Finishing Touches with Photoshop’s Surface Blur

Peggy Farren 2016-08-08
A quick way to smooth out, clean up a studio backdrop in Photoshop

By Tom Tracy

Necessity is the mother of invention, or discovery, as they say.

Last week following a periodic studio portrait session with a ballroom dance company, I was resigned to the fact that the white paper backdrop was simply going to get dirty with six dance instructors stomping around.

Any post-production cleanup of that footprint-sodden backdrop was going to be “as needed” on select images only: slow and tedious, and certainly not on all 300 final images that I had for the dance studio client.

Normally I would use either the Photoshop “Clone Tool” as needed, or better yet, the Gaussian blur tool in order to whack out the entire picture in blur and then paint back the detail with the “History brush” (I really like the speedy History brush for quick & dirty work when you don’t need the fuss of creating adjustment layers).

Then a light bulb went off and I took a closer look at the other Photoshop tools, and I thought that “Surface Blur” sounded promising for my project. In fact, it is brilliant. I get the impression it's a tool that been around for a while (and maybe even in Elements) but I hadn’t noticed.

Designed specifically to look for hard edges of people or objects, and exclude them from the effect, Surface Blur leaves your presumed subject matter mostly (but not completely) intact while smoothing out the ‘surface.’ It's also used as a popular skin smoothing tool apparently.

I found some settings that perfectly removed the backdrop filth while causing minimum blur-inducing harm to the dancers — a blur “Radius” of about 60 and “Threshold” of about 10 seemed to do the trick on my portraits.

Still, I had follow that up with a quick swoosh of the History brush over the dancers to restore original sharpness there, especially on faces and hands.

To make the whole thing really move along, I eventually set up a Batch action in Photoshop to open every image, apply the correct Surface Blur recipe, and then leave it to me to come in for the History brush touch up before re-saving the images.

Yes, a little time consuming, but the result was an incredibly improved set of images.

Yet another set of repairs for just some of these images involved extending the area of the backdrop in instances where the backdrop was not large enough to contain the scene. And for that I like to reach for the Liquify tool — but that’s another story. Check YouTube to see how other people use the Surface Blur tool.

Tom Tracy is a West Palm Beach-based photojournalist and event photographer and regular contributor to Understand Photography. His website is:
Don't miss a thing.

Subscribe to our show!

Click to subscribe!
Close popup

Subscribe to our show!

By subscribing to our show, you will never miss out! We will notify you via email when a new podcast is posted.

Please Fill Out This Field

Like what you are reading?

Sign up for our newsletter!

Sign up now!
Close popup

Sign up for our newsletter

Your details are safe with us.

Please Fill Out This Field

Post Your Comment Below

What Camera Should I Buy?

One of the most often questions we receive is "What type of camera should I buy?" Of course a lot depends on your budget and what you want to do with the camera. Watch this short video for Peggy's recommendation.

Sign Up for Access
Close popup

Which camera should I buy?

Enter your contact information to watch this short video for Peggy's recommendation!

Please Fill Out This Field

Join the movement

About Peggy

Peggy Farren is an award winning, professional photographer, instructor, writer and speaker.

With over 17 years as a full-time professional photographer, Peggy offers photography training through her training center, “Understand Photography”.

Learn More

Essential Preparation Tips for Travel Photography

This free report will help you choose the right cameras, lenses and accessories for your travels. You'll need different equipment depending on where you are going, your finances, and the weight of the gear. We'll show you how to determine the best equipment for your needs. Also included is a comprehensive list on what you'll need, some things you may not have heard before but you'll be so glad we let you know!

Sign Up for More Information
Close popup

Essential Preparation Tips for Travel Photography

Many you've never heard before!

Please Fill Out This Field