Add Blur To Rivers And Waterfalls

12/30/2012 8:57:20 AM

To tie in with our feature, we show you how to boost tones and add motion blur

Add Blur To Rivers And Waterfalls

Add blur to rivers and waterfalls

What you’ll need

Photoshop CS3 or above

What you’ll learn

How to process raw files to improve image detail, use the Smudge tool and filters to blur moving water and confine the effect with Layer Masks

It only takes

20 minutes

We all have defining moments throughout our love affair with photography, when it becomes more than just a means for capturing a scene, when we realize that different combinations of shutter speed and aperture can open up endless creative possibilities.

For many, the moment you first capture motion becomes a lasting memory. Whether it’s traffic trails after dark, the motion of running water, panning with a moving subject, or star trails at night, capturing motion isn’t just great fun, it’s a key skill serious photographers should master.

The good news is it’s also fairly easy grasp, usually requiring just a tripod and a long shutter speed. But achieving a long shutter speed can be tricky, particularly if you’re shooting in bright light. Take our scene here. With the camera set to ISO100 and the lens set to the smallest aperture (f/22), the longest possible shutter speed was 1/20 sec, which wasn’t nearly slow enough to give the running water an attractive blur. The ideal solution would be to use polarizer or Neutral Density filter to limit the light. But if you don’t have a filter, there’s little you can do to record blurred water.

The answer is to apply the motion blur in Photoshop. Here, we’ll show you how to make selective adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw to improve the tones, before using the Smudge tool and filters to add realistic motion to the water.

1.    Open in Adobe Camera Raw

Open in Adobe Camera Raw

Click on the link (below) download the Advanced folder. Navigate to waterfall_before.dng in Bridge, then right-click it and choose ‘Open in Camera Raw’. Although we’re using a raw file here, you can open JPEGs and TIFFs in ACR in exactly the same way.

2.    Improve the tones

Improve the tones

Go to the Basic panel and use the sliders to set Temperature to 6300 and Tint to +29 to warm the colours and remove the magenta. Next, set Exposure to +1.10, Contrast to +35, Shadows to +46, Whites to -29, Blacks to +8, Clarity to +18 and Vibrance to +13.

3.    Fix noise and sharpening

Fix noise and sharpening

Double-click on the Zoom tool to view the image at 100%, the click on the Detail panel. Set Sharpening Amount to 48, Radius to 1.2 and Masking to 30. Next, set Noise Luminace to 16 and Colour to 43. Double-click the Hand tool to zoom black out.

4.    Balance the exposure

Balance the exposure

Select the Granduated Filter tool and set Exposure to -0.65. Drag from near the top-left corner of the image towards the central rocks to darken the left side. Set Highlights to -16 and Clarity to +14. Double-click on the other slider to return them to their default values.

5.    Boost the sky

Boost the sky

Hold down Shift, then drag another line from the middle of the sky towards the mountains. Double-click on each tonal slider to reset them to their default values, then set Temperature to -10, Exposure to -0.90, Contrast to +10, Highlights to -25 and Clarity to +44.

6.    Darken the top-right corner

Darken the top-right corner

Drag one more short line from the top-right corner that’s angled down towards the middle of the image. Double-click all the sliders again to reset them, then set Exposure to -55. Next, grab the Adjustment Brush from the toolbar at the top of the interface.

7.    Warm the right side

Warm the right side

Set Size to 10 and Feather to 100. Click over the grass on the right of the stream to set a pin. Paint over the area (check ‘Show Mask’ to see where you’re painted). Reset the sliders to their defaults, then set Temperature to +22, Clarity to +30 and Saturation to +10.

8.    Correct chromatic aberration

Correct chromatic aberration

There’s colour fringing in high-contrast areas, so click back on the Zoom tool to exit the Adjustment Brush settings, then click on the Lens Correction panel. Check the Remove Chromatic Aberration box. To finish editing in Camera Raw, click on Open Image.

9.    Apply some motion blur

Apply some motion blur

Go to Window>Layers, then then hit Cmd/Ctrl+J to duplicate the Background layer. Double-click the layer name and rename it Stream Blur. Right-click the layer and choose Convert to Smart Object. Go to Filter>Blur>Motion Blur, set Angle to 40 and Distance to 50px.

10. Add a full mask

Add a full mask

Click on the Blending Mode drop-down at the top of the Layers palette and choose Lighten. Next, hold Alt and click the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers palette to add a full black Layer Mask that completely hides the blurred layer.

11. Paint to reveal

Paint to reveal

Grab the Brush tool, then click the Brush Preset picker and choose a soft circular brush tip. Zoom in to the bottom right corner of the image, then paint with white over the lowest part of the stream below the waterfall to reveal the blur effect in this area.

12. Change the blur angle

Change the blur angle

Press Cmd/Ctrl+J to duplicate the Stream Blur 1 layer and rename it Stream Blur 2, then right-click over the Layer Mask thumbnail and choose Delete Layer Mask. Double-click the Motion Blur words on the layer, then change Angle to -72 and hit OK.

13.  Reveal the blur

Reveal the blur

Hold down the Alt key and click the Add Layer Mask icon again to add a full mask. Next, grab the Brush tool again and paint with white over the pool above the waterfall and further up the stream to reveal the blur effect in those areas.

14. Create a new layer

Create a new layer

Click the Create New Layer icon at the bottom right of the Layers palette to add a new layer. Name the layer Smudge, then grab the Smudge tool. Go to the options bar at the top of the screen, check Sample All Layers, then set Strength to 20%.

15. Smudge the water

Smudge the water

Zoom in to the waterfall, then paint along the lines of the water to smudge the tones and lengthen the drops. Build up the strokes gradually and blur in the direction the water is travelling. If you go wrong, use the Eraser tool to remove the strokes.

16. Lighten the smudge

Lighten the smudge

Continue smudging the water along the lines of spray and make spiraling curls of blur in the pool at the bottom. When you’re happy with the effect, go to Image>Adjustment>Levels. Set the white arrow to 210 and the black arrow to 25, then hit OK.

17. Merge a copy

Merge a copy

Set the Blending Mode to Lighten. Press Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+Alt+E to create a new layer that’s a merged copy of the layers below it. Rename it Glow. Hit D to reset the colours to black and white. Right-click the new layer and choose Convert to Smart Object.

18. Glowing water

Glowing water

Finally, go to Filter>Filter Gallery. Select Distort>Diffuse Glow, then set Graininess to 0, Glow Amount to 3, Clear Amount to 14 and hit OK. Alt-click on the Add Layer Mask icon to mask the glow, then paint with white to reveal it over the water.

Expert tip

“The Adjustment Brush allows you to Camera Raw, then use the slides to tweak the tones. Each adjustment is controlled by a different pin. You can set new pins for different tweaks by checking New, and then change or remove them at any time. It’s one of the most powerful ways to make selective adjustments to your raw images”.

Did you know?

Shadow and Highlights in ACR7

The Shadows and Highlights sliders in Adobe Camera Raw 7 have replaced the old Recovery and Fill sliders found in earlier versions. While similar, the new sliders are more powerful. It’s now very easy to improve tonal range and rescue blow-out highlights or under-exposed details. Simply hold down Alt while dragging either slider for a temporary greyscale view of any clipped pixels.

Learn the lingo

The Smudge tool

The Smudge tool can be found in the Tools palette alongside the Blur and Sharpen tools. It works by pushing and blending pixels. The strength setting at the top determines how far pixels can be pushed. As well as the option to Sample All Layers, there’s also a fun Finger Painting checkbox at the top of the screen, which loads each brush stroke with a dab of your current foreground colour.


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