Create the popular soft water effect in your digital photos
Creating a soft water effect in photography is a skill that takes a lot of time and practice to master in-camera. Luckily, as with many photographic techniques, there is a Photoshop cheat that you can master in minutes but use again and again.
Done right, whether in Photoshop or in-camera, the purpose is to have just the water in a photo blurred, so that it appears to be rushing past the viewer for a more dramatic effect. Other objects, like rocks in the water, are obviously not blurred. This effect looks particularly good on waterfalls and streams, where there are plenty of other elements framing the scene to make the water stand out.
We’ll be using the Pen tool to select the water areas. In this case, you don’t need to be too accurate, as we can tidy up the blurred areas with a layer mask and we are feathering the selections anyway. We need to select all the water areas separately and then add Motion Blur to them, with the angle of each blur matched to the water direction for the most realistic effect.
Use the Pen tool to select each body of water. After selecting one area, Ctrl/right-click and choose Make Selection, then copy and paste that selection into a new layer. Feather each selection by 25px. Repeat for each water area on its own layer and add a layer mask to each layer.
Go to your first water layer and select Filter>Blur>Motion Blur. Go for a Distance that looks realistic for your image; we went for 38px. Next, adjust the Angle so that it matches the direction in which the water is flowing. Repeat this for each of the water areas that you’ve created.
Finally, use the layer masks on each of the water layers to remove the blur effect from any stationary objects in the water, such as rocks, overhanging trees and debris. Use a soft-edged black brush to paint over these objects and ensure that just the water is blurred.