By shooting with a slow shutter speed you can effectively evoke the passing of time in your landscapes, especially when the scene features moving elements such as water or clouds. The combination of a windy day and a long exposure can result in clouds that flow attractively across the frame in delicate ephemeral streaks.
However, it can be quite a challenge to capture this motion blur effect successfully in-camera. If you’re using a shutter speed slow enough to record the cloud movement, you run the risk of over-exposing the brightly lit sky and losing essential texture and detail. You could pop an ND filter over the lens to reduce the amount of light entering the camera.
This allows the shutter to stay open for longer without over-exposing the scene. However, capturing cloud blur is still a hit and miss affair because of other factors, such as wind speed and the aperture value you use.
So here we’ll show you how to recreate this tricky in-camera motion blur technique with ease in Photoshop Elements. We’ll explain how to add as much motion blur as you like without having to worry about camera settings. You’ll learn how to spruce up colours and tones in Adobe Camera Raw, and then use the standard editor to isolate the sky and add a blur effect to the clouds.
Clouds appear to move at different speeds depending on their distance from the camera. Faster moving foreground clouds should blur more than those on the horizon. We’ll show you how to modify the Radial Blur filter to achieve this perspectival blur. You’ll then use layer masks to blend different versions of the blurred cloud layer with the original for a subtle, realistic effect.
Photoshop Effects: how to fake slow shutter speed photography
Step 1: Open your image
Go to File>Open and browse to the blur_before.dng start file. Click Open. The Digital Negative file will automatically open in the Adobe Camera Raw editor, where you can get the shot’s colours and tones looking their best while keeping artefacts to a minimum.
Step 2: Maximise detail
Set the Depth drop-down menu (which you’ll find at the bottom of the Camera Raw interface) to 16 Bits/Channel, instead of the default 8. This enables you to squeeze out every bit of colour and tonal information that’s packed into the uncompressed file.
Step 3: Boost the exposure
Look at the histogram and you’ll see that the highlights dip before they reach the far right. This tells us that the shot is slightly under-exposed. To compensate, drag the Exposure slider right to +0.45. The highlight section of the graph will slide to the right.
Step 4: Get deeper blacks
To create a more striking contrast between the darkest shadows and the brightest highlights, drag the Blacks slider to 14. Press U to view the clipped shadows. A little shadow clipping is acceptable as there are no key details in the ruined building’s darkest areas.
Step 5: Enhance the mid-tone contrast
The mid-tone contrast of the distant hills is a little washed out. To reveal more delicate background detail, drag the Clarity slider right to +30. This also reveals more tonal detail in the clouds. You’ve now enhanced the shadows, mid-tones and highlights.
Step 6: Improve the colour
By pushing the Vibrance slider up to +20 you can strengthen any weaker colours without the risk of over-saturating stronger ones. This makes the blue sky more vivid. You can also boost the overall colour strength by increasing Saturation to +10.
Step 7: Improve the composition
Once you’ve blurred the clouds, the sky will become the most interesting part of the scene, so use the Crop tool to remove some of the unwanted foreground at the bottom of the frame. This small change makes the sky dominate the landscape.
Step 8: Sharpen the image
Click the Detail tab, then use the Select Zoom Level option to view the shot at 100%. Now you can see how sharp it really is. Drag the Amount slider to 64 and set Radius to 1.5. This helps to bring out the delicate and complex texture details in the scene.
Step 9: Switch to Elements
Now that you’ve done all you can to improve the landscape’s colour, tone, composition and sharpness, click Open Image. This takes the shot into the standard Photoshop Elements editor, where you can access more creative image-editing options.
Step 10: Convert to 8-Bit
By changing the bit depth to 16-Bit we were able to access more information about the shot. However, many of the standard Elements editor’s tools and commands can’t work at this setting. Choose Image>Mode and select 8 Bits/Channel.
Step 11: Make a selection
Grab the Quick Selection tool from the Brush Preset picker and tick the New Selection option. Click and spray over the clouds and sky to select them, then click the Subtract From Selection option and spray to remove bits of lighter rock from the selection.
Step 12: Copy and paste
Choose Edit>Copy and then choose Edit>Paste. The copied sky will now appear on a new layer called Layer 1. Drag Layer 1’s thumbnail onto the Create a new layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette to create another copy (Layer 1 Copy).
Step 13: Select the landscape
Hold down Ctrl and click the Layer 1 Copy thumbnail to re-activate the selection marquee, then choose Select>Inverse. Click the Background layer’s thumbnail, then choose Edit>Copy and Edit>Paste.
Step 14: Set the blur values
Click Layer 1 Copy’s eye icon to make it invisible. Click Layer 1, then choose Filter>Blur> Radial Blur. Set Amount to 10, Blur Method to Zoom and Quality to Best. Drag the blur centre down to make the clouds blur more towards the top. Hit OK.
Step 15: Mask the blur
Click the Add layer mask icon (see the box on the left for older versions of Elements). Grab the Brush tool. Choose a soft tip with a Size of 500px. Set Opacity to 100%. Click the mask, then spray a black brush on the horizon to reveal detail.
Step 16: Blur the top layer
Reduce Layer 1’s Opacity to 46% to blend the blurred clouds with the original and produce a more subtle layered effect. Click Layer 1 Copy’s thumbnail. Choose Filter>Blur>Radial Blur. Set Amount to 20 and click OK. Add a layer mask to Layer 1 Copy.
Step 17: Blend more clouds
Grab the Brush tool. Use the same tip size as before, but set Opacity to 30%. By spraying grey strokes onto the mask you’ll make the lower part of the sky translucent to blend with the clouds on the lower layers. Set Layer 1 Copy’s Opacity to 67%.
Step 18: Remove the blurred edges
Some blurred clouds may still be overlapping the top of the building. To fix this, drag Layer 2 to the top of the layer stack. This will sharpen up the edge of the hills and buildings. You now have a well- exposed shot with motion-blurred clouds.