Photoshop Tutorial - Digital Panning Blurs

It is not like me to go back, years later, and ‘revisit’ an image. ‘Re-work’ it. I can probably count the times I’ve done this on both of my hands. I don’t know why this is...Perhaps I became so busy shooting new material that I just never had the time to go back. Nonsense... you can always make the time to go back.Or maybe I was just satisfied with the work I had done – I had completely fulfilled my vision the first go ’round. Nooooot likely, I’m my own worst critic. I don’t know if I’ve ever been truly happy with any of my photographs. Oh sure, I’ve been proud of work – but I can still find at least one two faults in every image.I honestly don’t know. Maybe I just got lazy?Regardless, I recently stumbled upon the work of Philippe Sainte-Laudy, on Google Plus. Philippe is a very talented French landscape photographer – I was especially drawn to his photography of local forests. In a few of his images, he used a technique that emulated a vertical pan taken with a long exposure. This technique has recently become somewhat popular in more ‘impressionistic’ photographs of forests. It is a fairly simple technique, but the end result is that it blurs everything in the frame. Where Philippe differentiated himself and his photography is the combination of blurred and sharp areas within the same frame.It occurred to me that I could reproduce this effect in Photoshop, which is (I believe) the method he used. So I set to workThe concept is simple enough:

  • 1 original image, optimized in your RAW converter of choice (or a full resolution JPEG/TIFF – if that’s your thing) – I use Lightroom to organize, manage and convert my RAW files.
  • Duplicate the background layer so there are two identical layers (for this tutorial, I'll be using Photoshop CS5)
  • Apply a 'motion blur' to the top most image
  • Adjust hue/saturation to liking
  • Utilize a layer mask to show tree trunk(s) in the original 'Background' layer - if desired.

Let's break this down, step by step.

Image Selection

For this technique - it is best to choose an image with several vertical trunks, preferably with one or more clearly defined trunks without branches obstructing their view. You can also try this technique with a forest scene with a view of the forest floor in the fore/mid-ground - it can help to 'anchor' the composition. Like all photography, there really are no rules - so experiment, have fun, and learn what works best for you.

Here is the image that I'll be using in this tutorial.

Gold and Ivory

 Image Optimization
Use your favorite RAW converter to optimize the image, if you shoot RAW. I will skip this section for now - but an Adobe Lightroom tutorial might be in the works for the future... ;)
If you are using a JPEG or TIFF file, be sure to color correct and prep your image as if they will not be edited further. There are no shortcuts to image optimization. Like photography in the field , you must put the time in to get the highest quality results.
 Photoshop Steps
  1. Open your optimized image in Photoshop.
  2. Duplicate the background layer. Since it is Photoshop, there are many ways to 'skin this cat' (uh oh, is that PETA I hear knocking on my door?). Choose your weapon. You can use any of the following methods:
    1. Right Click the 'Background' layer and choose: "Duplicate Layer"...
    2. Drag the 'Background' layer to the 2nd icon from the right, at the bottom of the 'Layer's Palette'...
    3. Select the 'Background' layer and then click the drop-down menu button at the top right of the 'Layer's Palette' - then choose "Duplicate Layer"...
    4. Click "Layer: Duplicate Layer"

Your Layer's Palette should look like this now.

 Next we will work on the panning blur.
  1. Select the top layer you just created by duplicating the Background layer, called "Background copy"
  2. Click 'Filter: Blur: Motion Blur'
  3. Set the Angle to 90 degrees and the distance to 999 pixels
  4. Click 'Ok'.

This is what my screen looks like, with the 'Motion Blur' filter dialogue box open.

The image looks somewhat drab, but we'll adjust the hue and saturation later on. Also, the pan blur is not as smooth as I would like it to be, so I repeat step #3 from above. Again, I set the Angle to 90 degrees and the Distance to 999 pixels.

That's better.

My next step was to reveal a tree trunk from the original image (still present in the 'Background' layer - beneath this new blurred layer). This is an additional step, but I wanted to add a bit of realism to a surreal image.

To do this, we'll add a layer mask to the 'Background copy' layer. Just select the top layer ('Background copy') and, along the top menu bar, click "Layer: Layer Mask: Reveal All". This will add a layer mask to the blurred layer. The mask itself will be filled with white, obscuring your view of the original, 'non-blurred' layer beneath. To reset your brush palette to black & white 'inks', type "B", then "D". Then type "X" to reverse the colors, so Black is on top (the foreground color) and White is set to the background color.

Now you can draw (with the layer mask selected) in the layer mask with a black brush along the tree trunks you want to reveal. Don't worry if you make mistakes, just hit the "X" button to switch colors and brush over the 'error' with the White 'ink'. Just be sure to switch back to the Black 'ink' (by hitting "X" on your keyboard again) to continue.

I use a Wacom stylus and tablet for the majority of my Photoshop work. It allows me to set the cursor to work with pen pressure. Basically, the harder I push on the tablet with the stylus, the more 'ink' it applies in Photoshop. This gives me the ability to carefully fade in my masking work. In my opinion, a Wacom tablet/stylus combo should be on every photographers digital darkroom desktop - it's that great of a tool.

Using this method, I revealed a single trunk from the original image below.

At this point, I also decided to clone the errant branches and yellow aspen leaves from the base and top of the revealed tree trunk. I know, they never did anything bad to me, but hey - they bugged me. So I took 'em out. 'Cause that's how I roll.

From here, I selected the blurred layer (making sure that the mask was no longer selected) and clicked (in the top menu bar) "Image: Adjustments: Hue/Saturation". You can also skip the clicks by just holding the "Command" button down & pressing "U". This is on an Apple computer... I can't really help you Windows 'Heathens'...)

I upped my saturation and shifted the hue to include some more warmth, shifting the yellows to a rich orange. This of course, is all a personal taste 'thing' - so do as you see fit. This is what my image looks like at this point.

What I don't like about this image (at this point), is the tree being on the left of the frame. It anchors the image, but placing it on the left side stops my eyes from moving throughout the frame smoothly. My eyes enter the frame from the left side (bottom left, to be exact) and come to a screeching halt when they hit that detailed tree trunk. In order to jump the psychological/visual hurdle, I will flip the canvas (image) so the tree is on the right side of the frame. To do this, I select "Image: Image Rotation: Flip Canvas Horizontally". Now, the detailed tree trunk is on the right part of the frame, and my eyes are able to drift through the entire canvas more freely.

This is the final result.

Dreams of Aspen Past

What do you think? No, it won't work for many images, but it is a fun technique to experiment with. I'm looking forward to having this one printed large, by my friends at West Coast Imaging. Perhaps a large acrylic mounted print would work work for this image?

I’m also including the Photoshop Action here, feel free to download it (no charge, of course) and install it in Photoshop (disclaimer, this action has only been tested in PS CS5. I can make no guarantees that it will work in any previous versions). If you have any difficulties with this action (or if you feel like I just wasted the last 18 minutes of your life), please feel free to email me and chew me out. I can take it;) Click here to download the Photoshop Motion Blur Action. It has been ‘Zipped’, so you’ll need to ‘Expand’ the file, then install the .atn file in your version of Photoshop.

Stay tuned, I’m working on more ‘Tips & Tricks”, techniques that I use both in the field and in the digital darkroom.