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Think fast: How to add motion blur in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements

Lesa Snider | March 16, 2015
To add extra visual interest to a photo, try using a blur filter to simulate motion. Even though your subject is stationary in the picture, the viewer's brain will experience the movement, which adds an element of excitement. In fact, this technique is a great way to turn a snapshot into something more artistic.

To add extra visual interest to a photo, try using a blur filter to simulate motion. Even though your subject is stationary in the picture, the viewer's brain will experience the movement, which adds an element of excitement. In fact, this technique is a great way to turn a snapshot into something more artistic.

Happily, Photoshop and Photoshop Elements make the process a piece of cake (you can do it in Pixelmator, too). Read on to kick your subject into high gear!

Prepare your layers

In Photoshop, open an image and activate the pertinent layer(s). If your document consists of multiple layers (say, you used another layer for color correction), activate them and, in Photoshop CS3 or later, choose Filter > "Convert for Smart Filters." This tells Photoshop to create a Smart Object from the active layers, which you can think of as a protective wrapper. That way, the filter is applied to the wrapper instead of to its contents.

Alternatively, create a stamped copy for blurring by activating the topmost layer and pressing Shift-Option-Command-E. When you do, Photoshop creates a new layer at the top of your layer stack that contains the content of all visible layers. In your Layers panel, double-click the new layer's name and enter "blur."

In Elements, click the Expert button at the top of the workspace (called Full Edit in vintage versions). If your document consists of a single layer, click to activate it and then duplicate it by pressing Command-J. If your document consists of multiple layers, create a "stamped copy" for blurring as described in the previous paragraph.

Fire up the filter

In either Photoshop or Elements, choose Filter > Blur > Motion Blur. In the resulting dialog box, adjust the Angle setting to make the blur go in the direction you want. For example, to create a perfectly vertical blur set the angle to 90 degrees. To adjust the strength of the blur, drag the Distance slider right for more blurring or left for less (a setting of 100 was used here). Click OK when you're finished. Your whole image will be blurry; but don't panic, we'll fix that in a minute.

Another useful filter for motion is the Radial Blur filter, which you can use to create a slick zoom effect. In Elements 12 or later, click the Guided button at the top of the Elements window. In the techniques that appear at right, scroll down until you see Zoom Burst Effect and give it a swift click — just follow the onscreen instructions to create the effect.

In Photoshop, or to create a zoom effect from scratch in Elements, choose Filter > Blur > Radial Blur. In the resulting dialog box, set the amount to 35, the Blur Method to Zoom, and Quality to Best. Click and drag the filter's preview (circled) to reposition the blur epicenter (say, your subject's head) and click OK. To tweak the blur'e epicenter in Photoshop, double-click the Radial Blur filter entry in your Layers panel to reopen its dialog box, and then click another spot in the preview area. In Elements, click the Undo button at the bottom of the window a few times and then run the filter again.

 

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