Simulating In-Camera Effects

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.

quick fixStep Five Reducing the Opacity smooths the transition from the sharp subject to the blurred background, creating a realistic-looking image, as you can see in this screen grab.

quick fixStep Six Let’s move on to changing the ƒ-stop. Like the opening image for this lesson, I blurred the background here, resulting in this final image of a little girl in Panama.

quick fixStep Seven Here, however, I used the Gaussian Blur filter (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) because I wanted a softer, more out-of-focus background. It’s a subtle enhancement, but the blurring hid some of the white highlights in the top right of the background. Blurring the background also drew more attention to the subject.

For this blurring technique, you can follow the same steps as I described above when using the Motion Blur filter: duplicate the layer, blur the top layer (only with the Gaussian Blur filter), add a Layer Mask and paint out the blur over the subject. Remember to reduce the Opacity as you paint outward from the center of the subject.

quick fixStep Eight Here’s my original photo of the little girl. Again, my enhancement was subtle, but sometimes in photography, subtle changes are just what a picture needs to turn it into a perfect shot.


quick fixRick Sammon has published 27 books; his latest include Idea to Image, Rick Sammon’s Complete Guide to Digital Photography 2.0, Rick Sammon’s Travel and Nature Photography, and Rick Sammon’s Digital Imaging Workshops. He has produced a DVD for Photoshop Elements users, 3-Minute Digital Makeover, and three DVDs for Photoshop CS users, Awaken the Artist Within, Close Encounters with Camera Raw and Photoshop CS2 for the Outdoor and Travel Photographer. Visit for more information.

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