Path Blur

Photoshop CC’s recent addition to its Blur Gallery, Path Blur offers a creative and flexible way to add directional motion to your images in postproduction. It’s astonishing! You’ve got to try it to believe it—and to truly understand it.

The Blur Gallery now has five effects (Field Blur, Iris Blur, Tilt-Shift, Path Blur and Spin Blur) that can be controlled from a single panel. Once you’ve accessed one, you can quickly access the others at the same time, enabling you to create complex blur effects in a single stop. Path Blur alone is capable of delivering lots of complex motion effects with one simple path.


2) Simple linear blur path

Before applying Path Blur, consider using a Smart Object to make the filter nondestructive, re-editable and mask-able. I recommend you acquire RAW files as Smart Objects, but in cases where you can’t, such as those that involve merges or stacks or major retouching, convert your Background layer to a Smart Object: Layer > Smart Objects > Convert To Smart Object. To apply the filter, follow this path: Filter > Blur Gallery > Path Blur. The Blur Gallery panel will appear, offering you five extraordinary sliders and multiple points of control.


3) Linear blur path with ends adjusted to create perspectival convergence

Path Blur has two presets, Basic Blur (without strobe effects) and Rear Sync Flash (with strobe effects), which are just suggested starting points. Path Blur defaults to Basic Blur, but if you change Taper, Centered Blur or either of the two sliders Strobe Strength and Strobe Flashes under Motion Blur Effects, you’ll quickly see the preset change to Custom. Click and drag to create a path (cyan arrow) with a direction. While the direction is of the utmost significance, the length of the path has no effect on the intensity of the effect. Use the Speed slider in the panel to increase the speed of the blur. This sets the global intensity of the filter for this and all other additional paths for this filtration pass; you can use different End Point Speed (magenta arrow) settings to customize the effects of the individual end points of each path.


4) Curvilinear blur path

Use the Taper slider to control the way the effect falls off. Like Speed, Taper has a global effect. Centered Blur blurs pixels on either side of the path, giving the blur a more uniform appearance; uncheck it to create a more fluid appearance. To simulate rear-flash synchronization, the Motion Blur Effects tab offers two sliders, Strobe Strength (lower setting, more blur) and Strobe Flashes (higher setting, more blur).

Once you’ve defined a simple linear path with a direction, you can modify it in many significant ways. Click to start a path and click to end a path. Click on a point to activate it (a dark spot will appear inside it when it’s active) and drag it to move it. Press the Command key to move the entire path. The middle point can be dragged to change the course of the path; press the Option key to toggle between curved and angular. Click on the path to add additional points. Once activated, a point can be removed by pressing the Delete key.


5) Second blur path added to reduce effect locally

Each path has two Blur Shapes, one on each end. The Motion Path controls how they blend together. Check Edit Blur Shapes to see all of the control points. Without Edit Blur Shapes checked, you can still modify the length of the End Point Speed, either with the slider or with the circular dial that appears when you move off of an active point, but you can’t modify its midpoint or shape.

Once you’ve defined a simple linear path with a direction, you can modify it in many significant ways. Click to start a path and click to end a path. Click on a point to activate it (a dark spot will appear inside it when it’s active) and drag it to move it. Press the Command key to move the entire path.

You can use one Blur Path to modify the effects of another Blur Path, to make it more complex or to limit it. Like the other filters in the Blur Gallery, Path Blur does a lot of heavy lifting, so don’t expect results to be instantaneous. You may have to wait a few moments for the final results to be executed. In addition to modifying exposures without motion blur, you can refine exposures with in-camera motion blur. For even more sophisticated effects, try blending blurred layers with unblurred layers, selectively and at varying opacities.

Image areas that are blurred often appear overly smooth. Consider adding noise to blurred areas to make them appear similar to image areas that haven’t been blurred. Try using the Camera Raw filter; its Grain sliders produce surprisingly convincing results, which can be masked, as desired.

Path Blur gives you even more ways to create sophisticated motion blur effects in postproduction. It can take these effects to a whole new level. It’s likely it will change the way you expose, encouraging you to be more experimental. It even may open a window into a whole new way of seeing
for you.

John Paul Caponigro, author of Adobe Photoshop Master Class and the DVD series R/Evolution, is an internationally renowned fine artist, an authority on digital printing, and a respected lecturer and workshop leader. Get PDFs and his enews Insights free at johnpaulcaponigro.com.

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