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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.

Hide the motion with a layer mask

To hide the motion from your subjects' heads, use layer masking (think of masks as digital masking tape). In Photoshop, mouse over to your Layers panel and click to activate the Smart Filter mask — the large white thumbnail beneath the Smart Object (circled). Once active, the mask thumbnail sports a white outline.

In Elements, add the mask manually by clicking the circle-within-a-square icon at the top of the Layers panel (choose Window > Layers if you don't see that panel and make sure you're in Expert mode). When you do, Elements adds the mask (circled) next to the layer thumbnail and tacks on a blue outline to let you know it's active.

In real life, masking tape is beige or blue; in Photoshop and Elements, it's black. A helpful way to remember what color to paint with inside a mask is the rhyme, "black conceals and white reveals." To hide the blur, you'll paint with black inside the mask using the Brush tool (you can also use the Gradient tool set to use a black to white gradient).

Press D to set the color chips at the bottom of your Tools panel to the default of black and white and then press X until black is on top. Press B to grab the Brush tool andÿ in the Options bar, choose a soft-edge brush and set the size to about 250 pixels. TIP: You can tap the left bracket key ([) to decrease brush size, or the right bracket key (]) to increase brush size in either program. Mouse over to your image and paint across your subject's heads. If you conceal too much of the blur, press X to swap color chips so white is on top and then repaint that area to reveal it.

Save your document

The last step is to save your document by choosing File > Save As. In the resulting dialog box, pick Photoshop from the Format menu and click Save. This maneuver preserves your layers so you can go edit them later. To create a version you can send elsewhere for printing, choose File > Save As again and pick JPEG from the Format menu.

Click Save and in the resulting JPEG Options dialog box, drag the Quality slider all the way right for the highest quality setting of 12. To create a version you can post on online or email, choose File > Save for Web. Choose JPEG High from the menu at upper-right and, if necessary, resize the image using the New Size section at lower right. Click Save and call it a day.

As you can see, adding motion can make a big impact. Until next time, may the creative force be with you all!


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