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Dead Zone Blur Streaks Effect With Photoshop

Written by Steve Patterson. In this Photoshop Effects tutorial, we’ll learn how to create a cool motion blur-type of effect by first colorizing a photo, then selecting a single column of pixels from the main subject and stretching it across the image to create streaks of color.

We’ll use a layer mask and a brush when we’re done to paint away the streaks in areas where we don’t need them. If you’re wondering where the "Dead Zone" part of the name came from, the idea for this tutorial comes from the DVD box art for the final season of one of my favorite tv shows, The Dead Zone. I’ll be using Photoshop CS5, but any recent version of Photoshop will work.

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Here’s what the final effect will look like:

Photoshop Dead Zone blur streaks effect. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The final result.

Let’s get started!

Step 1: Duplicate The Background Layer

Open the image you’ll be using for the effect. Here’s the photo I’ll be working with:

The original photo. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The original image.

The first thing we want to do to is create a copy of the image so we’re not working directly on the original (in case we ever need it again later). The original image is sitting on the Background layer in the Layers panel. To make a copy of it, go up to the Layer menu in the Menu Bar along the top of the screen, choose New, then choose Layer via Copy. Or, for a faster way to copy a layer, press Ctrl+J (Win) / Command+J (Mac) on your keyboard:

The New Layer via Copy command in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Layer > New > Layer via Copy.

A copy of the layer, which Photoshop names “Layer 1″, appears above the Background layer:

The Background layer has been duplicated. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
We can now safely work on the effect without touching the original image.

Step 2: Desaturate The Image

Next, before we colorize the image, let’s quickly remove the original colors by desaturating the photo. Go up to the Image menu at the top of the screen, choose Adjustments, and then choose Desaturate, or press Shift+Ctrl+U (Win) / Shift+Command+U (Mac) to access the Desaturate command with the faster keyboard shortcut:

The Desaturate command in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate.

The image will now appear in black and white, although in my case, the original colors were pretty subtle to begin with:

The image has been desaturated. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Desaturating an image removes all color, creating a quick and dirty black and white version.

Step 3: Colorize The Image

With the original colors out of the way, let’s add our own. Go up to the Image menu once again, choose Adjustments, and then choose Color Balance:

The Color Balance adjustment in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Image > Adjustments > Color Balance.

Photoshop’s Color Balance command allows us to choose different colors for the shadows, highlights and midtones of the image. If you want to use the same colors I’m using, first select the Highlights option in the dialog box, then drag the bottom of the three color sliders towards Yellow until the right Color Levels input box shows a value of -40. This adds yellow to the highlights. Make sure the Preserve Luminosity option is checked:

Colorizing the highlights with the Color Balance adjustment in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Adding yellow to the highlights.

Next, select the Shadows option, then drag the top color slider towards Red until the left Color Levels input box shows a value of +70. Drag the bottom color slider once again towards Yellow until the right Color Levels input box shows -60. This adds an orange color to the shadows:

Colorizing the shadows with the Color Balance adjustment in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Adding orange to the shadows.

Click OK when you’re done to close out of the Color Balance dialog box. The colors in your image should now look similar to this (assuming you used the same colors I did):

The image colorized with the Color Balance adjustment in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The image with the shadows and highlights now colorized.

Step 4: Select A Single Column Of Pixels

Grab the Single Column Marquee Tool from Photoshop’s Tools panel. By default, it’s hiding behind the Rectangular Marquee Tool, so click on the Rectangular Marquee Tool and hold your mouse button down for a second or two until a fly-out menu appears, then select the Single Column Marquee Tool from the list:

Photoshop Single Column Marquee Tool. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Click and hold on the Rectangular Marquee Tool, then select the Single Column Marquee Tool from the list.

As its name implies, the Single Column Marquee Tool selects a single column of pixels in the image. Clicking anywhere in the image will select the pixel you clicked on plus every pixel above and below it from top to bottom. For this effect, we want to select a column of pixels that will divide the subject in half. I’m going to click in the center of the man’s nose. A very thin selection outline appears, dividing his left half from his right (it may be a little hard to see in the screenshot since the selection is only 1 pixel wide):

Selecting a single column of pixels in the image. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
A thin selection outline appears running vertically through the center of the subject.

Step 5: Copy The Selection To A New Layer

Just as we did back in Step 1, go up to the Layer menu, choose New, and then choose Layer via Copy (or press Ctrl+J (Win) / Command+J (Mac) on your keyboard) to copy the selected column of pixels to its own layer. Nothing will seem to have happened to the image in the document window, but a new layer containing the column of pixels appears above the other layers in the Layers panel. Photoshop names the layer "Layer 2" (normally we should be giving our layers more descriptive names, like "colorized" and "pixel column", but with only three layers needed for this effect, there’s not much use in renaming them):

Copying the pixel column to a new layer. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The column of pixels is now copied to its own layer.

Step 6: Stretch The Column With Free Transform

Go up to the Edit menu at the top of the screen and choose Free Transform, or press Ctrl+T (Win) / Command+T (Mac) to access Free Transform with the keyboard shortcut:

Selecting the Free Transform command in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Edit > Free Transform.

This places the Free Transform box and handles around the pixel column. Move your cursor directly over the column. You’ll see it turn into two small arrows pointing left and right. Click on the column and, with your mouse button still held down, drag the column towards the right. As you drag, you’ll see the pixels stretching and repeating across the image:

Dragging the Free Transform handle towards the right. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Drag the pixel column towards the right to stretch it.

Continue dragging the column all the way to the right edge of the photo. Press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) when you’re done to apply the transformation and exit out of the Free Transform command:

The pixel column has been stretched across the right half of the photo. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The single column of pixels now covers the right half of the photo.

Step 7: Apply The Gaussian Blur Filter

Let’s apply a slight blur to the color streaks so they don’t appear so sharp and well-defined. Go up to the Filter menu at the top of the screen, choose Blur, and then choose Gaussian Blur:

Selecting the Gaussian Blur filter in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.

When the Gaussian Blur dialog box appears, increase the Radius value to around 4 pixels by dragging the slider a little to the right. Click OK when you’re done to exit out of the dialog box and apply the blurring to the image:

Photoshop Gaussian Blur dialog box. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
A small Radius value of around 4 pixels should do the trick.

The transitions between the colors are now a little softer:

The image after applying the Gaussian Blur filter. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The Gaussian Blur filter gave us smoother color transitions.

Step 8: Add A Layer Mask

All that’s left to do at this point is to blend the blur streaks in with the image, and we can do that using a layer mask. Click on the Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel:

Clicking the Layer Mask icon in the Layers panel in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Click on the Layer Mask icon.

A layer mask thumbnail, filled with white, appears on Layer 2 in the Layers panel, letting us know that the mask has been added:

Photoshop layer mask thumbnail. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
A layer mask thumbnail appears.

Step 9: Paint With Black On The Layer Mask To Hide The Color Streaks

Grab the Brush Tool from the Tools panel:

Photoshop Brush Tool. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Select the Brush Tool.

Make sure the layer mask thumbnail is selected in the Layers panel (you should see a thin white highlight border around it which tells us it’s selected. Click on the thumbnail to select it if it’s not highlighted). Set your Foreground color to black by first pressing the letter D on your keyboard, which resets them to their default colors (white for the Foreground and black for the Background), then press the letter X to swap them, making black the Foreground color. You can see your current Foreground and Background colors by looking at the two color swatches near the bottom of the Tools panel:

The Foreground color swatch in the Tools panel in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The Foreground color (left color swatch) is now set the black.

Then, with a medium or large, soft-edge brush, simply paint over sections of the color streaks to hide them and reveal the main photo underneath. You can change the size of your brush as you paint by pressing the left bracket key ( [ ) on your keyboard to make it smaller or the right bracket key ( ] ) to make it larger. Holding down your Shift key while pressing the left bracket key will make the brush edges softer. Holding Shift and pressing the right bracket key makes the edges harder, although you’ll want to use a soft-edge brush to create smooth transitions between the color streaks and the main image.

Here, I’m painting with a large, soft-edge brush to reveal part of the man’s face behind the streaks:

Painting with black on the layer mask in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Painting with black on a layer mask hides the areas you paint over.

If you make a mistake and reveal too much of the main image, simply press X on your keyboard to swap your Foreground and Background colors, which sets your Foreground color to white. Paint over the problem area with white to bring back the color streaks, then press X to swap the colors again and continue painting with black.

You can also change the opacity of your brush to create even more subtle transitions between the color streaks and the main image. Simply press a number on your keyboard to change the brush opacity. For example, to set the opacity to 50%, press the number 5. For something like 25%, press 2 5 quickly. To set the brush opacity back to the full 100%, press 0 (remember to set it back to 100% when you’re done to avoid possible confusion the next time you use the Brush Tool):

Changing the opacity of the brush in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Paint over the same area repeatedly with a lower brush opacity to build up the transition effect.

I’ll continue painting over the color streaks using different brush sizes and opacity settings, using the X key on my keyboard to swap between black and white for my brush color as needed. Here is my final result:

Photoshop Dead Zone blur streaks effect. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The final “Dead Zone Blur Streaks” result.

And there we have it!

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