How to Create a Radial Blur Effect

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If your image is lacking some action, you might want to try adding a blur effect to create the idea of motion and make it more appealing.

In this article, I’ll be showing you how to apply the Radial Blur effect in Photoshop. It’s a handy tool to know because it gives great results without taking too much time.

You just need to know some tips and tricks to make it work the way you want because it doesn’t have a preview mode. These are the things I’ll show you here so you can master this tool like a pro.

[Related: How to use the Photoshop Clipping mask | How to sharpen an image in Photoshop)

What is a Radial Blur?

Radial blur effect - using a photo editor to blur an image.

Photoshop has different blur methods like Gaussian Blur, Motion Blur, or Radial Blur, and each one of these creates its own unique effect.

In this article, I’ll talk about the Radial Blur. Its main characteristic is that it applies a motion effect from a given point that works as a center. From there the blur can spin around it, or converge the lines moving inwards/outwards from it.

This can emulate the effect of you spinning the camera or moving the zoom during the exposure time.

How to Create a Radial Blur Effect in Photoshop

Before and after: radial blur effect. All rights reserved Richard Clark.

Credit: Richard Clark

Let’s go through the process together, step-by-step, using the sample image above.

Step 1: Duplicate your Background 

Adding photo editor blur - Duplicate background layer.

Open your image in Photoshop. This by default will appear as a locked background layer. It’s always good practice to keep this one intact just in case.

So, to make your edits on a separate layer you should start by duplicating the original image on a new layer.

To do this you can drag the background layer to the New Layer button at the bottom of the Layers panel.

Alternatively, you can go to the Layers menu and choose Duplicate Layer.

Step 2: Convert to Smart Object

Convert to smart object to allow smart filter. This will show in the layers panel.

Photoshop has different types of layers to work with. There are raster layers, vector layers, adjustment layers, etc. In this case, you need a Smart Object.

Each type of layer has its specificities. The Smart Object is special because it keeps the source content.

This allows you to come back and edit the layer as many times as you want non-destructively. This includes the filters that you apply to them because they become Smart Filters.

To change a layer into a Smart Object you just have to right-click on it, and from the menu that opens up pick the option Convert to Smart Object.

Another way to do it is by going to the menu Filters and choosing Convert for Smart Filters. You can easily recognize the layer because Smart Objects have a small square in the corner of the thumbnail.

Step 3: Apply a Radial Blur 

For this blur method select the Radial Blur effect filter.

Ok, now that your layer is a Smart Object, any filter that you apply will be a Smart Filter. So, all you have to do is go to the menu Filters and open the Blur options. From there choose Radial Blur.

This will open a pop-up window that gives you control over the settings of the filter. Unfortunately, unlike many other tools in Photoshop, the Radial Blur doesn’t have a preview option.

Because of this, you’re going to ‘blindly’ set the first settings or accept the default ones and start adjusting from there.

With a normal filter, this wouldn’t be possible, but because you made it a Smart Filter you can do it.

Step 4: Adjust the Radial Blur Settings

Adjust the blur amount value for your smart filter image effect.

From the Radial Blur dialogue box, you can control all the settings. The square represents your image where you can set the origin point of the blur.

This will always be a square regardless of the size and format of your image. This makes it difficult to find the coordinates and precisely position your blur. So there will be some trial and error.

To adjust the position, just click and drag. In there you can also see some lines that represent the final effect.

Then, on the top left-hand side, you have a slider to control the Amount value. Move it left and right and see how the lines in the square change from small dashes to continuous lines. This gives you an idea of how you’re affecting the filter.

Next, you have the Blur Method. With this, you can choose if you want Spin or Zoom. If you set it to Spin, it will make a circular movement using the origin point as a center.

If you choose Zoom, it will apply the blur in lines that converge in the center. These changes are also visible in the lines inside the square.

Finally, you can choose the Quality. This makes it noisier or smoother. Once you decide on all of this, click OK to apply.

Step 5: Adjust the Filter Opacity

Adjust blending options by clicking in the layers panel under the smart filters.

Another feature from the Smart Filters is that you can adjust the opacity and the blending mode.

To do this, just double-click on the little slider icon next to the filter and this will open a dialogue box for the settings.

If you open the Mode drop-down menu, you’ll find the blending mode choices. These are the same ones that you would have for blending layers.

In this case, I’m going to leave it as Normal, but feel free to experiment with all of them to find the one that works best for the effect you’re looking to achieve.

Also, there’s a slider to adjust the opacity. In my example, I feel the blur is too intense, so I’m going to turn down the opacity to 90%.

Again, this is a case-by-case decision and there’s no right or wrong, so just move it around and find what you like best. Remember that you can keep coming back to change it if you’re not satisfied.

Step 6: Fine-Tune the Radial Blur Using Layer Masks

You can see the smart filter layer mask thumbnail in the layers panel.

Now I’m happy with how the blur looks but I don’t like how it affects my subject. I’d like to keep more of the sharpness from the original image. For this, I can use a Layer Mask.

Layer Masks allow you to cover some parts of your image and let other parts stay visible. This is helpful when you don’t want to apply certain edits to all of it.

At the same time, you won’t be losing any information because you’re just covering these parts, not deleting them.

When you’re working with layer masks, everything that is colored in black will be invisible and the things that are left in white are what you see.

If you want a smooth transition between these two, you can use different shades of grey that will affect the opacity of the mask.

Click on the mask created with the Smart Filter. You can make sure that you’re working on the mask and not on the layer itself by checking the corner frame-marks around the mask thumbnail.

Now that you’re on the mask, cover the areas you don’t want to be blurred. You can paint them, or use a gradient.

In this example, I find it better to use the Gradient Tool. Then, choose black to white, remember that blacks cover the layer and whites let it through.

Then select the type of gradient that best suits your needs. In this example, it’s more appropriate to use the Radial Gradient. Then click and drag until the gradient gives you the desired results.

Step 7: Save Your Image

That’s it, the radial blur effect is now ready. If you’re fully satisfied, you can flatten the layers and save your image in any format.

If you want to keep your image editable, then keep the layers separate and save as a PSD file.

Pro Tips

Now you have the basics down for how to create a radial blur effect in Photoshop. But perhaps you’re still having some trouble getting that fine-tuning right.

If so, these tips can help you get your radial blur to the next level.

How to Find the Correct Position

If you’re having trouble finding the correct position for the center point of your Radial Blur, you might want to give this a try.

The default settings of the Radial Blur position the center point of the filter in the center of a squared image. But that’s not always what you want.

So, once you have the layer duplicated and turned into a smart object, this is what you need to do:

Step 1: Re-position Your Image 

Using the radial blur radial filter sometimes requires repositioning of your image.

Grab the Crop tool and set the ratio to 1 x 1 Square. Now you have a preview of this crop that shows you where the center of the square would be.

Move your image until you position the center mark of the preview on top of the place where you want your blur to start.

It will look strange as if you were going to cut out part of your image on one side and leave a big empty part on the other. Don’t worry about that for now.

Step 2: Enlarge the Canvas

Enlarge the canvass around your image to adjust your smart filter effect of your radial blur method.

Now, click on one of the corners from the crop while holding the Alt-key to make it proportional. Drag it until your entire image fits inside the cropping frame.

To keep the ratio, Photoshop will add some empty space around the image to compensate. That’s OK for now. Apply the crop.

Step 3: Apply the Radial Blur

Photo editing blur amount value can be adjusted in the Radial Blur panel.

Apply the Radial Blur filter without moving the default position from the square in the dialogue box.

Step 4: Crop Back to the Original Size

Keep the smart filter effect on your image with the desired amount value, but crop it to size. This will improve your editor photo blur.

Now the filter was applied exactly to the point where you wanted it, so grab the Crop tool again and set the ratio to Unconstrained or Original Ratio.

Then drag the edges to cut out all the extra canvas that was added for this method. You can now continue to fine-tune your radial blur’s opacity, masking, etc. as per the first part of this article.

How To Keep Your Subject Sharp

To keep your subject sharp and have extra control over how the radial blur from the background will affect your subject, this is an extra tip that can make a big difference.

Step 1: Select your subject 

Radial blur edit photo - save selection.

Go back to the original image by clicking on the locked background layer that you left as a backup.

Hide the other layers by clicking on the eye icon they have on the left-hand side. This way you won’t see the blur and you’ll be able to select your subject with more precision.

Make a selection around your subject. The tool will depend on your image and your skills. However, the Pen Tool is the most accurate.

Save the selection by going to the menu Selection and clicking on Save Selection. In the dialogue box just name it and click save.

We do this because you’ll need to use it again later and it will save you the effort of making it again.

Step 2: Paste Your Subject in a New Layer

Improve your smart filter image effect by adding a mask to your radial blur as shown in the layers panel.

Now, copy your selected subject using the shortcut Cmd/Ctrl + C or by using the menu Edit and then Copy.

Then, paste it by pressing Cmd/Ctrl + V or using the menu Edit and then Paste. By default, this will become a new layer.

Go to the Layers panel and drag it to the top of all the other layers. You can now make them visible again by clicking on the eye icon.

Step 3: Add a Layer Mask

You can already see your perfectly sharp subject from the original image on top of the blurred background. If you are satisfied with this result, your image is ready and you can skip this step.

If, instead, you want to make a smoother transition, then select your subject again. You can do this by going to the menu Selection and then Load Selection.

Here you’ll find the saved selection from the first step. Once you load it, create a mask around the subject. You won’t see any changes yet.

 Step 4: Feather the Layer Mask

Feather your mask by selecting it in the layers panel and using the filter slider. This will merge your subject better with the radial blur.

Double-click on the Layer Mask thumbnail to open its properties panel. From here you can move the Feather slider and control the transition from the subject to the background.

Conclusion

As you can see, the Radial Blur is a very simple tool, but with some extra steps, you can really get a lot out of it.

With these pro tips and tricks, you’ll really have full control over the results of the final image and get it to communicate all the movement and emotions from the moment when you captured it.

Ana Mireles is a Mexican researcher that specializes in photography and communications for the arts and culture sector.

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