Photoshop Motion Blur Filter Tutorial

Step-by-step tutorial on adding motion to a photo using Photoshop's filters.

Adding Motion to a Photo with Photoshop Motion Blur Filter

Photo Retouching Tutorials

Correcting Lens Distortion | Adding Motion Blur | Radial Blur | Adding Bokeh | Lighting Correction | Color Correction

All Tutorial Text & Images - Copyright © 2011 KHI, Inc.

Panning Motion Blur in Action Photos

Motion blurring in an action photograph adds movement and excitement to an otherwise boring image, but it can be difficult to achieve without a lot of skill at panning the camera in a steady and predictable way. Motion blur is a result of smooth camera movement combined with a slow shutter speed, while tracking a fast-moving object such as a race car, racing motorcycle, a wildlife nature shot, or any other type of action photography.

This Photoshop tutorial is designed to instruct on the use of Photoshop's Motion Blur filter and Radial Blur filter to add the effect of a rapid panning motion, blurring the background of your static-looking action photo. This effect can add drama to an otherwise boring photo that was shot at a high, or fast shutter speed.

Using Photoshop's Motion Blur Filter to Simulate Panning

The first step in this tutorial is to isolate the foreground subject from its background. Using the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L), create a selection of the foreground object by carefully tracing its outline. Work just to the outside of the outline as you will be able to erase away any excess at a later point.

Once your selection is made, you will use the Selection Tool's 'Smooth' function (Select>Modify>Smooth) to smooth out any rough edges. Now you will use the 'Feather' command (Select>Feather) to soften the selection by 1 pixel. Copy and past your selection into a new layer, creating an isolated foreground object (below, left).

Adding Motion Blur to Background

Technical Note: Don't bother with auto-tracing functions, or the Magic Wand Tool (W) to do the work for you. These tools never produce a good result, especially if your foreground object has similar tonal value to the background you are separating it from. It may take time and patience, but the end result will be realistic and convincing.

Now you will 'Command>Shift' click the new foreground layer in the Photoshop Layers palette, and use the Select>Inverse command in the menu-bar to reverse the selection. Everything but the foreground object should now be selected. While the selection is active go back to the background layer copy and paste the background into a new layer (above, right). Make sure this new background layer is under the top foreground 'car' layer.

Photoshop Motion Blur Background

Next you will use Photoshop's Clone Stamp Tool (S), or the Selection Tool (L), to duplicated the background, filling the hole that the foreground object was located in. This does not need to look completely perfect, as the motion blur filter will obscure most of the fine detail.

Photoshop Motion Blur Filter

Now you are ready to add the motion blurring effect using the Photoshop Motion Blur filter (Filter>Blur>Motion Blur...) located in the upper menu-bar. There are two settings in the Motion Blur filter's dialog box - Distance (the length of the blurring path, measured in pixels) and Angle (from perfectly horizontal at 0 degrees, to vertical at 90 degrees). The pixel length of the blurring path is relative to your photo image, with high-resolution images requiring a greater distance to achieve the same results.

Setting the Motion Blur Distance, Angle

The filter's Distance setting controls the length of the blurring effect by number of pixels. Set the distance pixel length so that there is an appropriate amount of motion blurring, without looking artificial.

The Motion Blur filter's Angle setting controls the angle that the blur is oriented in, and the orientation MUST match the approximate angle you would use when panning the camera to track the moving object. Use the Motion Blur dialog box's Zoom window to find a section of roadway edge, as this is most-likely what you would have been tracking while panning the moving object. Match the blur angle to the road edge so that the stretching motion does not thicken (blur) the edge vertically, then click OK.

Adding Motion Blur to Photo

Before (insert) and after samples of a photo with motion blur added to background and foreground subject

Now that we have added motion to the background, the fast-spinning wheels don't match the speed-blur of the background. We will use Photoshop's Radial Blur Filter to add a spinning rotation-blur motion to the wheels and tires so that they simulate the same slow shutter-speed effect.

In addition to blurring the background you may also want to slightly blur the foreground subject, especially if part of the object - in this case, a car - is not completely centered in the frame. The sample photo above shows how blurring the front of the car adds more realism to the image. It should also be noted that the image above required three different blurring angles due to the fact that the horizontal lines of the road expand as you go from left to right. In this case, three separate background copies were utilized and each was erased away where the angle no longer flowed with the horizontal lines.

Technical Note: The following hardware and software was used in this tutorial: An Apple Mac Pro desktop computer, a Wacom Intuos 6x8 drawing tablet, Adobe Photoshop CS-CS5 photo editing software and a properly calibrated monitor.

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