A zoom burst is a great way of adding dramatic impact to your images. Zooming out with your lens during an exposure can give your shots a real sense of energy. All you need to do is choose a shutter speed slow enough to record the blur of the zooming action during the exposure. This can also be enhanced by adding a burst of flash to freeze and highlight your main subject within the frame.
Doing this in-camera with a static subject takes a little time and patience, but add some movement into the equation and it can take hundreds of attempts to get the zoom burst effect spot-on. Use Photoshop, however, and you can get the zoom burst look you want in a matter of minutes.
This isn’t a difficult technique to master, but the success of the final shot depends a great deal on which image you start with. Although this may break our usual rules of composition, your subject needs to be in the centre of the frame, because the zoom burst will naturally lead the eye into the middle of the image.
In our chosen image, the bright red of the mountain biker’s top also makes him stand out well against the dark green background, so look out for similar colour contrast when selecting a suitable image of your own.
Remember that you will need to vary the amount of blur according to the resolution of your image. Our photo was taken on a 16-megapixel Nikon D7000, so if you’re using an image with a lower resolution, try a smaller amount of blur, and gradually increase it if necessary.
How to recreate a zoom burst effect in Photoshop
Step 1: Duplicate the image
First, open your start image, then click Layer> Duplicate Layer and rename it Blur Layer. Repeat, but this time rename the layer Sharp Layer. This will give you three copies of the image on separate layers. Click the eye icon next to the sharp layer to make it invisible, then click the blur layer to make it active.
Step 2: Add some blur
With the blur layer active, click Filter>Blur> Radial Blur. In the new window that appears select Zoom for the Blur Method and highlight Best Quality. Make sure that the blur centre on the right of the window is in the middle of the image, and then set the Amount to 35. Click OK to apply the zoom blur.
Step 3: Use a mask
Click the small box on the left of the Layers palette in the sharp layer to make it visible again, and then click the layer to make it active again. Click the Add layer mask icon at the bottom of the Layers palette, click the mask, and press Ctrl+I to invert it so that the blurred image becomes visible.
Step 4: Reveal the sharp image
Select the Brush tool and choose a soft, round 100-pixel brush. Set the Opacity of the brush to 20% and the foreground colour to white, then click the black mask. Next, paint across the mountain biker to make the sharp top layer visible. This produces an effect similar to using flash to freeze the movement.
Step 5: Create a new layer
The original image was shot at ISO1250 so there’s noise in the sharp area that doesn’t match the smoother blurred areas. Click the blur layer, then click the Create a new layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette. Choose Edit>Fill Layer, select 50% Gray and press OK. Change the blending mode to Overlay.
Step 6: Match the noise
Zoom in to 100% and move the image until you can see an area of both blur and sharp focus. Choose Filter>Noise>Add Noise, then select Gaussian Distribution and tick the Monochromatic box at the bottom of the window. Finally, adjust the Amount slider to 3% to match the noise in both parts of the image.