Create Dramatic Photos with Radial Blur in Adobe Photoshop

by Abbey Fitzgerald | January 11, 2014

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Photoshop Radial Blur Basics

Today’s graphic design tutorial/photography resource centers on Radial Blur. Radial Blur is a quick way to add some drama and action to a photo. This technique is quite common and used in sport or automotive photography. You have probably come across advertisements showcasing a new shiny car with a blurred background that captures the motion of the vehicle. Radial Blur has been around since the early days of Photoshop; this technique is simple to apply and does not require a lot of complex steps.

One thing to note is that a little Radial Blur goes a long way. The examples below don’t exceed 15 (100 is the maximum) as the Blur amount. Before diving in, make note of where the subject is. Is the subject in the center, to the left, upper right, etc.? This is important to know the location when we set the center of the blur.

How to Use the Radial Blur Filter

It’s vital to duplicate the original layer or make sure there is a snapshot of the original file. To duplicate the layer, choose the dropdown in the Layers Palette and choose New Layer. The other option is to use a snapshot if reverting. Make sure the History Palette is open Window > History. Check to see if the first snapshot is the original image. If not, choose New Snapshot from the dropdown so there is something to revert back to if needed.

Image before applied blur

This is the image before blur is applied.

Blur Types

There are two options to choose from when applying Radial Blur.

Spin – This option goes in a circular motion around the center (typically the subject).

Zoom – The blur motion points from the center (typically the subject) to the edge of the image.

Radial Blur with Spin

First we will go over how to apply Radial Blur with the Spin option.

Step One

Make sure that you have the proper layer selected in which the blur will be applied. Next go to Filter > Blur > Radial Blur.

Step Two

Blur Location in Adobe PhotoshopA dialog box will pop up. There are settings for Amount, Blur Method, and Quality. As mentioned above, a little goes a long way. I recommend starting with about 10. If you need more, you can choose a higher amount.

The image I am working with has the subject pretty much in the center. Your project might have the subject off to the left, up, down, etc. so there is an easy way to adjust for that. The circle on the Blur Center illustrates that the center point can be dragged to correlate with the location of the subject. It might take a few tries to get it perfect, but it is nice to know that this feature can be tailored to each individual photograph.

Choose OK and see how the blur looks and if any adjustments need to be made. Just a heads up, I was using a fairly large image and it took awhile to process the blur.

Radial Blur with Spin

This image has the Radial Blur with Spin applied.

Radial Blur with Zoom

First we will go over how to apply Radial Blur with the Zoom option.

Step One

Zoom Blur in Adobe Photoshop

Make sure that you have the proper layer selected in which the blur will be applied. You may have to create a duplicate of the original layer if you plan on keeping the Spin Example. If not, undo or go back to the original snapshot. After you have the starting image, choose Filter > Blur > Radial Blur.

Step Two

This is pretty much the same as when we tried the Spin Blur above. Choose Zoom this time and try 10 as the starting amount.

The same principle applies for Zoom Blur. If the subject is off center, simply drag the center reference to adjust. Simply choose OK and see how the zoom blur looks.

Zoom Radial Blur

This image has the Radial Blur with Zoom applied.

Radial Blur Perfected

Select Subject with Quick Selection Tool

The two examples above really enhanced and added movement to the photo. I personally think the photo was greatly enhanced  with just a couple quick clicks and some customization of the Blur settings.

There is another trick that can keep the subject completely separate from any blur that is applied. I noticed some of the bicycle was a little blurry (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; some may prefer it this way) and wanted to try something to keep the subject more crisp while the background was blurry. Below is a quick explanation of how it was done.

I simply selected the biker with the Quick Selection tool (W is the shortcut).

Next, I copied the selection to a New Layer while leaving everything unchanged on the layer underneath. I then applied the blur only to the layer beneath the biker so the subject would stand out a little more. It wasn’t a huge change, but this was also easy to do.

Unsharp Mask Settings

To make the biker stand out a little more, I added the Unsharp Mask (Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask) with the settings shown in the diagram.

Sharpening and Blur on Zoom

Hopefully now you have a better understanding of how the Radial Blur tool works and what can be done with it. I encourage you to try different photos and apply this technique on a variety of subjects. This tool is easy to use and has the potential to add action and drama to your photos.

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