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
f.64 Academy and f.64 Elite are the brainchildren of Blake Rudis. While he is a landscape photographer, he is most passionate about post-processing images in Photoshop and mentoring others.

For Blake, it's all about the art and process synergy. He dives deep into complex topics and makes them easy to understand through his outside-the-box thinking so that you can use these tricks in your workflow today!
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