In this article, you’ll learn how to create the motion blur effect in your pictures with Photoshop. You can use this technique for any kind of creative edit you can imagine. There are several methods to make the effect work, the technique I present here is my go-to.
In the example, we use a street-car image that I took in Hong Kong.
Step 1 - Open your photo & duplicate it
Open your image in Photoshop, if you come from Lightroom press CTRL+E to export it, otherwise, drag and drop an image into PS. On the right side in the layers panel, you now find your image called background. In the example image, I called it untouched image. Select and duplicate it by pressing CTRL+J.
Step 2 - Refine the subject for the effect
Since the motion blur effect is made on the top layer, we have to take away the outside of the car. Otherwise, we would see traces of the car blur in our final edit. Make sure you have your duplicated layer selected, press S for the Clone-Stamp tool, then select any part you want to copy via pressing Alt and clicking inside of the image from where you want to copy, then paint over the subject edges.
It takes a little practice to do it well, but here you don’t have to worry about how it looks, the motion blur effect will make it undiscoverable anyway.
Step 3 - Apply the motion blur effect
Now it’s time to apply the motion blur effect on our duplicated layer. Go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur.
The setup has to be done according to your subject and scene. In the example image, the car moves to the left at an angle of around 7 degrees. The strength of the effect can be set to your liking, I didn’t overdo it here, but the effect feels very strong already. Press ok.
Did you already know? You can apply the last used effect by pressing CTLR + ALT + F. So you can apply the same effect to intensify the look of it.
Step 4 - Select, mask and refine your main subject
Selecting the subject
We will select our subject now, to subtract it from the effect with a mask and use our blanc untouched layer for it. Turn off the duplicated layer with the eyeball icon left to it. Make sure you have the background/untouched layer selected for the selection, so Photoshop knows where to process data from.
The initial selection can be done roughly, we refine it later with the brush tool, to make the edges soft and the image work.
I like to use the Quick Selection tool to make quick selections. Press W on your keyboard and start selecting. Photoshop uses AI processing to make nearly perfect selections by separating colors, exposures, and probably some other factors.
Note: You can use any selection tools like the Lasso tool (L), Marquee (M), Oval (O)
Masking the subject
Once you’re done with the selection, select the duplicated layer with your selection active. Then create a layer mask by pressing the vector mask icon in the bottom right corner.
Automatically, Photoshop creates a black & white extra layer on our duplicated layer. Black hides everything from our current layer and white shows through. Keep in mind that there is a range of opacity in the black to white levels.. 80% black (looks grey) means, 20% shows through and vise versa.
For now, our mask should have crisp edges. Turn on the layer with the eyeball and have a look at the effect. Now you can refine the edges with the brush tool.
Refining the subject mask
Select the black & white mask. By pressing ALT + clicking into the white layer mask, you can also show the b&w overlay on the main image. This helps you to see mistakes. You can of course brush in this view.
Make the edges of the brush soft and the diameter small. Right-click with your mouse to get the brush options. The hardness defines the softness of the edge, 0% hardness means 100% soft.
Brush around the subject and refine the effect, change the diameter to change the transition width of the effect. Undo and redo steps, if it doesn’t look good enough.
That's it! Save your work.
You can press CTRL + S to save your work, if you came from Lightroom, it syncs the file back to the catalog.
In the first place, all these steps and options might seem a little complicated especially when you’re not familiar with Photoshop.
Essentially Photoshop works like layers of newspaper, you only see what is on top, when you turn the page of the newspaper, you see what’s behind. Photoshop layers work the same way.
In the end, redo and learn is the key. Once you understood how selecting and masking in photoshop works and which tools you can combine with it, you can create anything.