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How To Create a Cool Motion Blur Effect in Photoshop

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Want to add a sense of speed to your photos? A motion blur effect in Photoshop will get you that fast action result.

I’ll show you how to combine different blur filters to get the perfect motion blur in Photoshop.

How to Create a Cool Motion Blur Effect in Photoshop

Taking photos of fast objects is not easy. Sometimes there’s too much motion blur and sometimes there’s none at all.

When you use a fast shutter speed, everything in your photo will be sharp.

a race car speeding on a race track
© Pixabay

That really takes away the sense of speed in your action photos. Luckily, it’s super easy to create a motion blur in Photoshop.

The motion blur Photoshop filter allows you to add blur in only one direction.

a race car speeding on a race track featuring motion blur photography

So, for the best result, we’ll combine two different kinds of blur available in Photoshop.

Step 1: Copy the Subject

We don’t want blur applied to our subject. At least not everywhere, so let’s copy the subject to a new layer.

Make a selection of the subject. You can use any tool you’re comfortable with, this usually depends on the photo.

I used the Quick Selection tool because the outlines of the subject are very clear.

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop

Once you have a selection of the subject, copy it to a new layer. Hit Cmd + J (Ctrl + J for Windows).

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop

Step 2: Remove the Subject From the Background

This is a very important step because we can’t just apply blur to the background layer.

The background layer still has the subject in it. So, if we apply a blur filter to that layer, it will also blur the subject. That will create an ugly halo around the subject that we copied to a new layer.

To avoid this, we have to remove the subject from the background layer.

First, duplicate the background layer so we can always go back to the original. Right-click on the background layer and select “Duplicate Layer…”.

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop

Then, remove the subject. The easiest way to do that is with the Clone Stamp tool.

Make sure to make the layer with the copied subject invisible.

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop

Select the Clone Stamp tool. Pick a soft brush and Alt + click in an area around the subject to sample pixels.

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop

Start cloning over the subject until it’s gone. The best way is to keep resampling areas as you go around the subject.

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop

In my example, I manually added the white line in the background with the Paint Brush tool.

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop

And remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect because we will add blur to this layer. You won’t see imperfections in the end result.

When you make the top layer visible again, it should already look a lot better.

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop

Step 3: Add Blur to the Foreground

Now it’s time to add blur. We’ll use Smart Filters because they’ll allow you to change the settings of the filter at any point.

If you don’t use Smart Filters, you’ll have to undo and reapply the filter every time you want to change something.

First, we have to prepare the layer for Smart Filters.

Right-click on the layer from which you’ve removed the subject and select “Convert to Smart Object”. Whenever you apply a filter on this layer, Photoshop will now use Smart Filters.

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop - convert to smart object

Instead of using the Motion Blur Photoshop filter, we’ll use the Radial Blur. This way, we can apply a blur in different directions.

We’ll create a blur that moves to one point in the photo for the foreground. For the background, we’ll add a blur that follows the curve from left to right.

Go to Filter > Blur and choose “Radial Blur”.

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop - radial blur

Select “Zoom” and set the amount of blur. Then, click on the white window to set the center point of the blur. In my case, the race car.

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop - radial blur

Click OK to check the result. You’ll notice in the Layer Window that Photoshop has created a Smart Filter.

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop - smart filters

Double-click under “Smart Filters” on “Radial Blur” to change the settings of the blur until you like the result. Only look at the foreground when checking the result.

Now, let’s remove the blur from the background. Select the layer with the Smart Filter and click on the “Add vector mask” icon.

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop - radial blur

Select the Paint Brush and set the color to black.

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop

Pick a large and soft brush from the dropdown menu.

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop

Start painting over the background. Make sure that the mask thumbnail is selected.

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop

The blur will disappear and you can see the changes in the mask thumbnail. Black areas are affected by the filter and white areas aren’t.

Step 4: Add Blur to the Background

Now we can add a blur to the background. Right-click the layer with blur and select “Duplicate”.

Select the Paint Brush tool and set the color to white. Fill the Layer Mask with white again by painting over the photo. Again, make sure to select the mask thumbnail.

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop

Keep going until the mask thumbnail is white and the blur is visible again.

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop

Double-click on the Radial Blur Smart Filter. Change the direction of the blur. In my case, I want it to follow the curve from left to right.

Also, make sure to use less blur in the background. Objects that are far away from the lens should have less blur.

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop

And then, with the same technique as before, remove the blur from the foreground. Select the mask thumbnail and paint with black over the foreground.

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop

Both layers should be partly visible. One for the background and one for the foreground.

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop

Step 5: Make Your Blur More Realistic With the Smudge Tool

For a natural-looking result, you need to add a little bit of blur to your subject.

Create a new layer on top of all the previous layers. Make sure the top layer is selected and click on the “Add new layer” icon.

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop

Select the Smudge tool.

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop

Make sure to check “Sample all layers”. Set the Strength percentage to around 2 – 5% depending on your photo.

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop

Use the Smudge tool to blur some of the edges of your subject. In my example, I also blurred the shadow underneath the car. How much you need to blur depends on your photo and the subject.

You can also use this tool to fix areas where the two blur filters don’t match up. Just smudge away!

And that’s it, the perfect motion blur effect without using the motion blur Photoshop filter.

a screenshot showing how to add motion blur in Photoshop

Conclusion

Sometimes you have to use a fast shutter speed to capture a fast-moving subject. The problem is that your background will also be sharp. You can use Photoshop to add a sense of speed later.

You can use the Motion Blur filter but the possibilities are limited. It will only add blur in one direction. The radial blur is much more versatile.

Combine blur in different directions on different areas to create the perfect motion blur effect in Photoshop.

Check out our new posts on how to rotate or flip an image or add a vignette effect in Photoshop!

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