Shutter blending: how to combine images at different shutter speeds


You’ve probably heard about exposure blending, in which light and dark exposures of a scene are blended together, usually to balance land and sky. But how about shutter blending?

Shutter blending: how to combine images at different shutter speeds

For this, rather than blending brightness, we’ll instead blend different-length exposures – one fast, one slow – to create a single image displaying both a split-second moment and a longer stretch of time.

In our first shot, the motion of the cyclist has been captured with a single off-camera flash. This required a fast shutter speed, so we used the camera’s maximum sync speed of 1/250 second – fast enough to capture the motion of the cyclist, but too quick to record much detail in the background.

For our second shot, we used a longer exposure of 15 seconds to capture more background detail and blur the motion of a passing gritter truck. (The interesting dashes of light are caused by the truck’s flashing beacons.) A tripod is essential when using shutter blending– both for the long exposure, and to make sure the two frames are in alignment.

Enter Photoshop

All we need to do now is combine the two frames together in Photoshop. We’ll start by making a few tweaks to the images in Camera Raw so that the tones and colours match, then bring them into Photoshop to do the shutter blending. This process involves a simple combination of layer masking and selection techniques.

This is all straightforward to master, and the technique involves skills that come in handy not just for shutter blending, but also for any kind of montage or composite image.

SEE MORE: Double exposure portraits – a simple tutorial for making surrealist images

Shutter blending step by step – steps 1-3

01 Improve the tones

Download our start files and follow along! Drag the two road_before.dng files into Photoshop. As they’re raw files, they’ll automatically open in Camera Raw. First, highlight the cyclist image in the filmstrip then go to the Basic panel on the right and set Exposure to +0.50, Contrast to +19, Highlights to -23, Shadows to +72 and Clarity to +31.

02 Open both images

Highlight the second image, then grab the White Balance tool from the Toolbar. Click on the road to correct the colours. Next, set Clarity to +38. Click the Select All button in the top-left, then hold Shift and click the bottom right Open Object button to open the images in Photoshop as Smart Objects.

SEE MORE: Make a composite image in Photoshop Elements – how to use Layers to add depth

03 Copy the layer

Go to the traffic trails image, then head to the Layers panel. Right-click the background layer and choose Duplicate Layer. In the Destination settings, choose Document: ‘road_before01 as Smart Object’ and click OK. Now we’ve copied the layer over, we don’t need this image any more, so we can close it down.

Shutter blending step by step – steps 1-3
Shutter blending step by step – steps 4-6
Shutter blending step by step – steps 7-9
Shutter blending step by step – steps 10-12

Shutter blending step by step – steps 13-15
Shutter blending step by step – steps 16-18


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  • Matthew Johnson

    you can do that in camera