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How to censor your photos for social media, non-destructively in Photoshop

On many social media sites, for various reasons, we are seeing a high degree of censorship and banning for anything considered “Mature”.* Regardless of your personal feelings on the matter, for those of us producing fine art nude or boudoir photography, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to share our uncensored work over the internet. Here is a quick tip on how to create a frosted glass effect that nondestructively blurs only the parts of your image you choose, to satisfy the interweb censors and people parts police.

In the interest of those with more delicate constitutions, I have included no human nudity in this article. Instead, I will only use animal photos, none of which were harmed. With this technique, you can censor all types of “offensive” parts including:

(Yes, I am being purposeful silly, and these, in the wrong context, could be considered degrading or obscene terms.  That is the point, context… and having a sense of humor.)

How to censor your photos in Photoshop

Step One: Open your image and convert it to a smart object

If the image contains no layers but the background one, convert the background layer to a smart object by:

  • In the Layers panel, right-click the layer name and on the context menu that appears select “Convert to Smart Object” 
  • – or – From the main menu at the top of the Photoshop screen, select Layer → Smart Objects → Convert to Smart Object 
  • – or – Click the small menu icon in the upper right corner of the Layers panel, and select “Convert to Smart Object” 

If the image is layered, select the top layer in your image, and create a stamp visible layer of your finished image. This will temporarily merge all your layers, copy them to a new layer, leaving all the original layers intact below the new layer.

  • Hot Key: Ctrl + Alt + Shift + E (Win) or Command + Option + Shift + E.

Then convert this new stamped layer to a smart object, as above.

Step two: Gaussian blur the smart object

  • In the Layers panel, click the smart object layer you just created to select it.
  • Apply a gaussian blur to your smart object layer. Go to Filters → Blurs → Gaussian Blur 
  • Slide the radius amount up until you can longer distinguish the offending parts. On a typical web sized image (roughly 1920 pixels on the longest side), this will be in the 25-30 radius range. If working with a high-resolution image (4000px or more on the longest side) this will usually be a radius of 50 or more
  • At this point, your whole image will be a blur. But don’t worry. Click the Gaussian Blur smart filter layer mask so the “active borders” surround it. Choose Image > Adjustments > Invert to change it from white to black.
    • Hot key Ctrl I or Cmd I

Notice the former white box representing the layer mask is now black. This indicates the effect has been masked, or hidden.

NOTE: If this step isn’t working, make sure you don’t have anything selected (look for the “marching ants”). If you do, it will only invert what is inside of the selection, not the entire layer mask

Step three: Blur the Naughty Bits

Now let’s decide what to hide. To do so we will paint/fill on the Gaussian Blur smart filter layer using white. Because every filter is set up as a layer mask, painting with black hides the effect, white reveals it.

Methods

  • Selection Tool
    • Advantages: Better for clean lines and shapes
    • Can use any of the tools available to create a selection, including, rectangular marquee (hotkey M), Lasso (hotkey L), Quick Selection Tool (W), etc.
      • Make your selection
      • From the top main menu, select Edit → Fill…,
      • – or- use hot key Shift f5
      • From the Fill window, click the Contents drop-down menu and choose White. Verify that under Blending the Mode is Normal and the Opacity is 100%. 
    • – or – Select the Paint Bucket tool (hotkey G). Set opacity to 100% and tolerance to 255, and make sure the foreground color is set to white. Because you are working on a layer mask, the colors will default to white and black. To flip the foreground and background colors, use hotkey X 
    • – or – press the Control (Command) + Backspace (Mac: Delete) key once you have made your selection. On a layer mask, Alt (Option) + Backspace (Mac: Delete) fills the selected area with the background color, just make sure that the background color is white
  • Paintbrush
    • Advantages: More freedom, better for irregular strokes or shapes
    • Use a hard brush for clean lines, soft for feathered effect with soft edges
    • Set the opacity and flow to 100 to completely apply the blur effect. If you would rather build up the effect with multiple strokes, set the flow to 20 or less.

(Right now, an interweb censor is having a meltdown since I used the terms hard, soft, and multiple strokes in the same section, but can’t figure out a way that this is obscene.)

As you fill the selection you will see the blur effect appear

Add additional effects or adjustments

Some sites have gone so far that pixelization of parts isn’t enough, you also have to change the color or add other effects to make the censorship obvious.

You can add as many other filters or image adjustments as you like. They will be placed in the Smart filter’s group, and have the same mask you created above applied to them.

 

Like this article? Follow this link to read more of my photo tips and techniques. Jason’s Articles at Photofocus

*Author’s note on censorship

The following in no way represents the thoughts, beliefs, or opinion’s of Photofocus, this is all straight out of my brain.

While reproductive organs below the waist have always been forbidden on sites like Facebook and Instagram, “Mature” has now come to include even the slightest suggestion of female nipples, so-called offensive hashtags (like Lingerie, seriously it’s banned on Instagram), too high a ratio of visible skin versus the rest of the image, and photos of the Grand Canyon.

Showing “content that violates community standards” can result in bans, or even permanent exile from a site.  In my opinion, the standards are often hypocritical, with frequently changing rules that are subjective and loosely defined.  Punishments are inconsistent, and frequently discriminatory and draconian. There is a rising outcry from artists’ communities and 1st amendment advocates over the suppression of art and expression over the internet and within our society, an issue we should all seriously consider.  For more info, see the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) website for resources, stories, and support in dealing with censorship.

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