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Add Creative Background Blur with Adobe Lens Blur

Oftentimes, when photographing portraits, wildlife, or macro subjects, your aim is to isolate your subject using selective focus and shallow depth of field. This creates an artistically pleasing blurred background.


To maximize the blurred background effect, you must use a large, wide open aperture such as f/2.8 or f/4 (the wider the aperture, the better).


With Adobe's Lens Blur tool for Lightroom and Camera Raw, however, you can achieve that dreamy background effect even when shooting with smaller apertures. Not only does this put more creative control in the hands of the photographer, it also allows photographers to use less expensive and lighter-weight lenses that don't have large maximum apertures.


To learn more about how you can use Adobe's Lens Blur tool, check out the video below.



Who Needs Lens Blur?

Lens Blur is designed for photographers working with selective focus, including portrait, wildlife, and macro photographers. So, Lens Blur won't be useful for your typical landscape photograph, for example.


Lens Blur is designed to blur background elements (and foreground elements, if applicable) while keeping the main subject in sharp focus.


Why Can't You Just Use Large Apertures?

Of course, you don't really need Lens Blur if you have lenses with large maximum apertures. There are plenty of lenses out there with maximum apertures of f/4, f/2.8, f/2, or even larger. These lenses are designed to optimize the selective focus and blurred background effect. For decades, photographers have used these lenses to achieve that creamy background look.


There is a downside to these lenses, though. They are typically larger, heavier, and much more expensive than lenses with smaller maximum apertures.


Let's use two Sony 70-200mm lenses as an example:

  • The f/4 version weighs 1.7 pounds and costs about $1700

  • The f/2.8 version weighs 2.3 pounds and costs about $2800


That's a huge difference. All that extra cost and weight only gets you an extra stop of maximum aperture!


These days, lens manufacturers are increasingly making relatively inexpensive telephoto zooms that have high optical quality. To keep the cost down, the maximum aperture is relatively small (take, for example, one of my personal favorite wildlife lenses, my Tamron 150-500mm lens, which has a variable maximum aperture of f/5 to f/6.7).


When shooting at f/6.7, your backgrounds just won't look as good as they would if shooting at f/4. But to get an f/4 lens in that range, you might be looking at a very expensive fixed focal length lens that is going to be very heavy and that will limit your compositional flexibility (take, for example, Sony's 600mm f/4 lens, which costs almost $13,000!).


And, Lens Blur gives you more flexibility to blur your background to get it to look exactly the way you want it to look. So, while you can achieve the same look with an expensive large aperture lens, Lens Blur allows you to fine-tune your background blur. This also gives you more flexibility to stop down, ensure that your subject is in complete sharp focus, and blur your background later.


When using a large aperture, if you open up your aperture enough to get the background blur you want, you sometimes find that parts of your subject are outside of the zone of sharp focus. This happens a lot with my wildlife photography; I focus on the eyes, and when shooting wide open, the animal's nose goes soft. Now, I can stop down to ensure the whole face is in focus, and then selectively blur the background later on.


Use Lens Blur with a Light Touch

As I discuss in the video, I think that Lens Blur is best used conservatively. If you get too aggressive with the tool, you might end up with obvious blurring artifacts around the edges of your subject. If you have a lot of visual separation between subject and background, you can get away with more aggressive blurring, but if you have a busy background, be cautious and don't overdo it.


Personally, for most photos, I find that Lens Blur is best used just to take the edge off some of the background detail. My aim is to basically replicate the look I would have gotten if I had taken the photo with my aperture opened up a stop or two. Usually, that is enough to enhance the separation between subject and background, making your subject stand out more in the final photo.


Conclusion

Adobe's Lens Blur tool is going to become increasingly useful for photographers, especially as manufacturers shift away from heavy and expensive large aperture lenses. Lens Blur gives photographers more flexibility to control the look of background blur while retaining sharp focus on the subject.

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