How To Unblur a Photo or Image
Have you ever got caught in that moment when you think you have captured that perfect moment or that perfect scene, only to find out that the photo was blurry? Don’t feel bad, you’re not alone.
No matter how on point your photography skills may be, you’ve taken some blurry pictures in your time. Everybody does it – you take a great photo of our kid doing something exciting or the perfect product picture for your eBay listing, and then later when you go through it, and it’s all blurry!
It’s no big deal if you notice it straightaway as you can just take another picture. But what if it took you longer to check and there’s no way to retake the shot? Sometimes you only have one chance to get that perfect picture. Losing that chance can be a bit frustrating.
Blurred photos can be caused by a number of things. Camera shake, vibration, or insufficient focus can all create a blurry image that either detracts from or outright ruins the image.
But is a blurry image a total disaster? You might ask, “Is there a way to unblur a photo?” The answer is YES! There are certainly ways to salvage that perfect moment caught in that blurry picture. You will find out how in this article.
Digital image manipulation software allows you to sharpen an image, although that sharpening process can cause the addition of “noise” (some random-looking pixels) to the image. Sometimes, a moderately-blurred image can be considerably improved in terms of overall quality.
There are a number of software tools available that will let you sharpen images. You can sharpen images with desktop softwares like Photoshop, GIMP, Paint, a mobile app, or an online tool. The results largely depend on the tool you use and how blurry your image is.
With images rapidly taking over social media and the internet at large, the quality of your pictures means a lot. We often have the luxury of time to frame, focus, and take a shot carefully, but that isn’t always the case.
In this article, we will introduce you to the basic tools that you can use to try to unblur a photo or image. But first, let’s go through some tips on how to avoid taking blurry photos in the first place.
Avoiding Blur in Your Pics
- Avoiding Blur in Your Pics
- Fix the Image in Post!
- Unblur a picture using Photoshop
- Unblur a Picture using the GIMP Image Editor
- Unblur a picture using Paint.net
- Unblur a picture using Snapseed
- Unblur a Photo Using Online Tools
As noted above, there are several different causes of blur in photos. The good news is that you can do something to prevent it. Here are some causes of photo blur and how to avoid it.
Camera Shake as a Cause of Photo Blur
Camera shake is a significant cause of blurring. This happens when your hands shake while holding the camera. This used to be a huge problem with digital cameras because digital cameras take a little bit longer to take an image than the old analog film camera. During that long interval, being unable to hold the camera with steady hands results to blurry photos. Another common factor was that the shutter button for most digital cameras needed to be long pressed to take photos. Not pressing it long enough results to blurry pictures.
However, these days, most digital cameras and smartphone cameras have anti-shake software features that completely compensate for this kind of minor movement of the camera, and handheld shots are usually rock-steady even if your hands are not.
Ironically, the most common culprit for camera shake these days, is the use of tripods! Since 1820, tripods were used for stabilizing the camera. This tool is still very useful to most photographers today. Tripods are even now used to support smart phones. The problem arises when the control button for the phone (which is usually a software button on the phone’s screen) causes the camera to shake in the mount when tapped.
Sure, you can just take another one, but it’s a pain and the next one might be jumpy too. Fortunately, there is a quick and cheap fix – a Bluetooth shutter button that will let you trigger the camera on your phone without touching it.
Focus Issues as a Cause of Photo Blur
Another major cause of blurry pictures is camera focus. This is another problem that they had in the old days, but it was also one that was easily fixed by the photographers on the scene as they can see the photos from the viewfinder and easily spot obvious problems.
Back then, photographers would manually adjust the focus; but nowadays, most digital and smartphone cameras use AutoFocus. It is is a great tool, except for when it chooses the wrong things in the frame to base the focus on.
This explains why sometimes you see a picture where a tree in the background is in perfect focus, while the pretty girl in a swimsuit (who was the actual subject of the photo) is a blurry blob.
Fixing an out of focus error is fairly easy with a digital SLR camera. Just point the camera directly at the subject and half-press the shutter button. This tells the camera to lock its focus on whatever is in the center of the frame – the subject of your photo. Then, move the camera back out to frame the subject as you want the picture to be taken, and press the button all the way down. The camera will take a sharp, in-focus picture of the subject.
On a smartphone, it’s a little trickier because there usually isn’t a lock focus function. Depending on your camera software, you may be able to manually override AutoFocus.
For those cameras without that kind of feature, you basically have to zoom in and out on the picture with your digital zoom and move the camera around until the software figures out what the actual subject is and refocuses itself.
Motion blur is a big problem, especially for action shots. Most motion shots are candid, and are really hard to recapture. This problem is highlighted when the action is taking place indoors, as the lighting is often not good enough to allow a high enough shutter speed to capture all the action.
On a smartphone, you don’t have a lot of options other than to set your camera software to “sports mode” or something similar, and to try to get the scene as well-lit as possible, possibly by turning on the flash.
Get permission to do so first, however, as some events and venues prohibit flash photography because it can distract the players in a game or otherwise disrupt the event you’re attending.
On a digital SLR (Single-Lens Reflex) camera, you have more choices. You should start by increasing the ISO value (speed), which determines the light sensitivity of your camera’s image sensor to
This is a trade-off, as higher ISOs will cause more graininess in the final image. You’ll have to find the right balance for the conditions you’re shooting in.
The second tool you have is to increase the size of your aperture and get closer to the subject of your shot. The downside of this approach is that you may lose depth of field and the figures in the background may be out of focus.
Fix the Image in Post!
No matter what tool you use, the first thing to do is to make a backup copy of the image file you are going to work with!
That way if a tool doesn’t work for you, or makes the situation worse than it was, you at least have a clean copy of the original photograph to revert back to in a pinch! I usually make a copy of the backup for each tool I’m going to try to fix (e.g., “imagename_photoshop_working”).
Unblur a picture using Photoshop
Photoshop has several tools you can use to unblur images. There are three common ways to achieve a much sharper image from an initially blurry image.
Each does things in a slightly different way, and works better or worse in different situations. You just need a little trial and error to figure out which is which.
Fix blur using Photoshop Elements:
- Open your image in Photoshop Elements.
- Select the Filters menu and then Enhance.
- Select Unsharp Mask.
- Adjust both the Radius and Amount until your image is sharp.
This takes a little adjusting to get right, but it works very well at unblurring a picture.
Fix blur using just Photoshop:
- Open your image in Photoshop.
- Duplicate the background layer and select it.
- Select Filter, Other and High Pass and set it to 10%.
- Select the blend mode of the layer to hard light and set the opacity until the image is clear.
If you use a newer version of Photoshop, you can also use camera shake reduction to reduce blur in images:
- Open your image in Photoshop.
- Select Filter, Sharpen, and Shake Reduction.
- Allow Photoshop to work its magic and preview the differences.
This final option has Photoshop do all the work. No user input as to settings and levels is required. As long as you have preview enabled, you should see the before and after image side by side.
Unblur a Picture using the GIMP Image Editor
If you don’t have Photoshop, you could use the free image editor GIMP. It is an excellent program that can do a lot. There’s a bit of learning curve (like with Photoshop) but GIMP is such a powerful image editor which makes it worth the effort to learn.
GIMP is free, open-source and it is a very feature-rich application that I often recommend to people. It isn’t quite as powerful as Photoshop, but it is free and does everything most of us need it to do, including unblurring an image.
Here’s how to unblur an image using GIMP:
- Open the image in GIMP.
- Select Blur/Sharpen from the Toolbox.
- Select Sharpen and drag your mouse over the image to sharpen it all or select a portion to sharpen just part of it.
As you select parts of the image to sharpen, GIMP automatically does its work. You should see the image dynamically sharpen as you move your mouse.
GIMP is quite effective at unblurring images.
Unblur a picture using Paint.net
Paint.net is another free image editing tool that can achieve a lot at no cost. Sharpening is not one of its strong suits but it does a credible job of reducing blur in images.
Here’s how to unblur an image using Paint.net:
- Open the image in Paint.net.
- Select Effects, Picture, and Sharpen.
- Move the slider in the Sharpen popup to a level you are happy with.
- Select OK and save.
The Sharpen tool can then introduce noise to the image. You may be able to reduce that by using Effects and Noise Reduction. Again, adjust until you are happy.
Unblur a picture using Snapseed
Snapseed is an app from Google that works on both Android and iPhones. It is a full image editor that works on most newer devices and has a very full feature set. One thing Snapseed does especially well is sharpening images.
You can also selectively blur images, too, if you want to go the other way. Regardless, this is how you get it done in Snapseed:
- Open your image in Snapseed.
- Select the Details menu option.
- Select Sharpen or Structure, then either unblur or show more detail.
Both Sharpen and Structure combine to make a lot of difference to a once blurry image. I tend to use Sharpen first to remove as much blur as possible and then use Structure to bring back the detail.
This will take a little trial and error until you get the levels just to your liking, but once you do your image should be crystal clear and ready to go.
Unblur a Photo Using Online Tools
Fotor is a great photo editing suite that offers a range of free photo editing tools from within the website. There are Pro tools as well for a cost, but for most of us the free ones do enough. The tool itself is labeled as adding artistic blur to an image but by using it and then scaling blur down you can use it as a sharpener.
Use the Basic tools in the left menu, then Basic in the second left menu. There is a Sharpen slider there to unblur your picture.
Photo Sharpen is much lower-tech and does the work for you. It uses an algorithm to sharpen images. You upload your image and select the Sharpen button. The website does the rest. It will then show you a sharper image as a result. You cannot tune the results but the site does a pretty good job of reducing blur.
These are just some of the ways to unblur pictures. With the rise of new technology and much powerful cameras and devices, there sure are more ways to fix photos at the tip of your fingers. Do you know of any other ways to unblur an image? Tell us about them below in the comments if you do!
Are you a shutterbug? We’ve got the resources you need to take and create the best possible pictures!
If you use an Android phone for your shots, you’ll want to review our piece on the best photography apps for Android.
Are you a wildlife photographer? If so, our guide to taking wildlife photos is a must-read.
Do you need to add some text to those photos? See our tutorial on adding text to photos on Android.
Do you WANT a blurry background for artistic effect in your photos? Check out our guide to adding blur to the background.
Are people using your pics without your permission? We’ve got a guide on how to tell whether people are using your photos online.
If you sometimes end up with pixelated pics, check out our how-to article on How To Fix Pixelated Photos & Pictures.