I’ll admit, I have yet to come across a need to add a curved blur to a photo, but I wanted to write a post on the topic nonetheless. I was introduced to this feature in Photoshop a few weeks ago by a friend and have been meaning to jot down a few notes on it ever since. After playing around for a while, I can definitely see how this would be a handy function to become more familiar with. There are all sorts of different situations where one would need a curved blur. Any type of water movement being one of them.
In today’s post, I’d like to walk you through the steps of using a small portion of the Path Blur filter. While what I cover will be extremely fundamental, it will give you some decent insight into what this filter is capable of and what types of photos may necessitate the resulting type of enhancement. More specifically, I’ll be taking a static photo of a woman standing under a waterfall and will be adding some movement to the water that’s falling on her. I think the result will be eye opening and that it will inspire you to explore this tool on your own.
As you can see, this photo was taken with a rather fast camera shutter speed. The way I know this is because the falling water is captured in stasis. Currently, there’s no motion in regards to the water’s movement. Obviously, we all know the water is falling because of experience, but it sure doesn’t look that way in the photo. My goal with this photo is to add some blur that curves around the woman at the bottom of the waterfall. The curve will be subtle, but it will be there. I’ll also take advantage of some layer masking so the entire image isn’t blurred. I’ll show you how to remove the blur effect from the remainder of the photo down below.
Creating a Smart Object
As with any layer that I apply a filter to, I want to convert this one to a Smart Object. I’ve discussed the reasoning for this many times over on this blog. It all has to do with making non-destructive edits.
To create a Smart Object, I’ll right-click on the layer thumbnail in question and then click on the Convert to Smart Object menu item when it appears.
Once that’s done, I can move onto applying the filter.
Applying a Path Blur
I want to tell you right off the bat that like many other areas of Photoshop, the Path Blur filter is much like an application unto itself. It’s huge and deep and it would take quite a while to cover all aspects of it. Because of this, I’ll merely be touching on one small area of the entire thing. My goal here is to introduce you to the Path Blur filter so you can explore more on your own. I’m sure I’ll share much more about this feature in future posts. Okay, I just wanted to get that out of the way.
To access the Path Blur filter, I’ll head up to the Filter > Blur Gallery > Path Blur menu item and click.
After I click, a few things will change. First, the options bar up top will show various settings that can be taken advantage of. Second, any panels I had open on the right side as well as the left vertical toolbar will disappear, to be replaced by the Path Blur settings and third, a small blue line will appear at the center of the image. It’s this blue line I’ll be manipulating next. But first, take a look at some screenshots of what I just described.
First is the Path Blur options bar.
Next up is the Blur Tools.
And finally, we have the blue line I just mentioned.
Making the Blur Curve
If you’ll notice in the above screenshot, a blur has actually already been formed. The problem is, it’s not following any path we set and it’s applied to the entire image. I’ll need to correct these things so it makes sense to what I’m working on.
If you look closely at that blue line that’s been placed at the center of the image, you’ll notice that there’s an arrow attached to one end of it. This arrow should point in the direction of the blur. Also, there are two large handles at either end of the line as well as one in the middle. To start off, I’ll click the handle closest to the arrow and drag that to the point at which I’d like to blur to end. After that, I’ll click and drag the opposite end of the line and drag that to the point at which I’d like the blur to begin. Finally, I’ll click and drag the center point so it creates a curve, or an arc, that will guide the flow of the blur. Here, take a look.
As you can see, the blur is now curved. It’s still applied to the entire image, but I’ll deal with that later.
While the blur certainly is curved and it’s following (or guiding) the water that’s falling, I’m missing the other side of the falls. I’d like the falls to split around the woman so it appears that they are encapsulating her. To create another path, I’ll simply double click my mouse on the other side and when the new path appears, I’ll click and drag the end points in a similar fashion as to what I did previously.
Okay, that’s looking good. I’m not even going to get into any other controls regarding this filter today. I’m merely going to leave things like this and move onto clicking OK up in the options bar so the filter is applied to the photo. It’ll take a little while to complete. A lot of changes are taking place.
Let’s take a look at the blurred photo. I think it’s evident that the falling water now conveys motion.
Correcting the Filter Mask
Now that the filter has been applied, I’d like to remove much of it from the photo. Because I transformed the image layer into a Smart Object back at the beginning, this is a very simple task to accomplish. All I need to do is to paint the area I don’t want the blur to show, black. That’s it. I’ll do that now.
I’ll go ahead an activate the Brush Tool by clicking on its icon in the left vertical toolbar. Then, I’ll make sure the color black has been selected in the Color Picker. Finally, I’ll adjust the size of the brush and give it a very soft edge.
Once that’s all complete, I’ll paint away the much of the blur. Of course, I’ll leave some on the falls because that’s what I was after from the beginning. Let’s take a look at the Layers panel now.
Before I painted, I made sure that I clicked on the filter mask to select it. Then I painted. You can see the difference between the white and black areas in the thumbnails. If I hold down the Alt key on my keyboard and click once on the mask thumbnail, that thumbnail will enlarge and cover the entire image. Doing this gives a more close up view.
Remember, anything that’s black will be invisible and anything that’s white will be visible.
Let’s take a look at the final product. There should be blur only over the top of the falls, indicating direction and movement.
I’d say that looks pretty good. Not bad, considering I didn’t dive into even a small percent of the Path Blur filter tool. I’ll surely do this in the future. For now, I encourage you to explore this filter and push some sliders around. Don’t worry, you’re not going to break anything.
I hope I clearly explained how to apply a curved blur using the Path Blur filter in Adobe Photoshop. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this post, please leave them in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!