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Surreal Motionscape Effect With Photoshop CS6

Written by Steve Patterson. In this Photo Effects tutorial, we’ll learn how to add a more surreal, otherwordly look to an image with an easy-to-create vertical motionscape effect using Photoshop CS6. This effect often works great with landscape photos, especially ones with lots of detail from top to bottom.

As we’ll see, all it takes is the Motion Blur filter and a layer mask, and we’ll be using a Smart Object and Smart Filter to keep the effect fully editable for some final tweaking at the end.

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Here’s the photo I’ll be starting with (autumn forest photo from Shutterstock):

A photo of an autumn forest. Image licensed from Shutterstock by Photoshop Essentials.com
The original photo.

And here’s what the final motionscape effect will look like:

The final vertical motionscape effect in Photoshop CS6. Image © 2013 Photoshop Essentials.com
The final result.

Let’s get started!

Step 1: Convert The Background Layer To A Smart Object

Let’s start by converting our Background layer into a Smart Object which will allow us to apply the Motion Blur filter as a Smart Filter, keeping our motionscape effect fully editable. If we look in my Layers panel, we see the photo I’ve opened sitting all by itself on the Background layer:

The Layers panel in Photoshop showing the Background layer. Image © 2013 Photoshop Essentials.com
The Layers panel showing the photo on the Background layer.

To convert it into a Smart Object, go up to the Layer menu in the Menu Bar along the top of the screen, choose Smart Objects, then choose Convert to Smart Object:

Choosing the Convert to Smart Object command in Photoshop CS6. Image © 2013 Photoshop Essentials.com
Going to Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Object.

Nothing will seem to have happened to the image in the document window, but if we look again in the Layers panel, we see that Photoshop has renamed the layer from Background to Layer 0, and a small Smart Object icon now appears in the bottom right corner of the preview thumbnail, letting us know the layer is now a Smart Object:

The Background layer has been converted to a Smart Object. Image © 2013 Photoshop Essentials.com
The Background layer is now a Smart Object.

Step 2: Apply The Motion Blur Filter

Next, we’ll create the initial motionscape effect using Photoshop’s Motion Blur filter. Go up to the Filter menu at the top of the screen, choose Blur, then choose Motion Blur:

Selecting the Motion Blur filter in Photoshop CS6. Image © 2013 Photoshop Essentials.com
Going to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur.

This opens the Motion Blur dialog box. We want to create a sense of vertical motion, so first set the Angle to 90°. Then, to add the actual blurring effect, drag the slider at the bottom of the dialog box towards the right to increase the Distance value, in pixels. As you drag the slider, you’ll see a live preview of the results in the document window. The goal here is to add enough blurring to create a good sense of motion but not so much that you’ve blurred everything beyond recognition. The nice thing is that because we’re applying the filter to a Smart Object, it will become a Smart Filter which will allow us to go back and change the setting later, so don’t worry too much about this initial setting. I’m going to set my Distance value to around 90 pixels, but your value may be different depending on the size of your image:

The Motion Blur filter dialog box. Image © 2013 Photoshop Essentials.com
Setting the Angle to 90° then dragging the Distance slider.

Click OK to close out of the dialog box. Here’s my image with the initial motion blur applied:

The photo after applying the Motion Blur filter. Image © 2013 Photoshop Essentials.com
The photo after applying the Motion Blur filter.

If we look in the Layers panel, we see the Motion Blur filter listed as a Smart Filter below the image:

The Layers panel showing the Motion Blur Smart Filter. Image © 2013 Photoshop Essentials.com
The Layers panel showing the Motion Blur Smart Filter.

Step 3: Select The Smart Filter’s Layer Mask

Applying the Motion Blur filter evenly to the entire image isn’t the most interesting effect, so let’s limit the blurring to just the lower parts of the photo. We can do that easily using a layer mask. In fact, Photoshop automatically adds a Smart Filter layer mask for us, which we can select by clicking on the mask’s thumbnail in the Layers panel. A white highlight border will appear around the thumbnail letting you know the mask is now selected:

Selecting the Smart Filter layer mask in the Layers panel. Image © 2013 Photoshop Essentials.com
Clicking the Smart Filter layer mask thumbnail.

Step 4: Select The Gradient Tool

Next, select Photoshop’s Gradient Tool from the Tools panel along the left of the screen:

Selecting the Gradient Tool from the Tools panel. Image © 2013 Photoshop Essentials.com
Selecting the Gradient Tool.

Step 5: Choose The Black, White Gradient

With the Gradient Tool selected, click on the gradient preview bar in the Options Bar along the top of the screen:

Clicking the gradient preview bar in the Options Bar. Image © 2013 Photoshop Essentials.com
Clicking the gradient preview bar.

This opens the Gradient Editor, with a selection of preset gradients to choose from at the top. Select the Black, White gradient by clicking on its thumbnail (third from the left, top row), then click OK to close out of the Gradient Editor:

Selecting the Black, White gradient from the Gradient Editor in Photoshop. Image © 2013 Photoshop Essentials.com
Selecting the Black, White gradient.

Step 6: Drag Out A Gradient From Top To Bottom

With the Gradient Tool in hand, the Black, White gradient selected and the Smart Filter layer mask also selected, click near the top of the image to set a starting point for the gradient, then with your mouse button still held down, drag down towards the bottom of the image. Press and hold the Shift key on your keyboard as you’re dragging to make it easier to drag in a straight vertical line. When you get near the bottom of the image, release your mouse button to set the end point for the gradient, then release your Shift key:

Dragging out a black to white gradient on the Smart Filter layer mask. Image © 2013 Photoshop Essentials.com
Dragging out a black to white gradient on the Smart Filter layer mask.

When you release your mouse button, Photoshop goes ahead and draws the gradient on the layer mask. The area along the top of the image now has no blurring applied to it at all, while the area along the bottom has the blur applied at full strength. The area in between is the transition area where the blur effect gradually increases as it moves towards the bottom of the image:

The image after drawing the gradient on the Smart Filter layer mask. Image © 2013 Photoshop Essentials.com
The motion blur is now limited to the bottom area of the photo.

Even though we can’t see the black to white gradient in the document window, we can see it in the layer mask’s thumbnail in the Layers panel:

The Smart Filter layer mask thumbnail showing the black to white gradient. Image © 2013 Photoshop Essentials.com
The gradient is visible in the Smart Filter layer mask thumbnail.

Step 7: Re-Adjust The Motion Blur Amount If Needed

Thanks to the power of Smart Filters in Photoshop, it’s easy to go back at this point and change the amount of motion blur if needed. Simply double-click on the filter’s name (Motion Blur) in the Layers panel:

Double-clicking the Motion Blur Smart Filter in the Layers panel. Image © 2013 Photoshop Essentials.com
Double-clicking on the Motion Blur filter.

This will re-open the Motion Blur dialog box, allowing you to adjust and fine-tune the blurring amount by again dragging the slider at the bottom. I think I’ll increase my Distance value quite a bit, from its original setting of 90 pixels up to 158 pixels, giving me a much more pronounced blurring effect. Again, your amount may be different depending on the size of your image:

Increasing the Distance value in the Motion Blur dialog box. Image © 2013 Photoshop Essentials.com
Increasing the Distance value while keeping an eye on the live preview in the document window.

Click OK when you’re done to close out of the Motion Blur dialog box. We can also adjust the opacity (the transparency level) of the Motion Blur Smart Filter. Double-click on the Blending Options icon to the right of the filter’s name in the Layers panel:

Double-clicking on the Smart Filter Blending Options icon in the Layers panel. Image © 2013 Photoshop Essentials.com
Double-clicking on the Motion Blur filter’s Blending Options icon.

This opens the Blending Options dialog box. Here, we can change the filter’s blend mode and it’s opacity level. I’m going to leave the blend mode set to Normal, but I’ll lower its Opacity value down to 80%, which will allow some of the original image to show through the blur (this is completely optional – feel free to leave these blending options alone if you’re already happy with your effect):

Adjusting the opacity of the Motion Blur Smart Filter. Image © 2013 Photoshop Essentials.com
To lower the opacity, click on the small right-pointing arrow, then drag the slider.

Click OK when you’re done to close out of the Blending Options dialog box. Here’s my effect after increasing the motion blur and lowering its opacity:

The image after adjusting the motion blur amount and opacity. Image © 2013 Photoshop Essentials.com
The image after adjusting the motion blur amount and opacity.

Step 8: Crop Away The Edges

The only remaining problem is that the Motion Blur filter tends to leave rather ugly artifacts around the edges of an image. In our case here, if you look along the very bottom of your effect, you’ll most likely see that it doesn’t look quite right. Exactly how “not quite right” it looks depends on how much blurring you’ve applied, but in any case, let’s quickly crop away the edges of the image to clean things up.

Select the Crop Tool from the Tools panel:

Selecting the Crop Tool from the Tools panel. Image © 2013 Photoshop Essentials.com
Selecting the Crop Tool.

With the Crop Tool selected, change the Aspect Ratio option on the far left of the Options Bar to Original Ratio so we keep the photo’s original aspect ratio when we crop it:

Setting the Crop Tool's aspect ratio to Original Ratio. Image © 2013 Photoshop Essentials.com
Changing the aspect ratio to Original Ratio.

Then, click on any of the corner crop handles and, with your mouse button held down, drag it in a short ways towards the center of the image to resize the cropping border. Press and hold the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key on your keyboard as you’re dragging a crop handle to resize the cropping border from its center so all four sides of the border move at the same time. Continue dragging the corner handle inward only until the unwanted area along the bottom of the image falls outside the cropping border:

Resizing the cropping border. Image © 2013 Photoshop Essentials.com
Resizing the cropping border to crop away the problem area along the bottom.

When you’re ready, press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) to crop the image, then press the letter V on your keyboard to quickly select the Move Tool, which will remove the cropping border from around the image (as long as the Crop Tool is active, the cropping border will remain visible). And with that, we’re done! Here, after cropping the image, is my final motionscape result:

A vertical motionscape effect created in Photoshop CS6. Image © 2013 Photoshop Essentials.com
The final effect.

And there we have it! That’s how to quickly create a surreal motionscape effect with Photoshop CS6!

Download our tutorials as print-ready PDFs! Learning Photoshop has never been easier!

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