Have you ever wondered how to blur the background in your iPhone photos? Or indeed, how to add other creative blur effects such as motion blur, bokeh, or a blurred vignette? It may seem illogical to add blur to a perfectly focused photo, but using apps to add blur effects can bring more attention to your subject and help tell your photographic story. In this tutorial you’ll discover seven ways to edit your iPhone photos with creative blur.
Why Add Blur To Your Photos?
One of the main reasons for adding blur to your iPhone photos is to blur the background. This is especially useful if the background is busy, messy or distracting as it allows you to “clean up” the image.
By blurring the background with an editing app, you can place all of the emphasis on the main subject that appears in focus.
But this isn’t the only way to use blur in your iPhone photos. There are other creative ways to use blur, including adding blur to the main subject.
Depending on how it’s used, blur can project a feeling of soft dreaminess or dynamic action. You can use blur to convey specific feelings such as excitement, melancholy and levity.
Sometimes, adding blur is the first step of the photo editing process. You may then turn to other apps for a more finished look. For example, if your goal is to create a painterly style, blurring your original photo may create a more polished final image.
Or, you might use blur to complete the editing process and give your photo a unique edge. I was almost satisfied with the black and white street photo below, but it really came to life after adding a circular blur effect.
The blur also serves dual purposes in this image. It blurs the subject’s face for anonymity and it makes a static image more dynamic.
Let’s now take a look at seven different creative blur effects that you can apply to your iPhone photos, and which apps you can use to create these edits.
1. Blur Background To Remove Distractions
One of the most common ways to use blur is to block out distractions in the background.
In photography, when standing relatively close to the subject and using a camera lens with a large aperture, a shallow depth of field is created that produces a blurred background. This is helpful if you have a great shot, but the background is so busy it takes attention away from the subject.
The iPhone doesn’t have an aperture setting, but there are apps that simulate a shallow depth of field. Almost any photo is a good candidate for this effect, especially street photography.
In this image, the cars that lined the street behind this vendor’s booth were a big distraction. To remedy this, I blurred everything but the booth and vendor, and then applied a filter that captured the spirit of her unique merchandise.
To blur out distractions in the background of your photos, I would recommend both the After Focus ($0.99) and Big Lens ($0.99) apps. These apps allows you to select a specific area of the photo to remain focused while the rest of the photo is blurred.
2. Add Sparkle With Bokeh
The background blur created from a shallow depth of field appears as round circles of colored light reflections. These round circles of light are referred to as “bokeh” which is Japanese for blur.
However, bokeh doesn’t refer to the actual blur or the amount of blur. It refers to the quality of the blur and the reflected points of light. A good bokeh should be pleasing to the eye with smooth round circles of light and no hard edges.
Any photo with background light sources (natural or otherwise) would work well with a bokeh effect applied. Traffic lights, sunlight peeking through trees, and Christmas tree lights all make beautiful, bright bokeh.
For a realistic bokeh effect, try using the Tadaa SLR app ($3.99). It produces a shallow depth of field and allows you to mask or selectively focus your subject. You can also determine the amount and brightness of the bokeh.
3. Create Atmosphere With Gaussian Blur
Gaussian blur refers to the soft, smooth blur that removes fine detail and reduces noise (grainy distortions). This makes it a great option for photos taken in low light, which tend to look grainy.
The iColorama app ($4.99) boasts 189 blur presets, including a gaussian blur effect to create this kind of image.
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4. Focus Attention On Your Subject
Gaussian blur may also be used to focus the viewer’s attention on your subject. This is particularly useful when there are other competing elements in the photo, making it difficult to determine what the main subject of the photo is.
Applying a deep gaussian blur to everything apart from the subject helps the viewer notice the most focused subject first.
5. Frame With A Blurred Vignette
Another idea is to use gaussian blur to create a blurred vignette around the edges of your photo.
A vignette is a framing technique that typically darkens or whitens the edges of a photo to bring attention to the center. However, instead of using a typical vignette, try adding a deep blur to the outer edges of the photo for a similar but more subtle effect.
You can easily create a blurred vignette using the Lens Blur filter in the free Snapseed app. This tool allows you to position the vignette wherever you want and adjust the strength of the blur effect.
PhotoToaster ($2.99) is another app that lets you frame your photos with a gaussian vignette, and includes an FxBrush to paint on different levels of blur.
6. Convey Excitement With Zoom Radial Blur
Radial blur creates a circular blur around a focal point. Zoom is one form of radial blur. It has a starburst shape where the center point is in focus and the rest of the image blurs in an outward direction toward the sides of the photo.
In this photo, the red motorcycle is the center point. The blurred area radiates outward from this point making it feel as though the landscape is whizzing by.
Zoom works well to emphasize action and convey excitement. It’s great for sports photography or to give any photo an abstract quality. You can create radial and zoom blur using the iColorama app ($2.29).
7. Exaggerate Movement With Motion Blur
Motion blur is most often used to exaggerate movement. One way to increase the sense of movement in your photos is to keep the subject in sharp focus and apply blur to the surrounding scene.
This mimics the effect that would be achieved by panning the subject with a camera. Panning means moving your camera to follow a moving subject.
This kind of blur works particularly well when the background is colorful or has a strong pattern. With plain backgrounds, you’ll lose the impression of speed.
Motion blur is excellent for people, vehicles and pets in motion, but it can also be used to make inanimate objects appear to move – as shown in the photo below.