Faking Long Exposure in Photoshop (for portraits) / by Victoria Behun


In this tutorial, I will show you how to easily simulate, or to put it plainly, how to fake the cool long exposure effect for beauty photography using Photoshop only.

As a beauty photographer, I'm not always sure of what I want the final image to look like, so I tend to experiment a lot with post production as a retoucher. This handy technique is something that will enhance a studio portrait and I hope someone will find this super easy tutorial useful for their beauty or fashion images. Just flick through the gallery with the step by step instructions:


1. Open your fully retouched image in Photoshop.

2. Duplicate original layer (Cmd+J on Mac, Ctrl+J on PC). This new layer is what you'll be working with, so make sure it remains selected throughout.

3. Go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur.

    Set 'Angle' to 0 degrees (you might want to adjust the 'Angle' settings if the model's face is tilted to match the angle of the face).

    Adjust 'Distance' settings so that facial features remain slightly distinguishable. 

4. Set layer mode to 'Soft Light' if your background is lighter, to 'Screen' if it's completely black, to 'Multiply' if it's light, and position the blurred layer where you want the trail to appear using the 'Move Tool'. I used 'Soft Light' in my tutorial.

5. Add a mask to the blurred layer. Mask out unwanted bits (like the edge running all the way down on the left of my image) with a large soft brush at 100% opacity, foreground colour set to black.

6. Done!


A useful tip for faking long exposure in Photoshop:  the 'Angle' setting in 'Motion Blur' allows you to match the angle of the model's face when blurring the features, but to really take imitating long exposure in a beauty portrait to the next level, you might also want to use a combination of the following tricks:

  • With your motion-blurred layer selected, select the 'Transform' tool and then click on the 'Free Transform' icon in the top menu. You can now resize and bend the image with much more control, giving the blurred features a curved angle that could not be achieved at the 'Motion Blur' step (number 3).
  • After masking out unwanted bits of your image, select the 'Smudge' tool from the tool box (looks like a finger) and literally smudge  some of the longer trail bits, giving them a bit more of a curve, and thus a more realistic long exposure effect.

Using all of the above, I've created the image below (blurred layer set on 'Multiply'). If you end up using this tutorial for your photography, please send me a link to the end result, I would love to see it!