic blur filters.
If you wish to check out previous posts in the series you can do here.

After a quick break in the Digital Darkroom Series we are now back. In the last post we looked at using filters, and to start our journey into we are starting with basic blur filters. A while ago where we looked at sharpening images to help improve the image quality and in a strange way blurring can do this as well.

To blur an image is to soften details, in softening details you can make a subject on an area of a picture stand out more. Our brains register contrast very well and when you have something nice and sharp set against a blurry background, the sharp subject pops even more into focus. This is why a shallow depth of fields works really well with portraits as well as macro images. A soft blur in the foreground, sharp subject and then a strong blurred background will create more depth to an image.
Blurring can also work well to remove distracting elements from an image once again bringing the attention to subject. However in blurring distracting elements it may make them more distracting if the element has a contrasting colour or turns into a grey blob.
Blurs can also be used to create the feeling of action and movement, for example the motion blurring of cars.

Although we can blur in Photoshop I would always recommend blurring in camera first. Many of the blurs that we can apply in Photoshop can first be created in camera and if needed emphasised in Photoshop. In isolating a subject from the background, use an aperture that will give you enough depth of field for your subject and for nothing else. This can also be used to soften distracting elements of an image. Motion blurs can be created by panning or using a flash with a longer exposure.

This post is going to be looking at the basic blur filters; Gaussian Blur, Motion Blur, Radial Blur and Surface blur. Photoshop CS6 and CC also have a blur gallery menu that I will cover in a later post as well as Lens Blur as its uses can be much more than simulating a shallow depth of field.

Isolating a subject

Gaussian blur is the best for isolating a subject when combined with masks.

The flower in this example will work well as it is contrasting already quite well with the other colours in the scene, making it pop. I would always suggest opening images as smart objects when applying filters. You have two choices when isolating a subject with Gaussian Blur; first making a selection and saving it, Select – Save Selection (The selection is saved in the channels and when you save the image as a tiff the selection will also be preserved) which you can then apply to the filter mask after applying the blur. The second method is to paint onto the mask after the blurr has been applied.


How strong the blur you have the blur is up to you. I try not to be too strong or too soft. Soft blurring with the Gaussian blur is good for merging to elements with different resolutions here we need a blur that feels realistic.
As I said in the previous post about filters, they are not a click trick. Although the distracting details have been removed the colour of the dying flower can still be seen. I will fix this by using the eye dropper to select the colour of the petal and then using brush paint over the orange. As a final touch I will sharpen the flower selectively.



Adding Movement with blur

Movement can be added with both the radial and motion blur filters. Motion blur is best when needing to replicate movement up and down or side to side. Radial blur is best for creating movement into the picture.


As with the flower adding movement can need (will need) the use of a mask. This picture was actually taken using the panning approach, but for me the blur does not really capture the movement I remember. Once again I masked the area I wanted to persevere. His time it was the horse and trap. I applied a motion blur to the image making the angle the same as the movement. I applied the selection and use the gradient tool to have the blur gradated through the horse to the trap.


The above picture was created to replicate an old photographic process. In creating the image I used a radial blur on the sky to give the impression of the clouds moving during a longish exposure. I applied a motion blur to the sea in the foreground to help emphasize the longish exposure idea.

Surface blur or should we say Surface Sharpening

Surface blur is quite an interesting filter as it can allow you to blur textures of an image while at the same time preserving details. It does this with two options in the filter blur amount and threshold. Blur amount controlling the strength and Threshold states how much difference there needs to be between pixels before pixels are blurred. This can be used with a mask to blur backgrounds while preserving small details. In a pinch it can also be used to smooth skin and reduce wrinkles.


However if you need to sharpen a portrait surface blur is a good option and once you have it down you can quickly make an action.
Create a Stamp Visible layer (Shift + Ctrl +Alt + E) and duplicate it. Group the two layers into a folder and set the folder to overlay. Select the top image in the group and set the blending to vivid light. I like to convert this layer to a smart object but you don’t have to. On this top layer apply the surface blur.
It is quite easy to go over the top with the filter; I start at about blur strength of 10 pixels and then a threshold of 10. I also then mask the sharpening.

Using blurs

As with any filter, it is always best to start at extremes and slowly bring the amount of the blur down and then back up until it looks natural or what you are aiming for. I would always advise either taking a break after editing and then coming back or asking someone with fresh eyes to look at the image.


If you have any questions or comments please use the comment box below, all are welcome as this series is designed to help people learn how to use Photoshop and Lightroom.

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