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Generating Speed Using Smart Filters in Photoshop

Check out our Photoshop: Lighting & Light Effects course!

Smart Filters are a great way to be able to take a much firmer control of filters in Photoshop. In this article we are going to look at using a Smart Filter on an image to make the object of the photo appear to be moving much faster than it really is. It's a great technique to use on sports photography to give an image a dynamic look. 


Step 1 - Switch on Smart Filters

Open an image in Photoshop. I’ve chosen a creature renowned for its speed and agility.

A snail


Go to the Effects Menu and choose Convert for Smart Filters.


Step 2 - Check the Layers Panel

In the Layers Panel you will see that the layer has changed from a background layer to a Smart Object.

Smart object


It's the conversion to a smart object that enables Smart Filters in Photoshop. 

Tip: If you wanted to instead, just right-click on the layer in the Layers Panel and choose Convert to Smart Filters. The result is the same either way.


Step 3 - Create a Selection

From the Tools Panel choose a selection tool. Im going to choose Magnetic Lasso for this particular image, you might find a different tool more appropriate for yours. 

Magnetic Lasso Tool


Make a basic selection around your object, making sure that you have selected all its parts and extremities. The better the selection the more options you will leave yourself to work with. 


Step 4 - Refine the Selection Using Quick Mask

With the marching ants active, press Q to activate Quick Mask Mode to enable any refinement of the selection required.

Quick Mask Mode


Press B to select the Brush tool and D to set the colors to default black and white. 

Brush Adjust


Resize the brush to an appropriate size by pressing Control-Option while holding down the mouse and dragging it right to increase or left to decrease the brush size. 

Soften Brush


Still using Control-Option and while holding the mouse button down, drag up to Soften the brush and down to harden it. This makes for a very cool and efficient, but mostly cool way to control your brush as you paint. 

Using X to switch the foreground and background colors between Black and White, paint around the edges of the Quick Mask until it's damn near perfect. Use white to add to the selection and black to subtract. 

refined edge


Step 5 - Save the Selection

Now the selection is complete, but we're not ready for it yet. So save it. Go to Select > Save Selection and name it Outline

Save Selection


Now deselect the selection by pressing Command-D.


Step 6 - Apply the Motion Blur Filter

Go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur and in the options window that pops up set the angle to 0 and the Distance to 170 Pixels (your image might look better using different parameters). 


Step 7 - Add a Mask

You can see in the layers panel how the Smart Filter has been applied to a Mask called Smart Filters. 

Smart Filters


Click OK.


Reload the saved selection “Outline” by choosing Select > Load Selection and from the Channel option choose Outline.

Load Selection


Select the Mask thumbnail called Smart Filter and press Shift-F5 to open the Fill options

The Fill dialog box


Choose to use Black as the fill color for the selected area. The unfiltered image will appear inside the selected area. 

Unfiltered image


Step 8 - Refine Mask

The image might look a little to clean around the edges. So to add a bit more realism dust up the edges around the mask a little. 

Select the Brush tool as before, only this time reduce the brush opacity to about 20%. 

opacity 20%


Using white as the foreground color paint some of the edges of the mask until they begin to blur, as you might expect on a fast moving object.  

Mask working


So there you are, now you can turn any picture in to a high octane, super speedy action shot. 


Check out our Photoshop: Lighting & Light Effects course!

David Smith

David Smith | Articles by this author

David Smith is Scotland's most qualified Apple and Adobe certified trainer. Having completed his education at Edinburgh College of Art's BAFTA winning Film School, David moved straight into TV production, first as a Vision Mixer then quickly becoming, at the age of just 24, a director of live TV studio productions. In 2001 he moved into Higher Education where he became a lecturer in TV Production, specializing in post-production and live studio production. During this time, and working with the support of the BBC, Channel 4 and independent production companies, David was instrumental in the design, development and implementation of industry-approved vocational courses across Scotland's Colleges. In 2006, after working closely with Apple Computers to create a unique multimedia studio for education at the Music and Media Centre in Perth, David became Scotland's first Apple-Certified Trainer for Pro Apps. This led on to David forming the first Apple Authorized Training Centre for Education, north of Manchester. In 2008 David made the move to full time training and joined the ranks at Academy Class, Ltd. where he continues to train industry professionals as a certified trainer across the Adobe Creative Suite and Apple Pro Apps range.

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