Blur It!

I don’t know about you, but when I look at a photograph on my monitor, I sometimes wish I had used a different shutter speed (to freeze or blur action) or a different aperture (for more or less depth of field). Well, in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, accomplishing that feat is sometimes possible—to a degree.

In this column I’ll show you how to do it, using two pictures from a recent trip to China. I used Photoshop, but you can do the same thing in Photoshop Elements.

Attention, pros: Because Photoshop Elements doesn’t offer Photoshop CS4’s or CS5’s Convert For Smart Filters feature, which basically lets you apply a filter as you would a layer and layer mask, I’ll share a very basic technique that works for both programs. Using the Convert For Smart Filters feature is a more professional method for applying the following techniques.


The opening image for this column was taken at a shutter speed of 1/320 sec. That shutter speed was fast enough to stop the action of the women who were dancing in a circle around the woman who was beating the drum in the center of the picture. I took the shot at the Sisters’ Meal Festival in Guizhou, a remote area in southwestern China. It’s a once-a-year event where Miao women gather with the hope of attracting a husband.

To add motion to the scene, I first duplicated the layer. Now, I had two layers exactly the same, one on top of the other.

Next, I added the Radial Blur Filter (Filter > Blur > Radial Blur) to the top layer. When applying this filter to an image, you can change the Blur Center (here, I placed it over the woman with the drum), the Amount, the Blur Method and the Quality. I selected a small Amount, chose the Spin Method and clicked on the Good setting.

If the blur effect is too pronounced, you can reduce it even after it’s applied. Look at the previous screenshot, the one showing the two layers. At the top of that screen grab, you’ll notice that I reduced the Opacity of the top layer to 49%. That reduction made the effect less pronounced and more pleasing, to me anyway.


After I was pleased with the effect, I used the Eraser tool (using a soft-edge brush) on the top layer and erased over the background area (mountain, sky and water) and the sandy area around the drummer—because those elements weren’t moving in the scene.

Here’s my original image. I like it, but I also like the feeling of movement that was added to the opening image. Using a flash and rear-curtain sync might have produced a similar effect: an image with both blurred and sharp subjects. In fact, I was originally going to title this column: Simulating The Rear-Curtain Sync Effect.




Check out the apparent shallow depth of field in the image. The soldier looking at me appears to be the only subject in the scene that’s in sharp focus, giving the impression that I took the picture with a long telephoto lens set at a wide aperture. I photographed these soldiers in front of the Forbidden City in Beijing.

Here’s my original shot. Again, I like it, but I also liked playing around with blurring part of the image to make the soldier stand out in the scene.

Using the same basic technique as described above, this time using the Gaussian Blur Filter, I was able to simulate the shallow depth of field. The process: I duplicated the layer, added the Gaussian Blur Filter to the top layer and then erased the area over the soldier.

Okay, it’s your turn. Check out some of your own still images and see how applying a bit ’o blur can change the feel of an image—and make working in the digital darkroom more fun!

RICK SAMMON leads photo tours around the world. Visit with Rick at

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