Long exposure cloud movement: how to give a sharp sky a slow shutter effect

Long exposure cloud movement: how to give sharp skies a slow shutter speed effect

We don’t always get the shot we want when photographing elements beyond our control. And more importantly, we don’t often get the opportunity to try again until we get it right. In this tutorial we’ll show you how to use simple Photoshop effects to create a feeling of long exposure cloud movement to make your sharp skies look like they were shot at a slow shutter speed.

Long exposure cloud movement: how to give sharp skies a slow shutter speed effect

You can add a sense of movement to your landscape images by shooting with a slow shutter speed to capture the motion of water or clouds as a delicate blur.

In the case of skies, the combination of a windy day and a long exposure can produce images with clouds that flow attractively across the frame in delicate 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 overexposing the brightly lit sky and losing essential texture and detail.

If you have a DSLR camera you can attach a neutral density filter to your lens to reduce the amount of light entering the camera, which will enable you to use a slower shutter speed without overexposing the image, but capturing cloud blur is still a hit-and-miss affair because of other factors, such as the wind speed and the aperture setting you choose.

So in this tutorial we’ll show you how you can recreate the in-camera motion blur effect with total control in Elements. You’ll learn how to spruce up colours and tones with the Adobe Camera Raw editor, and then use tools in the main Elements editor to isolate the sky, before using the Radial Blur filter to create the desired blur effect in the clouds.

Clouds appear to move at different speeds depending on their distance from the camera, so clouds in the foreground should be blurred more than those on the horizon. We’ll show you how to achieve this graduated blur effect by applying the filter to two layers with different settings. You’ll then use layer masks to blend the blurred cloud layers with the original sky for a subtle and realistic effect.

How to create a long exposure cloud movement effect: steps 1-3

How to create a long exposure cloud movement effect: step 1

1 Open your image
Open your start image in the Adobe Camera Raw editor. We’ll make some initial edits here to optimise the image’s colours and tones, while keeping noise and other artefacts to a minimum.

 

How to create a long exposure cloud movement effect: step 2

2 Maximise detail
Set the Depth drop-down menu at the bottom of the Camera Raw interface to 16 Bits/Channel, instead of the default 8 Bits. This enables you to squeeze out every bit of colour and tonal information that’s packed into the uncompressed Raw file.

 

How to create a long exposure cloud movement effect: step 3

3 Boost the exposure
Look at the histogram and you’ll see that the highlights fall away before they reach the far right: this tells us that the shot is slightly underexposed. To brighten the image, drag the Exposure slider right to +0.45. The highlights section of the histogram will shift to the right.

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How to create a long exposure cloud movement effect: steps 4-6

How to create a long exposure cloud movement effect: step 4

4  Get deeper blacks
To create a more striking contrast between the darkest shadows and the brightest highlights, set the Blacks slider to 14. Press U to view the clipped shadows. A little shadow clipping is acceptable in this case, as there are no key details in the ruined building’s darkest areas.

 

How to create a long exposure cloud movement effect: step 5

5 Enhance the midtone contrast
The distant hills look a little washed out, so to boost the midtone contrast in the hills and other areas of detail, drag the Clarity slider right to +30. This also reveals more detail in the stonework and clouds. You’ve now enhanced the image’s shadows, midtones and highlights.

 

How to create a long exposure cloud movement effect: step 6

6  Improve the colours
By pushing the Vibrance slider up to +20 you can strengthen the weaker colours in the image without the risk of oversaturating stronger ones – in this case it makes the blue sky more vivid. You can also boost the overall colour intensity by increasing Saturation to +10.

PAGE 1 – How to create a long exposure cloud movement effect: steps 1-6
PAGE 2 – How to create a long exposure cloud movement effect: steps 7-12
PAGE 3 – How to create a long exposure cloud movement effect: steps 13-18

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