How to blur the background of your photos using your smartphone

How to blur the background of your photos using your smartphone
Captured with a Nokia Lumia 1020 and the Nokia Refocus app.

Captured with a Nokia Lumia 1020 and the Nokia Refocus app.

Pictures that have a blurred background, usually catch people's attention. Have you ever wondered why? First, because it helps isolating the main subject in your photo, making it "pop". Second, because this is how our eyes "see". Hold any object close to your eyes, focus on it and notice how the background "blurs". 

Up until recently, one of the only ways to achieve this effect was buying a DSLR with a "fast" lens. However, with the recent technological advances in computational photography and the increased processing power on Smartphones, this is becoming achievable in easier ways. Here are 3 techniques you can try:

1. Use an app that offers the "tilt-shift" effect

This effect is usually used to provide a "toy-like" appearance to photos, but can also be used to blur portions of the picture in a "natural" way. This effect is embedded on Instagram and can also be found in most editing apps for the different platforms.

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2. Define the desired blurred area of your photo manually

Similar to the solution above, this option allows you do "draw" the area you want to be out of focus, but it requires more work. The photo below was created using Nokia's Creative Studio, but Android and iOS users can achieve a similar result using AfterFocus.

3. Capture the photo using a "focus later" camera app

Introduced by Lytro, the ability to capture pictures that can be re-focused after the shot are now available for some Smartphones. Recent apps such as Nokia Refocus (available for Nokia Lumia phones) or the new Google Camera (available for Android phones running KitKat+) can give you that "shallow depth-of-field look".

4. Get very close to the subject

As you may know, most cameras have a small sensor. Small sensors have limitations, but the upside is that you can focus very close to the subject, enabling macro shots. This doesn't work in every situation, but can provide good opportunities for you to be creative.

One advice before you go crazy de-focusing your pictures: like anything in life, this should be used in moderation. If not carefully used, these solutions can provide artificial results.

And remember:

Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.
— Peter Adams - Adams Sydney, 1987

Brazilian, proud husband and father, photo geek, Beatlemaniac. Living in Dublin, Ireland. Leading Squarespace in EMEA.