Make your Android & iPhone photos jump off the screen!

Motion Blur - Picsart App

Firstly - why would we add blur to our image?

When you blur the background or any other part of an image - you instantly separate your image from all the other snapshots captured on phones. One of the secrets to capture a WOW photo - is to make the subject matter grab the viewers' attention.

The blur can be really aesthetically pleasing and direct the attention of the viewer initially to the brightest, most vibrant coloured section and look at dull, out of focus areas last.

Below are a number of other reasons why it just works:

  • Add depth to an image, by blurring the foreground and background
  • Minimise and remove distracting elements in the background
  • Add energy to the image - introducing motion blur
  • Make in-focus areas appear sharper and stand out even further
  • Create a dreamy, serene mood
  • Remove the identity of person's faces, landmarks or vehicles

Blur the background when taking the photo

Now that we know why we would want to create this look - how do we do it?

This technical term is 'depth of field'. There are three main factors to increase and decrease the distance in front and behind the subject that is in focus. Two of them are not achievable on a smartphone - due to the hardware. We cannot zoom and the aperture (internal opening at the rear of the lens) and the lens itself are fixed and are not variable.

We can adjust the third factor to blur the background - and it is the easiest. Yay, we love easy!

We simply need to move the camera closer to the subject and where practical, have a distant background. To increase the blur - move closer to the subject. The trade-off is that you start to introduce lens distortion and people's faces start to look a little odd. You know the look - the ears start to shrink and recede! This is because objects closer to the lens look bigger and distant objects look smaller.

Portrait, Lens Blur and Live Focus Modes

Dual lens technology has extended the offerings of both Android and the iPhone to blur the background. The latest Android updates offer some handsets a Near and Far Focus option.

Theses systems detect the subject and blur the background automatically or direct you to take one photo, move the camera slightly, then capture and second photo. Both produce a single image and can look absolutely stunning - especially compared to the standard happy snap photo.

Dual lens portrait mode iPhone 12MP camera lens system exploded view

These in-camera functions are great - however, most do not offer control over the amount of blur. The Samsung S9 was the first in their range and the iPhone Xs was the first in the Apple range to allow you the control over how much artificial blur you can introduce into the photo.

Quick edit to add blur to the background using After Focus - available on iOS & Android

This is a very simple, easy to use app that is my go-to app for quickly blurring the background. The first time you open the app, it has a fantastic tutorial that walks you through the first edit.

The only small negative is that you cannot go back and alter the area selection you want in focus or blurred. Once you tap on the next icon, you can only adjust the strength of the blur.

Download - iTunes

Download - Google Play

Add different types of blur using PicsArt app - available on iOS & Android

PicsArt is a feature rich app. The blur function has several option to choose from, including; standard blur, lens blur (has a bokeh effect), smart blur, motion blur, focal zoom and radial blur. That is a lot of options! It gets better - you can also control the effect, erase the effect from sections of the image you want to keep in focus and experiment with different blend modes. Not sure what the adjustments are or blend modes do - just experiment and tap cancel if you don't like the effect.

The only downside - so many options can be a little overwhelming if you are new to photo editing. You will also lose half a day, as you get excited by what you can do to your photos within this app!

Download - iTunes

Download - Google Play

Control the strength and position of the blur using Snapseed app - available on iOS & Android

Snapseed is my favourite all-purpose editing app. The 'lens blur' filter can be switched between ellipical (circular) or linear (line). Snapseed photo editing allows you to control the transition between the in-focus area and the blurred section.

Ok, the negatives. There are none!

Comparing the three - After Focus is quicker to use and PicsArt has a variety of blur options available. If Snapseed does not achieve the desired effect, then I will look at the other two options.

Download - iTunes

Download - Google Play

Some great examples shared in our community weekly theme - Blur

Images shared in our community weekly mobile photo theme

These articles are great to learn a specific technique or tip. The fastest transition to becoming a confident and creative smartphone photographer is this course. Check out the full benefits and curriculum here.

Also published on Medium.


  1. Nigel on January 30, 2019 at 22:13


  2. Mike on April 3, 2019 at 21:19

    Fantastic Laurie. I know the frustration! You will be pleased to also know that inside Snapseed, the Selective tool also has a sharpen feature to apply it to a smaller selected area!

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