How to blur the background of a picture in PowerPoint 2010

You don't need expensive software to create artistic slides if you have PowerPoint 2010. Use this version's new Artistic Effects and Remove Background tools to turn ordinary pictures into pieces of art.

Many people don't expect artistic results using PowerPoint's built-in features, but that's not the case anymore. For instance, did you know that you can blur the background of a picture in PowerPoint 2010? You can, and it isn't as difficult as you might think. There is, however, one huge caveat to using the technique I'm about to show you - keep the picture in the foreground as simple as possible. The more details, the less PowerPoint can do for you.

This technique requires two picture objects of the same image. You'll use 2010's new Artistic Effects feature to blur the background of one. On the second, you'll use the new Remove Background tool. By stacking the two altered picture objects, viewers will see just one image.

Now, let's work through a simple example using the photograph below to create the slide that follows.

The first step is to import your picture and do any cropping and resizing beforehand. For instance, you might want to crop the right side to eliminate the white tulip. (We're not going to do that in this example.) Once the picture is the right size, brightness, and so on, make a copy of it - just cut and paste to a placeholding slide. If you don't alter the picture, just insert another copy.

With two picture objects of the same image, blur the background of one as follows:

  1. Select the picture.
  2. On the Picture Tools Format tab, click the Artistic Effects dropdown (in the Adjust group).
  3. Click the Blur option (the last option on the second row) from the gallery.
  4. To increase the blur effect (the default isn't quite enough), click the Artistic Effects dropdown again and choose Artistic Effects Option (below the gallery).
  5. Click Artistic Effects in the left pane (if necessary). The Radius setting is 10%.
  6. Change that setting to 80 and click Close.

The background picture is complete. The next step is to remove the background from the second picture object as follows:

  1. Select the second picture object.
  2. On the Picture Tools Format tab, click Remove Background in the Adjust group. PowerPoint will mask the background in purple. If you're lucky, the tool will accurately distinguish between the foreground and the background. If it doesn't, use Mark Areas to Keep and Mark Areas to Remove. The simpler the foreground picture, the better your chances that PowerPoint will select correctly. In this case, PowerPoint's first guess is perfect.
  3. Click Keep Changes in the Close group to remove the background. This is your foreground picture.
  4. Use cut and paste to copy the foreground picture to the slide with the blurred background picture. If the beginning pictures are the same size, the two should be perfectly aligned. You might have to adjust the position just a bit.

PowerPoint offers several background effects. Just remember to keep the images simple and to use a background to match the mood. I recommend that use this technique only when it enhances your slide and not just because you can.