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How to Create a Long Exposure Look Using Photoshop

Bonjour! My name is Serge Ramelli I am a French photographer living in the beautiful, the amazing city of Paris France and the sunny city of Los Angeles. Today I am going to show you a really nice trick, how to fake a long exposure in Photoshop. Let's get started!

Photo 24b

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One subject that I love to shoot is a waterfall, but it is unfortunate because there is not a lot of a waterfalls around Paris. But, one day I was lucky enough to find one but the only thing is that you have to be on a little boat to shoot it. So I was on the lake getting ready to take the shot, but you couldn't use a tripod on the boat, because it is not steady at all. So I am going to show you how I made this waterfall into a nice, smooth and dramatic waterfall with a long exposure look, using Photoshop.

Photo 1b
This photo was shot at 1/160th of a second, f/4.5 at ISO 320.

I was shooting three or four shots a second to make sure I didn't miss it, and to create the effect of a long exposure. Shoot All in manual mode so that you have the same settings on each photo, and you need at least 10 photos of the same waterfall.

To start, I am going to retouch the first photo:

Step 1 – Make the photo pop

First thing I did was to bring the shadows to +100 and the highlights to -8 because it is already a pretty dark photo. Boost the exposure to +0.50 to make the overall photo brighter. Next I increased my whites to +30, and the blacks to -17 for a better contrast. For the White Balance I chose daylight, I am also going to set the Temp at 5706 and the Tint at +7 to add a green effect, but just a little bit. Then I set the clarity at +24, which is really going to give more character to the photo.

Photo 2b

Step 2 – Lens Correction

First I enabled Profile Corrections. It is a simple thing that can remove distortion caused by the spherical nature of the lens' glass. Also I removed the chromatic aberration in case there is any. Apply some Noise Reduction. I bring the Luminance Noise Reduction to 20, and then in the Sharpening panel, adjust it up to 62.

Photo 3b

That is a very simple retouch, and you can do it the way you want it. This is just to show the basics steps to get in the next part. (You can also check out: Using the Basic Sliders in Lightroom and Photoshop – a Comprehensive Tutorial)

Apply these settings to all the other photos by press Sync > Check All > Synchronize.

Step 3 – Create layers in Photoshop

Next select all the photos, right click, and choose Edit In > Open as layers in Photoshop

When you want to open 10 files of 36 millions pixels it takes a little bit of time, so be patient it may take a moment or two. Now we have all the photos as layers in Photoshop.

Photo 4b

If you want to go faster with your retouching, you can reduce the size of the photos – but you will not get the best quality image.

Duplicate the first layer and put it on top of all the layers, then select all of them. Next you're going to align all the layers, just go to edit > Auto-Align layers. Select Auto.

Photo 5b

It is going to align all the photos based on the individual features of each photo. The tricky thing is that I moved a lot on the boat, from the first photo to the last photo I moved maybe a meter (3 feet). You may not have that much movement in yours.

Now all the photos are aligned.

Photo 6b

If you click on the visibility button next to the layer you can see that they really are aligned.

Once this is done, select all the layers, except the first duplicated layer. Right click and select Convert into Smart Objects. Now all the layers should be in one smart object folder.

Photo 7b

Rename it Smart Object and I put it on top of all the layers. Now are going to do some mathematic stuff (don't worry, Photoshop does all the work for you), so go to Layers > Smart Objects > Stack Mode > Mean

Photo 8b

What Mean is going to do, it is going to make a long exposure effect.

This is before Mean:

Photo 9b

This is the after Mean:

Photo 10b

You can also try other stack modes, I am going to Layers > Smart Objects > Stack Mode > Median – but I prefer the Mean effect.

Now that all the photos are together, press the alt key and click on the mask icon. You can see that there is now a black mask next to the Smart Object so now it is completely invisible or hidden(masked). You want to show only portions of it.

Photo 11b

Now take the Brush Tool and make sure that the opacity is at 100%, also be sure that you are brushing on with white. Just paint over the waterfall, I even brush over the water below to make it smoother as well.


Now select the two layers, right click, and select merge layers. Then crop the photo to make it more dynamic.


It is starting to have a long exposure look! So let's duplicate the Smart Object layer. Then go to Blur > Blur Gallery > Path Blur.

You get a frozen arrow which you can place on the waterfall. You can click on the arrow to create a point and modify the direction of the arrow, so the water flows that way, and it creates a move or motion.


Now the flow of water is defined, set the speed at 46% and the end point speed at 231% (those were my settings you may have to play with different ones for your image). Press okay and the whole photo should now be blurry, so hold down the alt key and click on the mask again.

Take a brush and set the opacity at 21% and just brush over the waterfall (painting with white again).


If you think it is too much you can press X (to reverse your paint colours so you can paint with black) and it will erase what you did. Also there is another mini waterfall on the side so I am going to go over it with the brush.

This is the image before the brush:


And this is the image after the brush:


It is pretty cool, and we really have a nice effect on the waterfall. When you have a long exposure waterfall it usually gets a bit whiter so we will accentuate this effect later, but for now let's select both layers, right click > merge layers.

Duplicate the layer again, this time setting the layer blend mode to Screen.

Screen is going to make everything brighter, we don't want that. So press the alt key and add a mask. Take a brush, set the opacity at 81% and brush over the waterfall (using white) to make it brighter. If you go too far switch colours to paint with black to erase some of what you did, or paint at a lower opacity.

This is what happens when you take long exposure of waterfall it really gets brighter. Same on the mini waterfall, I just brush over it.


Now we have a lot of drama. We are done in Photoshop, so save it and go back to Lightroom to double process it and do some dodge and burn.

This is the before photo:


And this is the after photo:


Step 4 – Double Processing

Lower the exposure -0.50 to make the overall photo darker, and bring the shadows to +43 to make the photo brighter as well. I really want to make the white effect more present so I boost the Whites to +54 and the Blacks to -23 to get more contrast.


Post-Crop vignetting – go to the effects panel in LR and set the amount of post-crop vignetting to -23 to really add drama, it is drama time!

Step 5 – Create Brushes

I like to make the photo dark and then to lighten it up with a brush. So I take a brush and boost the highlights to 1.03, making sure that my flow and density are at around 90 and I brush over certain areas to add complexity to the light.


So this is where we came from:


And this is where we are now:


I hope that you liked this article and that you learned some cool tips and tricks to create a fake long exposure!

Thank you and Au revoir! – Serge


Watch the video and follow along


Serge-250x250Serge Ramelli is passionate about photography, specializing in landscapes, cities and interior designs. He loves to learn new photography or retouching techniques and likes to share them.

He thinks that creating images for people to enjoy is the most amazing job in the world 🙂 You can see more of his work and tutorials on his website

Digital Photo Mentor is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

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