Blur Background to Accent Foreground in Adobe Photoshop

Published on: May-04-2016 By: ThumbTemps

In this tutorial I'm going to be covering how to blur a background image in order to allow whatever content is in the foreground to be accented. This is a rather straightforward tutorial that can come in handy in a large multitude of situations where your background isn't the main focus.

Section 1: Getting Started

First we need to setup our Photoshop canvas, if you don't require assistance with this skip to Section 2.
To get started, open Adobe Photoshop and follow the following steps.

Create a new canvas

Step 1.1: Click File > New (Shortcut CTRL / Command + N)
Step 1.2: Change the following: Width = 1920 Pixels and Height = 1080 Pixels
Step 1.3: Click "OK"

Add your background

For this tutorial I'm going to cover how to add your background via Photoshop, but you can alternatively drag-and-drop your image onto the canvas.

Note: If your image isn't 1920 x 1080, you will either have to use a different image or make your canvas smaller to prevent pixilation.

Step 2.1: Click File > Place
Step 2.2: Find the image you want as your background, then click Place.
Step 2.3: Click the checkmark in the control panel (the bar at the top of photoshop). This confirms the changes and exits the state of "Transformation."

  • If your image doesn't fill the canvas follow these steps to fix that:
  • Step 2.2.1: Hold (Shift + Option/Alt) then, while holding click and drag the corner of the image until it fills the canvas. Release your click first, then you can cease holding Shift + Option/Alt.
  • Holding Shift retains the aspect ratio of the image.
  • Holding Option/Alt scales the image from the center point of the image.

Add additional content

For this tutorial we'll be using text, but you can use a logo, icon, or anything else really although I don't recommend using another photo.

Step 3.1: Select the Type Tool from the Toolbar (Shortcut: T)
Step 3.2: Click on the canvas and type whatever text you'd like.
You may need to change the font, font size, or color. You can do that in the control panel while the Type Tool is selected.
Step 3.3: Click the checkmark in the toolbar when you're happy with your results.

Center your additional content (Optional)

Step 4.1: Double-click the background layer in the layer panel, then click OK on the pop-up. This unlocks the background layer so we can select it's area. We won't be needing the background anyways.
Step 4.2: While holding CTRL/Command hover over the background layer picture in the layer panel, you should see a selection box appear with your mouse. When you do click, this will select the area of the background.
Step 4.3: Now select the layer your additional content sits on
Step 4.4: Select the Move Tool from the toolbar (Shortcut: V)
Step 4.5: In the control panel, click "Align Vertical Centers" and "Align Horizontal Centers" (Icon 2 and 5 after the "Show Transform Controls" checkbox)

Your additional content should now be centered, so we can deselect the background area.

Step 4.6: Hit CTRL/Command + D. This deselects any current selection on the canvas.

Section 2: Blur the Background

I'm working with Adobe Photoshop CS6, if you're using CC you have additional options to play around with to get a more customized result, though since I only have CS6 I cannot cover these.

WARNING: Ensure your image is a smart object. If it isn't, right-click your image layer in the layer panel and click convert to smart object. If there is an icon that looks like a document in the bottom right corner of your image preview in the layer panel, you have nothing to worry about. Without this, any changes you make from here out will be perminant... unless you undo them.

Apply a blur

Step 1.1: Select the layer your background is on!!! If you don't you'll blur whatever layer is selected.
Step 1.2: Click Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur (you can find this at the very top of Adobe Photoshop)
Step 1.3: Play around with the slider until your image is similar to the one in the image above. I'm using 7.0 on the image I"m working with.
Step 1.4: Click OK to apply the blur.

Add Noise (Optional)

Some like to add a little noise to a blur to give it some texture, if you're going for a smooth effect I adivse against completing this step.
Step 2.1: Click Filter > Noise > Add Noise
Step 2.2: Select a Uniform distribution
Step 2.3: Check Monochromatic, this makes all the noise the same color
Step 2.4: Play around with the slider until it matches your pleasing
I advise not going above 10%, for my image I'm using 4.8%
Step 2.5: Click OK

Side Note: If at any point you decide you need to change either the blur or the noise you can do so by double-clicking the effect under your background in the layer panel. If your background is not a smart object, you will not see these as an option and you will have to start over, or undo the changes.

Add Adjustments (Optional)

Adjustments will allow you to change the contrast, coloring, and levels of your image to make it appear at it's primal levels. It's important to understand that not every image needs an adjustment, and you can overdo and adjustment.

I won't be walking through this in this tutorial, as you need to understand what each of these do in order to get proper results with each image. I'll post a tutorial specifically on this at a later time.

Step 4.0: Add A Drop Shadow (Optional)

In order to make your additional content stand apart from the background layer more than it currently does, we can add a drop shadow.
Step 4.1: Double click the layer your additional content is on in a blank area of the layer panel (off to the right of the layer name). This will open the Layer Styles panel.
Step 4.2: Click Drop Shadow
Step 4.3: Mess around with the options until you're satisfied, or copy the settings from the image above.
Step 4.4: Click OK

Side Note:
Distance changes where the origin of the shadow starts. A distance of 0 means the shadow has no offset, and therefore starts at the text's origin point of 0,0. Increasing the distance will send the shadow's origin further away from the text. Changing the Direction will change which direction the shadow will move away from the text.
Spead will adjust how strong the shadow will appear. Increasing the spread will increase the shadow's effect and range from the shadow's origin point.
Size will adjust the overall size of the shadow. Increasing the size will increase the range the shadow effects, making the shadow appear larger.
It's important to find a good balance between all three of these options in order to get a proper looking drop shadow. For thumbnails I recommend a stronger spread, making more area outside the text darker, then correcting it by lowering the opacity. Up close this isn't the prettiest of solutions, but it does seem to improve readability at smaller sizes, which thumbnails are often used at.

From here it's up to you what you do next! This is best when applied with contrast, dark background and light content, and don't be afraid to use color! Once you get the process down, this can be completed in the matter of a minute. Once you get to that point you can play around with it and do some cool things, like overlay a logo a top the background, while the background shines through the logo.

I hope this tutorial helps you, and feel free to leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts!