How to Blur and Censor Backgrounds in Photos

Blurring and censoring backgrounds in photos can be useful for a variety of reasons. You may want to obscure sensitive information, highlight the main subject, or simply create an artistic effect. With the right tools and techniques, it’s easy to blur or pixelate backgrounds in your photos.

Why Blur or Censor Photo Backgrounds

Here are some common reasons for blurring or censoring backgrounds in photos:

  • Privacy – Blurring faces or information you want to keep private. For example, obscuring license plate numbers, signs with addresses, or people’s identities.
  • Focus attention – By blurring the background, you can make the main subject stand out more. This creates a nice bokeh effect that emphasizes the subject.
  • Artistic effect – Blurred or pixelated backgrounds can add an interesting artistic element to photos. This effect works well for profile pictures, album art, and more.
  • Correct photography mistakes – If you have a distracting background that takes attention away from the main subject, blurring it can minimize the issue.

Tools to Blur or Censor Backgrounds

There are many easy tools you can use to blur or pixelate backgrounds in photos:

Mobile Apps

  • Android/iOS – For phones, use apps like Snapseed, Adobe Photoshop Express, Afterlight, or PicsArt. These provide user-friendly blur and pixelation tools.
  • iOS – The iOS Photos app has native background blur capabilities using Portrait mode. You can also edit the blur intensity and style later.

Desktop Software

  • Photoshop – The industry standard for advanced photo editing. Use selection tools, layer masks, and blur filters.
  • GIMP – Free open-source alternative to Photoshop with a full array of editing tools.
  • Pixelmator – User-friendly app for Mac with background blurring powered by AI/ML.

Online Tools

  • Canva – Easy drag and drop editing right within your web browser. No download required.
  • LunaPic – Offers auto face detection along with manual blur and pixelation options.
  • Fotor – Has dedicated background blur features along with granular adjustments.

Blurring Backgrounds

Here are the basic steps to follow to blur photo backgrounds:

  1. Select the background – Use selection tools to isolate the background from the main subject. Common approaches:
  • Roughly trace around a subject using lasso or brush tools
  • Use the “Select Subject” option if available
  • For portraits, choose an auto background selector if provided
  1. Apply blur effect – After selecting, use a blur filter or tool to make the background appear out of focus:
  • Gaussian Blur – Classic blurring effect good for most cases
  • Lens Blur – Mimics the bokeh look of DSLR portrait lenses
  • Motion Blur – Creates a sense of movement
  1. Adjust intensity – Control how strong the blur effect appears using sliders in the effect settings.
  2. Refine selection – Often you’ll need to refine your initial selection to cleanly separate foreground and background. Use selection tools like masks and brushes for precision.

Pixelating Backgrounds

You can also pixelate backgrounds to censor sensitive details:

  1. Just like blurring, start by isolating the background from the main subject
  2. Apply a pixelation filter from your app’s effects menu
  3. Adjust the pixel size – larger pixels will obscure more details
  4. Use selection tools to hone in on the areas you want to hide
  5. Set pixel intensity to 100% unless you want a semi-transparent scrambled effect

Best Practices

Keep these tips in mind as you blur or pixelate backgrounds:

  • Use high resolution source images if possible – this allows finer adjustments
  • Start with minor blur and pixelation, then increase if needed
  • Refine your initial selection for accurate separation of foreground and background regions
  • Try applying the effect before and after cropping to compare results
  • Save your final edits as JPG or PNG files to retain transparency
  • For maximum privacy, combine blurring and pixelation together

With a little practice, you’ll be able to easily hone in on backgrounds and obscure them as much or as little as you like. Take your time and use adjustment layers whenever possible for non-destructive editing.

Why You May Want to Blur Faces

In addition to backgrounds, you can use the same selection and blur techniques to obscure faces. Here are some reasons you may want to specifically blur faces:

  • Protect someone’s identity and privacy
  • Obscure faces in sensitive documents like IDs or passports
  • Anonymize candid photos taken in public
  • Minimize issues from posting photos without consent

The process works the same way – select the face, apply Gaussian or lens blur, then mask precisely around the head and facial features. For group shots, you may have to repeat this for each face you wish to obscure.

Alternatives to Blurring Faces

If you don’t want to blur faces, there are a couple alternatives to consider as well:

  • Pixelation – Like with backgrounds, scrambling details with mosaic pixelation is very effective at hiding identities.
  • Emoji – For fun shots, you can overlay appropriately sized emoji stickers on faces. Great for kids or light-hearted posts.
  • Cropping – Simply cropping the photo to exclude certain faces can solve the problem without complex editing.

Final Tips for Success

  • Use layer masks instead of erasing pixels for non-destructive editing
  • Pay attention to edges – use slight feathering to prevent unnatural sharp transitions
  • Be subtle – small amounts of blurring usually look more realistic
  • Add motion blur to make a censor box less noticeable
  • Combine techniques as needed – for example, blurring then pixelating on top

And there you have it – a comprehensive guide to easily blurring and censoring backgrounds, faces, and other sensitive areas of your photos! With the right tools and techniques, you can obscure details in your shots for privacy, enhanced focus, or unique photo effects.