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Using Photoshop’s Shake Reduction for Subject Movement

Photoshop CC brought us a new sharpen filter, the Shake Reduction filter. Meant to sharpen images that have camera shake blurring them slightly, it’s not often used by photographers since we know to set a reasonable shutter speed for our lens.

Seals lounging on rocks

However, something that’s harder to accommodate is subject motion. While we know our lens’s focal length and can set the appropriate shutter speed, we don’t always know how rapidly our subject will be moving. Wildlife and event photographers in particular may find that a subject that seemed to be static suddenly makes an unexpected move, causing some blur in the image.

For example, I was shooting seals the other day, and they were very still for hundreds of shots. Then out of nowhere one seal tried to bite another.

A seal attacks another seal

Heat haze can also cause some weird blurring that’s very similar to motion blur, and again it’s not something that you can control.

This is where the shake reduction filter comes in. Even though it’s meant for camera shake, it seems to work fairly well on all kinds of blur. It’s also much more effective than traditional sharpening methods, which tend to just add more and more noise past a certain point.

Of course, if you apply shake reduction to the image it will improve the bit that was in motion, but since the rest of the scene was static the shake reduction will actually cause it to look somewhat blurred and chunky. So you’ll need to duplicate the image to a new layer, apply shake reduction, then add a layer mask and mask in only the parts that you want the shake reduction applied to.

A seal biting at another

In this situation, I was dealing with both unexpected subject movement and significant heat haze. Below is a 100% crop (800px wide) of the image without shake adjustment applied. Note that I did already apply fairly heavy sharpening already with Adobe Camera Raw.

Seal attack 100% crop

Now here’s the same shot with shake reduction applied:

100% crop with shake reduction

While it’s not perfect, it’s certainly a lot sharper than before. Choosing the settings for the shake reduction is mostly trial and error. You’ll need different values for every photo, so keep an eye on the preview screen and adjust things until it looks good. You can tweak some fairly advanced settings, but I’d stick with the main three sliders and only start doing more involved work if you really know it’s necessary.

Also, the shake reduction is only useful to a point. If your subject’s hopelessly blurred, there’s really nothing it can do. For example, here’s an unedited image:

Finch in flight, no shake reduction

And here it is with shake reduction applied:

Finch with shake reduction

The difference is so minimal it’s not worth the time - stick to shots where the movement isn’t quite this dramatic.

So ultimately, while shake reduction isn’t a miracle solution, it is a great option for when your photos are just a bit blurred beyond what standard sharpening can deal with. Next time you find yourself dealing with a bit more subject movement or heat haze than you’d like, open up the shake reduction filter and see if you can’t get some improvement. You just might get lucky and manage to recover some of the detail that seemed lost.

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Lauchlan Toal is the creator of UnlockCreativePhotography.com, and a Halifax based food photographer. Outside of food photography, he enjoys most genres, finding fun in any kind of photography challenge.

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