Adobe’s October 2023 update adds a new Lightroom Lens Blur panel. It’s flagged as Early Access, so it’s still in development, but you can use it right now and it’s actually rather impressive!
Until now, Lightroom was not capable of creating blur. You would have to use an external editor or plug in to blur images or parts of images. But the new Lightroom Lens Blur filter doesn’t just add lens blur, it uses AI to work out the three-dimensional depth of your images to properly separate subjects and backgrounds.
You activate the lens blur effect with a simple checkbox in the Lens Blur panel. Like other AI processes, it takes a few moments to complete, but when it’s done Lightroom will have picked out your main subject and blurred the rest.
Lightroom Lens Blur in action
You can see straight away that Lightroom is doing something different to regular blur tools. These treat photographs as two-dimensional flat planes and it’s up to you to use selection tools and blur effects to separate subjects from their backgrounds. But Lightroom does this for you, creating a very impressive ‘depth map’ from near to far and allowing to control the plane of sharp focus using a simple gadget in the panel.
The results do vary. We can expect the Lightroom Lens Blur results to improve over time, but some subjects are always going to be tricky. The Lens Blur effect seems to work best when subjects are clearly identifiable with distinctly different tones and textures to their backgrounds. It works very well on my shot of a vintage motorcycle for that very reason.
Like Lightroom’s Subject, Sky and Object detection AI, it often works brilliantly and sometimes works badly. It is what it is. But right away, it’s clearly more effective than regular ‘flat’ lens blur tools. I’ve tried it on a number of different images, and at least half the time it immediately gives a better result than I would expect from regular manual selections and blurring.
The ‘depth map’ gadget is especially interesting (I’m calling it that knowing that’s not it’s actual name, but it does describe what it does). It has a graphical histogram-style display showing objects at different ‘distances’, with selection bars to identify the areas to be kept sharp and those to blur. It’s a lot simpler to use than it is to explain!
At first glance, this does look like a really effective and useful addition to Lightroom’s tools to create a sense of depth in images that don’t have any differential focus. Of course, it’s yet another example of using AI and software to fabricate or exaggerate ‘reality’, but in their own way that’s what photographers have been doing for decades. Instead of creating background blur with wide lens apertures, now you can do it with software – though probably never quite as convincingly.
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