Rock ‘n’ Roll Photos

quick fix


Check out my photograph of a young musician who was performing at a local park. My son thinks the photo rocks. He likes the spotlights shining on the subject, the blurred motion of the rocker’s hands and guitar, and the red-hot border that frames the image. He also likes the way I composed the picture, tilting my camera down to one side to create what’s called the disequilibrium effect. What’s more, he likes the way the young rocker is brighter than the background, which makes him stand out prominently in the scene.


Truth is, as you can see in my original image, I added all the creative effects in Photoshop. The only thing I did in-camera was tilt my camera, compose and shoot. Because the image was popular around the Sammon household, I thought I’d share with you the digital darkroom techniques I used to create the image. You can apply them to your own rock ‘n’ roll photographs, in addition to many different types of photos that you want to jazz up, so to speak.

Ready to rock in Photoshop? Let’s go! But first, note that the filter effects that I used also are available in Photoshop Elements, as is the Burn tool. The only thing you can’t add in Elements is the style of frame that I used. However, you can add a cool frame by using Effects in Elements.


My first step was to work on a copy of the original image because you never want to work on your original image. To create the spotlight effect, I went to Filter > Render > Lighting Effects. At the top of the dialog box, I selected Triple Spotlight as the Style and Spotlight as the Light type.

2 Final

Here, you only see two spotlights shining on the subject because I clicked on the oval (the main spotlight) in the Preview window and moved it out of the image area. Speaking of that oval, you can click on any of the anchor points to change its position and size, or as illustrated, move it out of the frame.


Here’s the result of using that totally cool filter.



Now, it was time to add motion to the subject’s hands and the guitar. The first step was to duplicate the image (Layer > Duplicate Layer). To create the effect of speed, I clicked on the top layer and went to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur > Radial Blur > Zoom to apply this awesome filter—only to the top layer. When you’re using this filter, you can place the center of the blur anywhere in the frame by clicking on the Blur Center box and moving the center point around the box. I placed it near the top of the subject’s guitar.


At this point, the entire top layer showed the blur effect. To limit the effect only to the musician’s hands and the guitar, I used the Eraser tool (with a soft-edged brush selected) and erased everything but his hands and guitar, which revealed the sharper bottom layer.

quick fix

That’s how you create the effect in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. In Photoshop only, here’s a better technique to create the blur effect. Go to Filter > Convert to Smart Filters. Choose the Radial Blur filter. A Layer Mask will appear below the layer. With black selected as the foreground color, choose a soft-edged brush and mask out all areas by the musician’s hands and guitar.



Next, I wanted to dress up the image, so I decided to add a frame. Because I was working with two layers, choosing a Layer style was an option. It’s not an option if you only have one layer. I went to Layer > Layer Style, chose Inner Glow and played around with the sliders until I liked the effect. By the way, did you notice that the red of the border is the same red as the musician’s guitar? That’s no coincidence. I chose the color of the border by clicking on the color box in the Layer Style dialog box.

quick fix

As a final step in creating the opening image, I used the Burn tool on the Toolbar to darken the park seen in the background. What rockin’ fun!

quick fix


Here’s another tip—how to create the disequilibrium effect after the fact, which can add some impact to a boring image, like this shot I took of the guitarist. This technique also works in Elements.


Choose the Crop tool and select the image or part of the image. When you move the Crop tool outside the cropped area, you can rotate the image by clicking on the double-sided arrow. Tilt the picture to your heart’s desire.



Press Return, and you’ve created the disequilibrium effect. Now recrop your picture to your liking.

Rick Sammon has published 30 books, including Face to Face: Rick Sammon’s Complete Guide to Photographing People and Rick Sammon’s Exploring the Light: Making the Very Best In-Camera Exposures. Rick also teaches dozens of workshops and gives seminars. Visit for more information.

One thought on “Rock ‘n’ Roll Photos

  1. Like the tips on the concert photos. I have some questions, though. Most of the photos are taken inside, and with various types and colors of lighting. I would like maybe a part 2 to this with tips on inside photography. I don’t get to do much rock, but I do quite a bit of bluegrass (yes, with banjos). I have several hundred if you want to see what I’ve done, and maybe critique.

Leave a Comment