There’s a technique that photographers use to create a zoom blur in their photographs; this is usually done by manually zooming the lens as quickly as possible while taking the photo. It’s hard to get right, so in Photoshop there’s a quick and easy way to obtain that same zoom blur effect that sports photographers have mastered.
Open up your original photo file that you wish to apply the zoom to and create two duplicate layers of your Background layer. You do this by dragging your Background layer to the Create A New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette or simply press Command-J (PC: Control-J) twice. Then, hide the top layer (Layer 1 copy) by clicking on the Eye icon next to it. Then, you want to rename the middle Layer (Layer 1) to Zoom.
To create the zoom blur effect, select the middle layer (Zoom). Then go to the Filter menu, under Blur, and apply the Radial Blur filter to this layer (FILTER > BLUR > RADIAL BLUR). In the dialogue box, click the “zoom” radio button. You’ll want the zoom effect to be fairly intense, so experiment with the slider until you’re pleased with the result in the preview box.
Next turn on the top Layer (Layer 1 copy), then add a Layer Mask and fill it with black. You do this by clicking on the Layer Mask icon while holding the Option Key (PC: Alt key). Holding the Option/Alt key will automatically fill the Layer Mask with black.
Now you’re ready to bring in your background. Select a Soft Brush from the Tools Palette, and choose a brush size that you feel will give you the best control at revealing the background image. Change the output channel to white by pressing X on your keyboard and begin painting out the background image… where you want the sharp, clean image to appear. To add back in any of the “blur”, change the Output channel back to Black by pressing X again, and continue painting (carefully, please!).
Before & After Zoom Blurring
The zoom blur technique in Photoshop is fairly easy to apply, and much easier than mastering the technique with the camera. However, you’ll want to experiment with the settings in order to get the effect just right – too much and it’s way over done, too little and you don’t achieve the dynamic look that you want. Once you have become proficient with the process you can increase the dynamic range of your photos, and create eye-catching sports photographs with a few clicks of the mouse.