Blur Photos (and Make Cool Looks) the Easy Way

Blur Photos (and Make Cool Looks) the Easy Way
October 23, 2017 Elisa Chavez

Blurry photos? Aren’t those supposed to be a bad thing? Okay but hear us out though, an artistic blur effect can be gorgeous in the extreme. Gently blurred landscapes, softened photo backgrounds to make your subjects stand out, bokeh bokeh bokeh—we’re into it. And PicMonkey has tons of specialized tools that will help you achieve perfectly blurred photos: just soft enough, but not too fuzzy to tell what’s going on.

Today, we’ll walk you through our cast of blur-ful characters, give some brief how-to’s, and offer our humble opinions on what types of images benefit from which blur effect.

How to blur a picture

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 Soften (or another photo blurring effect) in the Effects tab and click the paintbrush icon.
  3. When the Paint palette appears, click the checkbox labeled Reverse effect. This lets you paint effects onto select areas of your image.
  4. Paint the effect over the areas you want to blur. If you accidentally blur too much, click Original to switch your paintbrush to an eraser, and de-blur the desired area.
  5. When you’re done, click Apply.

Soften image blur: the classic

Our 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 Paint palette and the steps above. This pick-and-choose ability comes in handy when you want to keep part of your image sharp and clear, but blur some areas. It’s sort of like a good baguette: crisp on the outside, chewy within.

Pro tips: Use the Softness slider to either really 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.

Blur photos by applying PicMonkey's soften effect to the background, as seen in this picture of a woman holding a flower

Try painting Soften onto the background area of a photo featuring a person. Look at them pop! Photo by Ben Seidelman // CC 2.0

Bokeh image blur: the beauty queen

Here’s what you probably know about bokeh: it’s a magical mystical photo filter that brings fairy-light wonder to any pic it touches. Now here’s what you may not know: PicMonkey’s Bokeh Shapes effect gives you tons of ways to customize.

Maybe you’ve pleasantly debated whether you want to deck out your images in hearts or stars, but it goes so much further than that. For a real treat, check out the drop-down menu within Bokeh Shapes, which offers two options: Glowy and Soften.

There’s no way to go wrong with these two, but if you’re struck with indecision, consider that Glowy will preserve more of your photo’s detail, while Soften blurs the whole shebang. And, like the Soften effect we talked about earlier, you can paint Bokeh Shapes onto specific parts of your image or use it on the entire thing.

Orton image blur: the artsy one

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 quick version: 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 Paint palette. It gives you that sweet, sweet ability to paint Orton onto or off of specific parts of your image, just like our Soften and Bokeh Shapes effects.

Focal Zoom and Focal Soften: the sporty ones

If you ever find yourself thinking, “This photo is all right, but what it really needs is an EPIC ACTION SEQUENCE,” then we’ve got the blur tool for you: Focal Zoom. This one-click filter works whooshy wonders on shots of cars, bikes, and other objects in motion. However, it can also be used to up the intensity of pretty much any image. For example, are you seeing how Focal Zoom makes this statue come alive?! RUN HE’S GOT A STICK.

You can also blur image backgrounds (but leave subjects in crystalline focus) with our Focal Soften effect. Focal Soften is your cheat-sheet-study-guide version of selective softening: to blur photos, use the focal target to pick one spotlight and everything around it will blur, instead of painting the effect on and off. Simply adjust the size of the focal target to specify what part of your photo isn’t blurred, and use the effect’s sliders to adjust the amount of blurriness. Focal Zoom works the same way. You can learn more about both of these photo fuzzifiers in our article about focal effects.

Miniature image blur: the mysterious warlock

PicMonkey's Miniature effect, used to blur a photo of a park

Photo by Ar.Abdull88 on Flickr // CC 2.0

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.

Mobile Blur and Soften: the busy bees

Blur photos (like this pic of a red and purple sky) with the Blur tool in the PicMonkey mobile app

The PicMonkey mobile app’s Blur tool in Adjustments.

Last but not least, blur images while you’re out and about with Blur and Soften in the PicMonkey mobile app.

Blur, located in Adjustments, adds a Focal-Soften-esque halo of fuzziness to your image—move your focal target around and adjust the slider until that blur is juuuuust right. Soften, meanwhile, is basically the Soften you know and love from PicMonkey.com; find it under Effects, and either apply it to your entire photo or paint it onto specific areas. Both are fantastic options for on-the-go editing, whether you want an all-over blur or to draw attention to one object in a shot.

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Elisa Chavez
Elisa Chavez is a content writer here at PicMonkey, where she hopes to change the world one dinosaur selfie at a time. She is also a nationally ranked slam poet, champion shopper, and doting dog mama.