Today we’re going to look at the Lens Blur panel, the second of the two major tools added to Lightroom Classic’s Develop module in the 13.0 update.
What is the Lens Blur panel?
The Lens Blur panel applies a fake blur effect to the background of your photos. Like most effects it works best when you use it with a light touch to enhance your photos.
The photos below give you an idea of what you can do with it.
You’ll notice that I haven’t used it with a light touch in this example. Is it too much? Does it look realistic? You’ll have to decide for yourself (we’ll come back to this point later).
The Lens Blur panel is still in development, which is why there’s an Early Access button at the top.
Click the Early Access button to send any feedback you have about Lens Blur to Adobe. Expect to see big improvements to the tool in future updates.
For the moment, you can’t use add Lens Blur to Develop Presets, copy and paste Lens Blur settings or use them in Sync / Auto-Sync workflows.
How to use the Lens Blur panel
The Lens Blur panel is easy to use. You get the best result with photos that already have blurred backgrounds, so start with a photo where the background’s out of focus. The idea is to make it look as if you used a wider aperture than you did.
Start by checking the Apply box. Lightroom takes a moment to generate a depth map using AI (artificial intelligence). A depth map is a visual representation of subject to camera distance that Lightroom uses to apply the Lens Blur effect.
Use the Blur Amount slider to increase or decrease the intensity of the effect. Zero gives no lens blur, 100 gives maximum lens blur, and 50 is the default.
These photos show the difference.
Click the white arrow marked below to reveal the Bokeh settings.
Click the five icons above the Boost slider to change the appearance of the bokeh. The differences are clearest in photos with highlights or lights in the background.
The screenshots below (100% enlargements) show the difference. Experiment with the different settings to see which you prefer.
Above: Circle. This is the default setting and gives the same effect as a modern lens with a circular aperture.
Above: Bubble. A standard circular shape with over-corrected spherical aberration.
Above: 5-blade. The type of bokeh created by vintage lenses with five aperture blades.
Above: Ring. The type of bokeh created by mirror and reflex lenses.
Above: Cat Eye. A type of bokeh caused by optical vignetting in some lenses.
Focal range in the Lens blur panel
To understand what’s happening behind the scenes in the Lens Blur panel check the Visualize Depth box. This shows the depth map used to create the lens blur effect (see below).
The depth map uses color to show sharpness and depth. In a photo with a blurred background, white and yellow represent the sharpest part of the photo (normally the subject), then orange, pink and purple as you get further away. Warm colors are sharpest, and cool colors the least sharp.
In a photo where most of the scene is sharp, warm colors show what is closest to the camera, and cool colors what is furthest away.
You can also see the depth map in the Lens Blur panel (see below).
The slider box (white rectangle) shows the area of the photo where Lightroom isn’t applying lens blur. If the AI has done it’s job then that’s where your subject is.
You can adjust the in focus area by moving the slider box or clicking and dragging the sides to make it bigger or smaller.
You can also manually set the in focus area by clicking the Point/Area focus icon (see below).
Now you can click on the photo to set the focal range, or click and drag to include a larger area. Leaving it up to Lightroom usually gives the best results, but you can have a play and see for yourself.
You can click the Subject Focus icon (the white head and shoulder icon) at any time to go back to Lightroom’s depth map.
Refining the depth map
In my experiments the depth map generation works best with a clearly defined subject against an obvious background. This shouldn’t be a surprise, but it does mean that the depth map isn’t always accurate. You’re more likely to get an inaccurate depth map when the entire frame is in focus.
Let me give you an example. Here’s a photo where the entire scene is sharp.
I then applied Lens Blur.
At first glance it looks like a good result. But zoom into 100% and you can see that the depth map isn’t accurate. Look at the model’s right arm to see what I mean.
With Visualize Depth checked to show the depth map, you can see what has happened. The AI thinks that part of the model’s hoop is in the distance, not close to the camera like the model (it’s purple, but it should be yellow). It also struggled to detect the boundary between the model’s arm and the background precisely.
In some cases you can fix this. Click the Refine icon (see below) to reveal a set of Brush tools. Click the Focus button to brush in areas you want to be in focus, or the Blur button to brush in areas that should be blurred.
Whether you can use the Brush tools to refine the depth mask and get a good result depends on your photo. In this case, I couldn’t get a realistic result. So keep this in mind when you’re using Lens Blur.
The Lens Blur panel is a great addition to Lightroom Classic’s set of developing tools. But it needs to be used with caution. Look at the first pair of photos in this article, for example (I’ve added them below so you don’t have to scroll back up).
I made the original with the aperture set to f8, which is why the background’s in focus. That’s what I wanted at the time, so I’m happy.
If I’d wanted a blurred background, the best option would have been to set the aperture to f2.8 or wider. That would also have given me the option of using a lower ISO setting.
Looking at this example, I can’t decide whether the second version (the one with Lens Blur) looks realistic or fake. That’s because I don’t have a version made with a wide aperture to compare it with.
But at least Lens Blur worked. As you saw in the earlier example, it doesn’t work every time.
That means you can’t rely on Lens Blur as a shortcut. The best option, as always, is to get it right in camera. If you didn’t, and you think your photo would look better with a blurred background, then give Lens Blur a try.
But try and have some awareness of when you’re stepping over the line into fake blur territory. Keep it subtle, and remember it works best on photos that already have blurred backgrounds.
Mastering Lightroom Classic: Book Two – The Develop Module
You can learn more about the new tools in Lightroom Classic, including Point Color and Lens Blur, with my popular ebook Mastering Lightroom Classic: Book Two – The Develop Module.
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