How to Enhance Your Action Shots with Motion Blur

Did you accidentally freeze your runner, race car, or skateboarder in suspended motion? Have no fear, multiple direction motion blur is here! Add dramatic motion and the look of more speed to all your pans or action shots. In this tutorial, Aaron Nace outlines the steps to add a two-point motion blur to your image:

There are three major things to remember about adding a motion blur to an image through Photoshop:

  1. Cut your subject out from the background.
  2. Clone stamp your subject from the background. (You don’t want to creating a blurred halo effect around your cut out subject.)
  3. Design a blur based on your image and appropriate direction of movement. For example a basic left-to-right pan would call for a horizontal motion blur.

How to Create Motion Blur

  • Create a duplicate of your background layer.
  • Use the pen tool to cut out your subject from the background. We will call this layer “Subject”
  • Add layer mask to the Subject layer.

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  • Next, duplicate your background layer.
  • Use the Clone Stamp tool. Sample the area around your subject by holding Alt, then paint over top of your subject. The cloning doesn’t have to be perfect as a blur will be added. Sample from many places around the subject for best results.

motion blur tutorial phlearn

  • Press Shift + Option + Command + E to create a sample visible layer. We will call this “Layer Blur 1.”
  • Right click and select Convert to Smart Object. This will make the layer a Smart Object and give you access to smart filters which are changeable throughout the process.
motion blur tutorial phlearn

A skateboarder rolling down a curve has two directions of motion as demonstrated by the pink lines.

  • Select Filter > Blur > Radial Blur
  • Choose a zoom center around where your subject is leading.

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  • Add a layer mask to Layer Blur 1. Painting with a black paintbrush will revert the area back to the original look. Paint wherever you do not want this motion blur to appear.

motion blur tutorial phlearn

  • Press Command + J to duplicate the layer. We will call this “Layer Blur 2.”
  • Fill the layer mask with white.
  • Right click on the Layer Blur 2 Smart Filter. Move the radial blur center to another direction as needed. Remember, the further away something is from the camera, the less of a motion blur it will have. Be sure to adjust the amount of blur accordingly.

motion blur tutorial phlearn

  • Paint black on the layer mask where you do not want the new directional blur to show.
  • Create another new layer. Select the Smudge tool. Be sure the “Sample all layers” option is selected.
  • Smudge where the two directional flows of radial blur meet. The Smudge tool is great when working with blurs.
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Smudge where the two directions of blur meet to create smooth, consistent motion blurs.

  • Smudge along areas of your subject to help it blend in and look more realistic.
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Before /After

If you’re more of a purist, you can learn more about getting motion blur in-camera here. Otherwise, use this handy Photoshop technique to add some drama to your actions shots.

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