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Why you Should use The Harris Shutter Effect

The Harris Shutter effect is a lot of fun to play around with when you’ve got some spare time and is an easy way to impress friends.

This effect can be used in just about any situation where you can keep the camera steady and is a great way to show movement in a photo.

What is the Harris Shutter effect?

The Harris Shutter effect was created by Robert Harris of Kodak.

The effect was originally created by re-exposing the same piece of film three times through three different colored filters while keeping the camera steady.

The three colours used were red, blue and green (the colours of the light spectrum) and, in the areas where no movement takes place, these three colors combine to reproduce the original color.

With the advent of Photoshop and digital cameras, the whole thing can be done a lot easier and without the use of filters.

This post will show you how to produce photos like the one below.

How it’s done

All the photographer has to do is to take three color photos of a scene involving a small amount of movement and an object that remains constant.

In my example above, I used the rising smoke out of a glass jar. The jar is the constant, and the smoke is the movement. For this effect to work best, the photos should be taken in quick succession like the ones below. 

Step by step guide

After setting up the shot and choosing three suitable photos, you want to open the first image in Photoshop or, alternatively, the free program I like to use: Gimp. It’s not as good as Photoshop but, in many ways, does much the same thing and is ideal for what we’re going to do here.

Firstly, go to ‘Colors’ and select ‘Color Balance’. Boost the red level while completely removing the green and blue level from that image. This is layer number 1.

Next, go to ‘File’ and select ‘Open as Layers…’. Select the second photo. Repeat the step above but, this time, remove the red and blue levels while boosting the green.

Finally repeat the steps above for the blue channel.

At this point you will only be able to see the blue photo so, to merge all three photos into one, you’ll need to open the layers dialog. To do this, it’s usually ‘Ctrl-L’ or ‘Cmd-L’.

Once open, select the first of the two top layers and go to the dropdown box next to ‘Mode:’. Select ‘Addition’ as demonstrated below. Repeat for both.

This will allow you to see all three photos at the same time as one image, completing the effect. 

Now all you have to do is to save it in the desired image format and you’re finished.

How To- The Harris Shutter Effect

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  • Herb Michael


    I’ve done the same thing using a slightly different method:

    In Photoshop (or whatever), I split each shot into R, G and B channels and save each channel for each shot.

    Then I load the R-channel from shot-1 (say), the G-channel from shot-2 and the B-channel from shot-3 into a new file and combine them.

    • how did you combine them together?

    • rahul

      hi micheal. i am new to photoshop. i just wanted to know how do i save them as different channels and how do i load them up and combine them. thanks if u recommend a video tutorial somewhere it would be great

  • Allan

    Great how to. However I cannot seem to get the lighting right for a sharp image. I have experimented with pouring water from a jug and steam from a saucepan. Thanks

    • Hi Allan, firstly, I recommend you read this post on taking sharper photos:
      My main photo was hard as it was so dark, and it took me a while to get the jar sharp. The way I did it was to have a torch underneath and one at the side lighting it up. It’s just a case on experimenting. I’d love to see your final image when you’re done and thanks for the comment. Josh

  • Hey! How do i keep the background the same and only have the moving areas colored like you do in the photos? When i change the color balance on each photo, the entire photo changes color and not just the smoke Can you help me please?

    • Hi Greisha, thanks for the comment. The whole photo is supposed to change colour, and when you combine all 3, the 3 colours of the spectrum will overlap to create the original colour. For the main photo, the background is black because that’s how I wanted it, but for the photo where I poured the water into the glass, the background changed colour when i tried this effect. Give it a go and show us the photo when you’re done. Thanks, Josh.

  • I can not find the “addition” in my photoshop cs5?

    so then how this is done.


    • Jonathan

      Me neither.

  • Mus

    very interesting. I really liked this post.

  • Thanks, what a wonderful article!
    I will try it for sure.

  • Jimmy

    Photoshop CS5 does not have the “addition” blending mode. How can you combine images?

    • JoshDunlop

      It’s the same as ‘Overlay’ I believe.

  • Luini

    This is amazing, Thank you!!

  • Alannah

    Everytime I merge the 3 in Gimp, the jar comes out bright white, like its been overexposed! I tried masking it, but it looked a bit fake.