Home How-To Quick Fix Simulating In-Camera Effects
Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Simulating In-Camera Effects

Use these photoshop tricks to replicate the look of aperture and shutter speed adjustments

This Article Features Photo Zoom

quick fixWith a digital SLR, and even with many compact cameras, you can manually select the shutter speed and ƒ-stop for powerful creative control. Fast shutter speeds (1⁄500 sec. and higher) freeze most action, and slow shutter speeds (1⁄30 sec. and slower) blur action. Wide apertures (ƒ/4.5 and wider) can be selected for shallow depth of field, and small apertures (ƒ/8 and smaller) can be used for greater depth of field.

We can simulate the effects of aperture and shutter speed settings different from the ones we used when the picture was taken, to a limited degree. Let's take a look at how we can create this magic, starting with changing the shutter speed. I used Photoshop CS3, but you can create the same effects in Photoshop Elements.

quick fixOriginal This image started its Photoshop life as a picture with no movement. I used a shutter speed of 1⁄500 sec. to freeze the movement of the Massai woman singing during a welcoming dance to her village in Kenya.

As you can see in my Photoshop-enhanced image above, the young woman is sharp (except around the outline of her body, which was intentional), but the background has some motion blur. I could have created that way-cool effect in-camera by setting my camera to rear-curtain sync (an option on many D-SLRs), activating my flash, using a slow shutter speed and hoping that I got a picture in which the subject was sharp and the background was blurred. Due to all the variables—subject movement, camera movement and existing natural light conditions—rear curtain sync/flash photography is far from foolproof.

In Photoshop, creating that same effect is foolproof, easy and, naturally, fun! Here's how to do it.

quick fixStep One With an image and your Layers window open (Window > Layers), click on the background layer and drag it down to the Create New Layer icon next to the Trash Can icon. Now you have two identical layers, one on top of the other.


quick fixStep Two With the top layer activated (click on it in the Layers window), go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur. You can choose the amount of blur by moving the Distance slider (or by typing a number in the Distance window). What's more, you control the direction of the blur by clicking on and rotating the Angle wheel (or by typing a number in the Angle window). Because in real life the woman was moving from the top right of the frame to the bottom left of the frame, I swiveled the wheel so that the blur would be in that direction. After you click OK, the entire top layer will be blurred.


quick fixStep Three After your top layer is blurred, click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers window. That adds a layer mask to the right of the image. Click on that layer mask to activate it. Now, with black selected as the foreground color, choose a soft airbrush from the toolbar and paint in the area over the subject, starting from the center and working outward.


quick fixStep Four As you move outward from the center of the subject, gradually reduce the Opacity (on the Option Bar at the top of your monitor) of the brush.


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