This article is created to show you some of the ways in which images can be manipulated to add a sense of movement to a subject that is essentially static. Most software applications provide a range of tools, some of which are easier to use than others.
An example of Spin Blur applied to an image in varying degrees. Original image (left panel)
In many cases, success depends on choosing an appropriate image to work upon. But, in other cases, highlighting the effect in itself is the objective.
You’ll find these tools in the Filters dropdown menu in Adobe’s Photoshop and Photoshop Elements as well as the freeware GIMP application. Individual tools are usually provided for setting the starting point for the effect and determining the distance the pixels are moved and the angle of the motion.
Similar techniques can be used to apply most motion blurring filters so we’ll demonstrate with the most commonly-used, linear blur effect. To separate the subject we will work on from its background, the first step is to select the subject with Quick Selection tool and use Layer via Copy to duplicate it as a separate layer.
Step 1: Selecting the subject.
Step 2: Select Layer via Copy to create a new layer containing the selected area.
Step 3: Apply the Motion Blur filter by selecting Filter > Blur > Motion Blur.
Step 4: Adjust the Angle of the streaks to match the direction the subject is moving in. Then drag the Distance slider to set the length of the streaking. Click on OK to exit the dialog box.
Step 5: The streaking will probably be too faint but it can be darkened by duplicating the layer four or five times. This can be done via the Layer dropdown menu or by hitting Ctrl+J (Windows) or Command+J (Mac) repeatedly until you have the intensity you want.
Step 6: Then select all the layers above the background layer by holding down the Shift key then opening the Layer menu at the top of the screen and choose Merge Layers.
Step 7: Now add a Layer Mask by selecting the motion blur layer and clicking on the Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers palette. Next select the Gradient Tool from the Tools palette on the left side of the workspace. Move up to the controls at the top for the screen and open the options for working with gradients. Select the Black to White gradient. A white border will appear around the layer mask thumbnail in the Layers palette to show only the layer mask is selected. Place your mouse pointer on the side of the image where you want the subject to be sharp and drag it across the image. The starting point allows the image to show through the layer and appear totally sharp. The point where you release the mouse button will be where the blur streaks become fully visible. Between them, the blur streaks will fade in gradually. The end result will appear when you release the mouse button.
Step 8: The final result will show the subject with a blurred trail behind it, suggesting forward motion.
Other Blurring Options
Most image editors provide a variety of blur filters, the most popular being linear, radial, zoom, spin and depth of field. Photoshop adds Tilt-Shift and Path blurs to the Field, Iris and Spin options in the Blur Gallery sub-menu in its Filter options and provides ‘pins’ in them that allow users to control which areas in the image remain sharp and the amount of blurring applied around each pin.
Dragging the dial surrounding the pin controls the amount of blurring. Turning it clockwise increases the blur, while anticlockwise decreases it.
Some blur filters also let you adjust the area over which the blurring is applied. With the Tilt-Shift blur, this lets you control which section of the image is sharp and the width of the bordering zones of unsharpness.
This illustration shows how Tilt-Shift-blur can be applied in different degrees to an original image.
The Radial Blur filter acts globally on the image so you can’t set a centre for the effect. However, two options are available: spin and zoom. You can also choose between three Quality settings: Draft, Good and Best, which take increasing times to process and deliver progressively better results. The amount of blurring is adjusted by a slider.
The Radial Blur control panel.
Because the entire image area is affected by this filter, it is best to apply it to a separate layer. This lets you erase parts of the image you want to have sharp on the upper layer, using the eraser control with a very large, soft brush, as shown in the zoom example below.
Examples of the Spin (top) and Zoom (below) options for radial blurring.
The latest version of Photoshop also includes a Path Blur function that allows users to map out a path on a subject and apply blurring along it. It’s handy where you want to create blurring along a circular path, as shown in the example below.
Photoshop’s Path blur function lets you delineate the shape the blurring will take with respect to the subject.
Image stacking can be used to combine a sequence of shots to create a sense of movement by showing the subject at different positions in the frame. Using a tripod when the shots are captured makes it easier to align the images in the stack. Then it’s simply a matter of manually erasing the areas in each image in the stack to reveal the subject.
Alternative, you can select a subject from the background and copy it, using the File > New command and selecting a new transparent background. Then paste this image onto your existing shot, adjusting the size each time using the Edit > Transform > Scale command to create a realistic looking sequence, shown below.
An example of the use of image stacking to create an impression of movement from a shot of a static subject (original image ©iStockphoto.com/skodonnell.).
When you’re happy with the end result of either type of stack, flatten the image using the Layer > Flatten Image command. This allows you to save the end result as a single image in whatever file format you prefer.
Excerpt from Action Photography