7 Photo Blur Effects to Edit Photos Into Works of Art

Banish the assumption that all blur is bad! We say that slightly out-of-focus pics can look majorly out-of-this-world great. Think gently blurred landscapes, or softened photo backgrounds to make your subjects stand out, and don’t forget glittery points of bokeh lights—we’re into all that beautiful blurrification. PicMonkey has tons of specialized tools that will help you create gorgeously blurred photos with that just-right amount of softness. Let’s learn how to photo blur seven ways!

1. How to soften an entire photo with one click

Let’s start simple and blur the whole pic. PicMonkey’s Soften effect gives a subtle, downy fuzziness to images. You can use it to add an all-over blur to any image in a single click— sweet, you’re done! See you next time. Or, if you want to be a leeeeettle bit choosier, you can also use Soften like a micro-targeted laser beam of blur, using the Erase & Brush palette and following section number two below.

Pro tip: Use the Softness slider to either seriously blur your photo, or dial back the fuzziness. If it’s super-mega-ultimate blurriness you seek, layer on another coat of Soften after you click Apply.


2. Blur the background of a photo

Here’s the lowdown on how to selectively blur parts of your photo (like the background), instead of blurring the entire thing:

  1. Open your image in the PicMonkey editor.

  2. Select the layer that you wish to soften.

  3. In the Effects tab under Basic, select Soften (or another photo blurring effect) and click the paintbrush icon.

  4. When the Erase & Brush palette appears, click the paintbrush tab at the top.

  5. Say you want to blur everything except your beautiful self, select the blur tool and brush only over yourself. Seems backwards, we know, but check it: click Reverse effect and voilà, everything but you is blurred.

  6. If you accidentally blur too much, switch your paintbrush to an eraser, and de-blur the desired area.

  7. When you’re done, click Apply.


3. Use Bokeh effects to add blurry soft lights

Simply put: bokeh is the aesthetic quality of the out-of-focus points of light in a photo’s background or, as we like to say, it’s the magical-mystical-fairy-light-wonder effect. PicMonkey’s Bokeh textures gives you tons of ways to customize this brilliant look.

In the Textures tab (woven diamond icon) you’ll find the Bokeh category containing six beautifully blurry options ready to light up your design. The adjustment options are crazy abundant with the ability to make the effect larger or smaller with the Size slider, deepen or lighten the color richness with the Saturation slider, or choose to make the effect more or less transparent with the Fade slider. As with the selective softening we described above, you can also paint the bokeh texture onto specific parts of your image using the Erase & Brush palette.



4. Use Orton image blur for an instantly artsy effect

Orton is kind of a big deal—so much so that we’ve given it a whole write-up of its own, but here’s the nutshell: Orton is a famous photography technique that achieves saturated color and dreamy softness by layering two exposures of the same photo, a sharp original and a slightly out-of-focus copy. Our digital version does the same in one click.

Since photo effects are better with a little of your own inimitable touch, you’ll wanna get to know Orton’s sliders for fiddling and other joyful experiments:

  • Bloom. Effectively: how out of focus that blurry copy is, a.k.a your level of blur.

  • Brightness. Light it up, baby!

  • Fade. The overall strength of the effect.

And of course, don’t forget the Erase & Brush palette. It gives you the ability to paint Orton on to parts of your image, just like with our Soften and Bokeh texture effects.


5. Focus the blur to draw the viewer’s eye exactly to where you want it

The function of blur can be to soften the overall appearance of a photo, but use it to surround a focal point in your pic, and blur can really sharpen the focus. Check out Focal B&W, Focal Soften, and Fancy Focus in the Effects tab under Area. What can they do for me?, you’re probably asking yourself right now. Well, let us tell you:

  • Focal B&W turns the part of your image inside the focal point black and white and keeps everything outside the original colors. Try Reverse Effect to swap the B&W to the outside perimeter.

  • Focal Soften blurs everything outside of the Focal Size. Reverse Effect does the opposite — great for re-creating that “fogged glasses from the steamy dishwasher” look. You know that look, right?

  • Fancy Focus focuses on a part of the picture but, like, fancier than usual, with a background blur.

  • Focal Zoom is your go-to effect for creating an action blur (not so much a snuggly wuggly blur).

You can learn more about all of these photo fuzzifiers in our article about focal effects.


6. Use Miniature image blur for a tilt-shift look

Like Albus Dumbledore, the Miniature effect is magical, whimsical, and shouldn’t necessarily impart life lessons to children. Modeled after tilt-shift photography’s use of selective focus, PicMonkey’s Miniature effect uses targeted photo blurring to make objects in your pic appear toy-sized. You can learn more about it (and see some pretty fantastic photos) in our Miniature effect article.


7. Try out Mobile Blur and Soften for fuzzing on the go

We know you’re a blur of activity, so get fuzzy on the go with Blur and Soften in the free PicMonkey mobile app.

Blur, located in Edit > Adjust > Blur, adds a halo of softness to your image—move the focal target around and adjust the slider until it looks just right. Soften, located in Effects, blurs the whole enchilada, just like Soften in PicMonkey.com. You can either apply it to your entire photo or paint it onto specific areas.


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Sarah Gonzales is the content marketing manager at PicMonkey. Over time she’s evolved from a cat to a dog person, a Diet Coke to a La Croix person, and a heels to a flats person. However, she will forever remain loyal to the LA Dodgers, coffee, and Mac products. She’s still deciding if she’s a city or a country person having sampled both after living in Alaska, Los Angeles, San Francisco, (Alaska again), and now Seattle.