How to Fake Neutral Density in Photoshop!

How to Fake Neutral Density in Photoshop!

No Neutral Density filter?  No problem! Fake Neutral Density!

Let’s face it, long exposures are awesome but they require expensive Neutral Density Filters, time, and patience… lots of patience!  I really enjoy using a 10 Stop ND filter to get those long sweeping clouds at sunset.  It is not a hard practice it just takes time and patience.  We all know that some people do not have either!

For those who do not have the time, patience, or the luxury to purchase expensive ND Filters, have no fear… there is a way to fake neutral density!  It is not a hard process, it just uses some pretty clever masking and filter usage.  I have shot well over 4 or 500 long exposure photos in my time and I have to say, this fake neutral density method is very accurate!

Fake Neutral Density in Photoshop Example

Fake Neutral Density in Photoshop Example

The process is pretty simple:

  1. Duplicate your image.
  2. Mask out the foreground on the top copy so the sky portion is black on your mask.
  3. On the underlying layer, clone stamp  a ton of clouds, do it haphazardly if you must.
  4. Go to Filter > Blur > Radial Blur and choose Zoom at anywhere from 25 – 75.
  5. The more you blur the longer the shutter speed will appear but may appear unnatural.
  6. I am usually happiest between 25 and 50.
  7. Your clouds should now look like streaks.
  8. Feel free to add Adjustment Layers above the cloud layer to exaggerate the movement.
  9. Congratulations!  You just made a nice fake neutral density effect!

Watch this tutorial to see how I did it in real time!  I used an awesome Masking program called Topaz ReMask to get the perfect mask!

Learn More about Topaz ReMask


Like the style of this tutorial?  You will LOVE HDR Insider!  Full-Length HDR Workflows, Critiques & More!

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Blake Rudis
Creator of f.64 Academy
Most people think I am passionate about Photography, but in reality I am not.


Wait, before you freak out, you are on a photo site, I am addicted to post processing. To be more specific, I am addicted to workflow efficiency and cracking the codes to complex systems. That's what I do here, crack the code to photo post processing and present it in a concise way, for you :)
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  1. This is a great idea…I don’t use ND and this will help me make my landscapes more interesting…Thanks Blake, as always you are the master…

    • Sweet! Glad you got something out of it. I love this technique, just use it subtly and you will be okay. The giant blast at 100 on the radial blur can be over bearing on most photos.

  2. Very cool, love this one thanks for sharing Blake!

    • No problem! Thanks for watching!

    • Ditto!

  3. In the tutorial you’re using remask 4 by Topaz, yet my software says Version 3 is the latest and greatest up to date. Are you using advanced release stuff? Yesterday I purchased a 10 stop ND filter , I was quoted a priced of $75 on the phone and when I went to purchase it I was offered 3 different versions of the glass by HOYA cheapest being $75 and the clearest glass for high resolution was $199. Call me crazy but I will not skimp on quality when it come to stuff like this. I just wish someone would make a 10 stop variable for a 14 mm lens, ain’t going to happen. I’m jonesin’ to try your suggestion of of the single layer image with the filter combined with the 3 stop HDR image.

    • No ReMask 4 has been out for quite some time. Go to the site directly and download it, that may help.

      I have a Lee Big Stopper and it rocks! Don’t get me wrong this technique is cool, but there is nothing like the real thing!!!

  4. I watched the Webinar live and then watched the recording, taking copious notes all the way. And the PDF file download helped a lot. Honestly, although I had skid marks on my eyeballs as usual, it was the best Webinar ever. Many thanks for all you do, Blake. It is tremendously appreciated.


    • 🙂 Thanks for watching, Vinny. I am glad that I can still impress you! Every webinar seems to get better and that is awesome! I saw your comment in the feed a few days after the webinar, I greatly appreciate it!

      This technique is a bit better than the Webinar version as I refined it quite a bit.

  5. another great offering – thank you. I do use a 10 ND; but, for those times when that isn’t possible this will be a great technique. Now if I could just figure out a way to apply this to photos of the Gulf here in Florida to get more of a misty smooth water effect………

  6. Another great tutorial as usual with some very informative and helpful info and techniques. In the reply by Vincent Ciro above, he mentions a pdf that was available and very helpful as well. Do you have a link for the pdf or do you feel this video tut is better than the pdf instructions as well? Thanks for all your wonderful tutorials and for your time in sharing and helping others with your knowledge and talent.


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