Editor’s Note: Don’t miss this week’s free event on when to jump from Lightroom to Photoshop.

For some reason, people laugh at me when I make a picture with them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining: laughing makes a wonderful expression. My subjects crack a big smile, and usually also bend in half with the joy of it. They’re moving, and my photograph allows us to enjoy that blissful movement forever. I love it when they laugh.

The thing is, I also love a sharp picture. I’m usually using a tripod to make their portrait, and I’m also usually using a strobe to lend flattering light to the equation. The result is a sharp picture of a person moving. But sometimes seeing their movement and maybe moving the camera along with them makes the picture look more genuine. If the camera is moving, that means I’m probably laughing with them, and that brings my viewers in on the joke, as well.

The perfectionist in me has a hard time making a blurry on purpose; fortunately, Photoshop’s Blur Gallery has some tools to help me make a more genuine looking photograph, and I’m really pleased with how easy it is to get great results.

Start With a Smart Object

We’ll use this sharp picture of my friend, Bryan, to demonstrate the difference between the static sharp shot and the emotive blurred one.

The Blur Gallery in Photoshop works as Smart Filters, which means you can completely edit the filter anytime, even after you’ve made other layers and more adjustments (just think of the applications for making composite images), but Smart Filters only work on Smart Objects. From Lightroom, right click on your photo and choose to Edit In>Open As Smart Object in Photoshop; or in Photoshop, right click on the layer and choose to Convert to Smart Object.

Create a Path Blur

With your picture in Photoshop, go up to the Filter menu and choose Blur Gallery. I’m working in Photoshop CC2015; if you’re back in CS6, you’ll find the Blur Gallery under Blur, and you’ll find some excellent blur options, but Path Blur won’t be one of them, I’m afraid.


The Blur Gallery is really cool because you’ve got all the blur options available. Since I chose Path Blur from the menu, that’s where we’re starting, but I could switch to a different blur just by clicking on it’s tab.

Path blur let’s us define the direction the blur will show in the picture, and we’re going to use a wonderful feature it has called Rear Sync Flash. Start by removing the default path by clicking on it then pressing delete. We’ll define our own path by clicking on the picture to start an anchor point, then clicking again in the direction we want the blur to go (don’t drag, just click). Since we want some genuine looking movement, give the path a little bit of an arc by clicking a third time a little lower to the right, then press enter to fix the path in place. Now there’re these red arrows, and clicking and dragging them around adjusts the intensity or distance of the blur. This picture just needs a little movement, so we’ll shorten these arrows.

Use Rear Sync Flash

I have another article about how fun Rear Sync/Second Curtain can be (read here), so just trust me that this is a terrific settings for this blur–it’ll make your subject appear sharp with blur only on one side. You can play with the settings yourself, but I like something around 50% for the strobe strength (remember, in photography, strobe is the same as flash. Strobe and flash both refer to a quick burst of light, as well as the device used to create the burst of light). I only set for one flash, but two also makes a pleasing and realistic picture.

I’m satisfied with these settings, so click OK at the top of the screen.


Add Another Blur

I like the way this looks, but I’d like to try adding a little more emphasis on Bryan’s face by using a little Iris Blur–this mimics the kind of blur we can get with lens aperture and depth of field. This is why it’s great to use these filters as Smart Filters on a Smart object: to edit the filters, just double click on the word Blur Gallery under the Smart Filter in the layer palette.

Iris blur works a lot like the Radial Filter in Lightroom. Adjust the feather using the inner dots, and adjust the size and shape using the dots on the outer circle. You can dial the intensity of the blur up and down using the target shaped graphic in the center, or the slider on the right side. I made the iris big enough to include Bryan’s face, and set the blur to just 15 pixels–I don’t want it to be noticeably blurring, just a little more emphasis on his face. Click OK, and Save the picture.


A Little Blur Focusses the Intent

Standing alone, I like this picture better with the blur–it just appears more casual and genuine. The sharp version is fine, but maybe looks like a stock image of a guy laughing in a cafe (which may have been the intent when I made it…). Here’re the sharp and blurred versions side by side.

I spent last week at the Out Of Chicago Photography Conference where I made dozens of portraits of people on the street, and I’m finding that this blur filter adds a little life to an otherwise still image that I really enjoy. The implied motion makes it easier to feel the movement of the city and the laugh of my subject. Give it a shot and see if you can’t find some pictures that look a little more genuine with a little bit of motion blur.

Editor’s Note: Don’t miss this week’s free event on when to jump from Lightroom to Photoshop.