The Easy Guide To Creating Motion Blur

Life can be a bit of a blur sometimes, I know mine is.

This Tutorial is written for people like me. We know a few basic things about Photoshop, but we are not geeks or techheads or digital artist apprentices. We don’t know the lingo too well, and Texturing and Layering are still over the horizon.

How do you create Motion Blur? This is what I am talking about:

Before I explain the very simple, quick, and easy way the blur was achieved, which, by the way, was done in a single procedure using Photoshop Elements 6 [this is basic stuff], I want to make it clear that there are several means of achieving blur in-camera. One is to use a tripod and take 2 shots – one in focus and one blurred – then merge the two together in Photoshop or Photostitch [free] or whatever. Another is to use a tripod and a pano head and take several shots along the slide. Another is to do it handheld. Each process has varying degrees of difficulty and of course different results. All this tutorial seeks to do is show you the one click method. How easy is that?

Here is how you do it:

First, select your image. For demonstration purposes let’s use an example of an image not to use. You’ll see why in the result of applying the process.

I chose the image because of the colour variations. It’s an image I took at Hat Head one dawn and is one I call Close, but no bananas. Now we open the image in Photoshop. I used Photoshop Elements, but Photoshop CS2 – CS5 will also have the necessaries. Looking at the top horizontal toolbar, select Filter then Blur from the drop-down menu then Motion Blur from the second drop-down menu.

A new window should open AND your image should now be blurred according to whatever default setting you have. How does it look? Run the bar right up to 999 [whatever that means!].

Here’s the result using my demo image:

Crap, isn’t it? Sooo, maybe a horizontal image may be better. Also, that black blob of headland doesn’t really blur well, does it?

OK, next image. This one was shot at the same spot. It’s horizontal and has no land masses in the way. It’s another Close but no bananas image:

And here’s the result of the Motion Blur at 999:

Now we’re getting close. Notice I have also cropped it. But still, it lacks that, um, ooomph. It’s a bit bland, not enough colour or colour range. Jeez, this is getting hard!

OK, next image. This one was shot just before dawn at North Narrabeen Rockpool on Sydney’s northern beaches and cropped to centre the horizon.

Here’s the result of Motion Blur at 999:

Yep, happy with that! I think I like this one!

So, the process is DEAD easy. It’s all about the choice of image to use.




  • Originally published 24 November 2009 on
  • Republished 12 December 2010 on Peter Hill’s Weblog
Posted in motion blur, photography, photography tutorial, tutorial | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

The Easy Guide To Creating The Orton Effect

Would you like to learn how to change this:

into this, using the Orton Effect?

then read on!


The aim of this Guide is to provide easy-to-follow step-by-step instructions to achieving the Orton Effect without the necessity of being a Photoshop guru. For this purpose I try to describe the process in plain and simple language. If you are a digital artist guru, you may wish to turn away at this point to avoid the Groan Factor.

I have found a lot of tutorials on this topic assume a much higher level of knowledge than I have and are not very intuitive. One of the problems is that if you don’t get a particular step in the process, you’re gone.

So, I try to explain the steps in easy to understand terms (hopefully!) and, importantly, describe what each step should look like after it’s done. So if you are not seeing the result of each step replicated on your screen, you know you have to stop and try again. If this happens, go to the top toolbar, select Edit then Undo [whatever it is you’ve just done] from the drop-down menu and try again.

To achieve the Orton Effect you will be creating Layers, but don’t worry if you haven’t done this before. I hadn’t.

The method I am about to describe is the simplest I have found. It’s not my method, but the description is all mine.

The steps described below assume almost zero knowledge of Layering, and ignore other adjustments you might be making to the image, for example Sharpening the image before you start work on it, which is highly recommended.

Step 1

Choose your image. I have found that an image with a lot of white in it, for example waterfalls, is not ideal for the Orton Effect. Try to select an image which is not underexposed, has strong colour, in focus and sharp, and which has a dominant subject. Flowers are ideal. For the purposes of this Tutorial, I will demonstrate the Steps using this image, shot in my backyard in August 2008 using a hand-held Canon 10D and a plastic fantastic Canon EF 28-90mm f4-5.6 Zoom Lens at 47mm, ISO 100, 1/60 second at f4. I shot it in RAW and sharpened it before converting to a copy JPEG for uploading. Don’t ask what the name of this plant is:

Step 2

You’ve got PE (or Photoshop CS2 or later) open. Now select File from the top toolbar and select Open from the drop-down menu. Choose your Flower shot and open it. (You may be using a non-flower image, but for ease of reference I will refer to it as Flower. For this demonstration I converted the same RAW file I had saved a copy in JPEG, only this time saving it as a TIFF to work in PE. The process will work also with a JPEG, so no freaking out, ok.)

Cool. Now look across to the right of the screen. See the Layers palette? It should be showing a thumbnail of the Flower image, together with the label Background, like so:

Feel the excitement. This is your Background Layer.

Step 3

Move the mouse over to the thumbnail. Right-click the word Background. A small window should now open, like so:

Select Duplicate Layer. A small box should now immediately appear in the middle of your screen, like so:

It is asking you to Name the Duplicate Layer. Name this Layer Focus, like so:

Click on OK. (Note: It doesn’t really matter what you name it, but Focus will do for our current purpose.)

Step 4

Look across to the Layers Palette. There should now be a new rectangular box immediately above the original, called Focus, like so:

Pause now and look at the tiny eye icon. You will see that it is now the Focus layer on your screen, so this is the “copy” you are working on. OK, moving on …..
Right-click the Focus rectangular box and select Duplicate Layer again. This time when the naming box appears just click OK because we will use the default name for this Layer, being Focus copy. Your Layers Palette should now look like this:

Step 5

OK, now we are going to blend the Focus copy. Look at the Layers Palette again. See the drop down menu at the top left, showing Normal as the default? Click on it, then scroll down about a third of the way down the menu and select Screen, like so:

The Focus copy layer should now have a bit of a washed-out look to it as a result of selecting Screen as the Blending Mode. (I have found that if the Screen effect still leaves a fairly good image, the Orton Effect will be enhanced. Too washed out and the Effect is diminished.) My Flower now looks like this:

Step 6

Right-click the Focus copy rectangular box in the Layers Palette again, only this time select Merge Down (it’s the 3rd from the bottom), like so:

This will collapse the Focus copy layer onto the Focus layer, like so:

Step 7

Right-click the Focus rectangular box in the Layers Palette again and select Duplicate Layer again. Name this copy Blur, like so:

Cool. Click OK to close the box. Now, look across to the Layers Palette to check it looks like this:

Step 8

Now, find and open the Filter menu on the Tool bar running across the top of your screen. Select Blur. Another menu should open. Select Gaussian Blur (don’t ask):

A new window should open. You will see a Preview of the image with a default blur Radius setting of 15.9:

(You can play around with the radius later.) For now, just click OK to close the window as we will accept the 15.9 (I have found 15.9 to be right for most images anyway).

The blur you are to achieve with this step should be enough to discern the shapes without the detail. Here’s how my Flower looks now:

Step 9 – The Magic Happens!

This is the fun part. We now make one more blending option. Click on the same drop down menu in the Layers Palette you used to create the Screen effect, only this time select Multiply – it’s closer to the top of the menu – like so:

You should now be able to see the Orton Effect! This is how my Flower now looks:

Step 10

OK, you now have a few options before saving the image. I’ll show you one.

If, however, you are happy with the result, right-click the Blur rectangular box in the Layers Palette one more time and select Flatten Image – it’s the last option on the menu – like so:

This basically collapses all the layers into one final image and is the last thing you do in Layering. Your Layers Palette should now look like this:

You can now Save the image as normal.

But, if it looks too dark, you can adjust the Opacity level with the sliding bar before flattening the image. Look for the tiny Opacity tool in the top right of the Layering Palette. (TIP: If you find you need to go below 50% the Effect is significantly lost and maybe it wasn’t the right image to start with. If you are using Photoshop CS2 or later, another option is to adjust the Fill and leave the Opacity at 100%.)

I’m not happy with my Flower – too dark – so I’m going to reduce the Opacity to 70%, like so:

Now my Flower looks like this:

Compare it with the original JPEG:

Thus endeth the Tutorial, and I hope you made it this far! Before you go, however, below I have some more samples of using the Orton Effect – with before and after versions or each – to show the potential to use the effect on subjects other than flowers.

Monochrome Urbanscape – BEFORE

Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8L USM Zoom Lens at 24mm, with B+W #103 3-stop ND Filter and Lee 0.9 Hard Grad ND Filter, ISO 50, 9 seconds at f8, Shipwreck Lookout, Homebush Bay, Sydney, at dawn

Monochrome Urbanscape – AFTER

Opacity at 80%

Portrait – BEFORE

Hand-held Canon 5D Mark II, Sigma 50mm f1.8 Lens, ISO 50, 1/200 second at f1.8, Lady Macquarie’s Chair, Sydney, at dawn.

Portrait – AFTER

Opacity at 60%

Infrared Photograph – BEFORE

Infrared-converted Canon 10D, Sigma 50mm f1.8 Lens, ISO 100, 1 second at f16, Lindfield, Sydney, December 2009

Infrared Photograph – AFTER

Opacity at 90%

OK, one last flower:


Hand-held Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 100mm f2.8L IS USM Macro Lens, ISO 320, 1/250 second at f2.8, Shipwreck Lookout, Homebush Bay, Sydney


Opacity at 70%

Have fun!



  • Originally published 24 September 2008 on
  • Revised and expanded March 2010.
  • Re-published 12 December 2010 on Peter Hill’s Weblog.
Posted in orton effect, photography, photography tutorial, tutorial | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

The Easy Guide To Understanding Mirror Lock-up

Mirror lock-up sounds really iffy and risky, but it’s really quite simple.

Do you use an SLR?

When you look through the viewfinder, the image you see is courtesy of a mirror. When you press the shutter, the mirror has to firstly swivel up out of the way of the light path before the sensor captures the light coming through the lens – this action you see as a dark flash in the viewfinder immediately after pressing the shutter release.

When the mirror moves out of the way it slightly vibrates the camera. Not much, but more than the act of pressing the shutter release.

If you are taking a fast shot, this vibration, along with the vibration of pressing the shutter, doesn’t factor.

But for a long exposure it will reduce your clarity.

So, for the shutter release, we can use a remote release to avoid that vibration.

And for the mirror swivel vibration we can use mirror lock-up. How does it work?

When “enabled” – usually as a Custom Function, you take a photograph by pressing the remote shutter release twice.

First press and the camera goes “kerplunk!” as the mirror swivels out of the way. Second press and you hear a small “click” as the shutter opens, along with the red light appearing on the back of the camera indicating the shutter is open.

Not all digital SLRs have mirror lock-up as an option, and it is hard to do a search to create a list of the ones which do. However, as far as I can tell, the Canon EOS 20Da, released in 2005, was the first Canon digital SLR to offer it, and hence if you have a later model, eg 30D, 40D etc, they should all have it.

If you don’t have a remote shutter release, but rely on the self-timer, it seems the mirror lock-up will only work with a 2 second delay on some Canon digital SLRs, not 10 seconds. This is the case for certain at least with the Canon EOS 500D (aka Rebel T1i or Kiss Digital X3)



Originally published 16 October 2009 on
Republished 11 December 2010 on Peter Hill’s Weblog

Posted in mirror lock-up, photography, photography tutorial, tutorial | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Easy Guide To Understanding ISO


Recently I was asked to write a tutorial explaining ISO. This is it. I try not to get too technical, but this is one digital photographic concept that is immersed 100% in techo geekdom, so bear with me.

What does ISO stand for?

We have the ISO to thank for ISO. The ISO is the acronym of the International Organisation of Standards. (Yes, I know it should be IOS, but it isn’t, ok?) The ISO settled on “ISO” for the photography world as an abbreviated word as it stems from the Greek word isos, which means, in English, “equal” (eg isometric). Cute, huh?

Some say ISO is pronounced eye so and some, including me, say it as eye ess oh. Whatever. The term ISO replaced the term ASA, which stood for the American Standards Association, or maybe the Australian Scripture Assembly. Who really knows?

What is ISO?

ISO refers to the sensitivity of film to light according to speed of exposure. The higher the ISO rating, the more sensitive the film is.

The equivalent concept applies to digital cameras, where it is all about the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor to light.

Just stop now and think about this. It is a big difference between film and digital….

Choice of film is very important to a film photographer. The choice is 99% about ISO and 1% about colour or B&W. This is because using a film with an ISO 100 rating means putting into the camera a roll which will produce noiseless (non-grainy) photographs able to be shot in nice clear light conditions at high speed, whereas using a film with an ISO 1600 rating is preferable for low light conditions as the film is way more sensitive to light.

Once you’ve made that choice of ISO rating when shooting with a roll of film, you are stuck with it for the whole roll, with 2 exceptions. First, now you know why some cameras have interchangeable “film backs”, whereby an unfinished film roll at, say ISO 100, can be swapped for another unfinished film roll at a different ISO rating. Second, and this is something I do all the time when shooting with film, you can “trick” the camera into thinking it is shooting with, say, ISO 400 instead of ISO 100 by manually changing the ISO setting. (I did try upping ISO from 100 to 1600 on a rafting trip once, but the camera was on to me and produced crap. More recently I upped an ISO 25 roll to ISO 100 as I was shooting inside.)

Digital photography, however, affords us the luxury of calibrating the sensitivity of the sensor with each shot with equivalent ISO settings to film ISO ratings. Thus, sRGB image files created by a digital camera will have a similar lightness to what is achieved with a film camera using the same ISO rating, aperture, and speed. Setting the ISO on a digital camera is actually adjusting the sensitivity of the sensor. It is a pro-active process, as distinct from film, which is a re-active process.

What ISO setting should I use?

As a general proposition, the lower the ISO setting, the better. For example, and ignoring aperture for the moment, consider these two options for taking the same evenly exposed hand-held shot (approximately) of a non-moving object:

  • Speed of 1/1000th of a second, ISO of 1000
  • Speed of 1/100th of a second, ISO of 100

Which is preferable? ISO 100. There are several reasons. First, a speed of 1/100th of a second hand-held will rarely give you blurred images. It is fast enough to capture the object with a well-focused and sharp image. Second, the higher the ISO, the greater the noise from stuck pixels and grain.

Why is this? It’s because as you increase the ISO setting and make the sensor more sensitive to light signal, you are also making the sensor more sensitive to noise coming from everything in the frame, not just your light source or subject.

The higher the light signal to noise ratio (the S/N ratio), the better the image quality. Digital cameras are calibrated to achieve the greatest S/N ratio using the lowest available ISO setting. The smaller the sensor, the greater the problem with noise at high ISO. (Attention all geekheads – this is a general proposition, ok!)

Noise in the form of stuck pixels and grain can be dealt with by noise reduction applications, either in-camera or in post-production. However, it’s a bit like hitting a nail with a sledgehammer as the apps also remove detail from your image. And, in the case of noise-reduction in-camera, the application takes just as long as your shutter speed. Therefore, if you take a 120 second exposure with Noise Reduction “On”, the camera will then take another 120 seconds to do the noise reduction before you get to see the image on the camera’s rear LCD. As I said somewhere else, I’m a patient man but not that patient! (Technology is getting better, however, with in-camera noise reduction.)

So….. the idea is to use as low an ISO as possible. A suggestion would be to not let your camera choose an ISO for any shot (Auto ISO) but set it to ISO 100 (or your camera’s minimum ISO) as your default, and only increasing it when there is a need to compensate for poor light and you don’t want to stop down your aperture any more or shutter speed.

For example, my camera (EOS 5D Mark II) allows me to set the ISO to 50 as a Custom Function. This is my default setting. There are times however, when I want to take a shot without stopping down further than f8 (because I want a wide DOF) and without slowing down more than 1/30th second (particularly if I am shooting hand-held), but the light won’t let me get a good exposure. Changing the ISO is always my third and last option. Upping the ISO to 100 instantly means I can shoot faster, and thus avoid a blurred image, and I will routinely go up to 640 without hesitation. And to tell you the truth, there is bugger all difference that I can see between ISO 50 and 100. (Except for long exposures, where ISO 100 is probably preferable. But that’s another story.)

As a general proposition, the smaller the sensor, the bigger your problem with ISO noise and grain is going to be, sometimes even kicking in at ISO 400 (and rendering images unusable at 800 or 1000). This can be important when choosing a digital camera to buy.

Buying a camera and ISO

If you are in that position, check the ISO range of the potential purchase. The standard for a lot of digital cameras, even now, seems to be Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, which, for example is the range applying to the Sony Alpha DSLR-A390. That’s not exactly a great range for a brand new model, to be honest. Apart from severely limiting your shooting options, I would want to make sure the camera can actually produce usable images at ISO 1600 and especially ISO 3200. The Sony Alpha DSLR-A390 has only one more ISO setting than the much older Olympus E-520 (3200) so you have to wonder where Sony’s ISO heads are at. I mean, look at the Olympus E-620, which was released a year ago. It’s ISO range is 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320, 400, 500, 640, 800, 1000, 1250, 1600, 2000, 2500, 3200. Now you’re talkin’!

So, if you are looking at which camera to buy, take the time to check out its ISO range as they can vary grealty. Also check out the camera yourself shooting at high ISO or take the time to research on-line for an in-depth review which covers ISO performance.

Still on the Nikon D700, it’s default ISO settings are in the range 200 to 6400, with a low boost to 100 and a high boost to 25600 – the same as the Nikon D3. The Nikon D300 has a default range of 200 – 3200, with a low boost to 100 and a high boost to 6400. Canon is much the same. The EOS 5D Mark II has a default range of 100 to 6400, expandable to 50 and 25600.

The reason why the “extreme” ISO settings are available separately, on any digital camera, is to do with calibration. The default range is the calibrated to international standard range, whereas the expandable settings are not.

I could go on and on about ISO, but I reckon I’ve said enough to get you started.



  1. Tutorial first published 30 June 2010 on
  2. Republished 11 December 2010 on Peter Hill’s Weblog.
Posted in iso, photography, photography tutorial, tutorial | Tagged , , , , | 18 Comments