Photoshop Guide – How To Make Your Guitar Photos Pop!

Neal August 29, 2011 8

Knowing your way around Adobe Photoshop is a useful skill to have in general, and as a guitar player you are always going to have lots of shiny new toys to take photos of.  Last month’s graphics tutorial showed you how to refinish your guitar in photoshop, and this week I will be showing you how to turn a lacklustre guitar photo into something a little more dazzling!

Picture this scenario – you’ve just bought a nice new guitar that you want to show off to your mates on your favorite guitar forum.  You snap a photo but it doesn’t really do the guitar justice and you have to resort to telling your friends that it ‘looks better in real life’.  It’s not ideal is it?  Let’s take that photo and turn it into something special…

Guitar Photoshop Guide Start PhotoYou could possibly achieve a similar effect in Microsoft Paint or similar but you really need a higher quality graphics program such as Photoshop to get really creative. For this tutorial I will be using a photo of my MusicMan JP6.

As you can see, the unedited photo has the guitar at an angle. Depending on what you want to achieve this could be fine, but I want the guitar to be in a horizontal position with a tight crop to reduce the size of the file.  So our first step is to rotate the photo so that the guitar is horizontal.

guitar photoshop guide rotating the imageTo ensure that you get the guitar perfectly horizontal you can use a guide line to help you line everything up.  Make sure your Rulers are turned on (view > rulers) and click and drag down from the top ruler to bring a horizontal guide line onto the image.  Don’t worry, this isn’t permanent!

Use the marquee tool (M) to drag a rectangle around the entire image and choose Free Transform (edit > free-transform).  If you click just outside of the square handles at each corner of the image you will be able to rotate the photo and get it roughly in line with your horizontal guide line – I used the fretboard inlays as a guide.  When happy hit the enter key to confirm your changes and then hit CTRL+D to clear your selection.

Now choose your Crop Tool (C) and draw a rectangle tightly around the guitar to frame the final image.  When happy hit enter and your image is will be cropped to size.  You can also select the Move Tool (M) and drag the guide line back off the screen now, we won’t be needing it anymore.

guitar photoshop guide sorting the dges

You may notice that the left hand side corners are clipped off around the edge of the table which ultimately gives an unprofessional look.  Obviously if you think ahead you can avoid problems like this, but let’s take this as an excuse to look at the cloning tool to fix our problem.  The Clone Stamp Tool basically allows you to recreate (or clone) a specific part of your image in a different location – this is really handy for cleaning up images or getting rid of unwanted graphics/text.

Select the Clone Stamp Tool (S) and you will notice that the pointer icon will turn into a crosshair if you hold down the ALT (on PC) key.  To select the area you want to clone, hover over it and click whilst holding down the alt key.  In our case we will pick the area directly to the right of the corner.  Now all we have to do is draw over the corner and hey presto, we now have a uniform background!  It sounds a little complicated but it really isn’t, experiment with it and you’ll get the hang of it quickly.

Although it is a decent photo, the colors do look a little washed out and don’t really do the guitar justice, so let’s try and give it that wow-factor.  The first thing we’ll need to do is isolate the guitar from the rest of the image (i.e the table) and to do this we will use our old friend the Polygonal Lasso Tool.  If you are unsure about how to use this tool take a look at my earlier Photoshop tutorial on working with selections.  We could start processing the photo without any selections but doing it this way would also alter the table color which would draw attention away from the guitar.  The idea here is to have the background color as unassuming as possible in order to make the guitar look even more impressive.

Let’s get the tedious work out of the way quickly – using the Polygonal Lasso Tool trace a path around the guitar as best you can.  When you’ve done this you can save your selection path in case you need to recall it later on (Select > Save Selection).

guitar photoshop guide making the selection

From now on things get fun (and easier!).  One of the most dramatic ways we can change the quality of the photo is to alter its Color Curves (Image > Adjustments > Curves). Open the curves menu and experiment by dragging the curve around to see what effect it has on your image.  I’d recommend trying a similar shape to the one below however.  This will help accent all of the main colors of the guitar and is already giving the image a more professional look.  Don’t worry if it’s a little dark at the moment, we will fix that later.

guitar photoshop guide adjusting the curves

For the next part I have removed the neck area from the selection to avoid over-saturating the inlays and frets, but i’m a perfectionist – don’t feel you have to do this also.  Head back into the same adjustments menu but this time choose the Vibrance option.  Moving the sliders to the right will really make the colors of the guitar pop but be careful not to overdo it as it’s easy to over-saturate the image.  I set the vibrance all the way to 100 and bumped up the saturation very slightly.

guitar photoshop guide adjusting the vibrance

Looks much better now doesn’t it?  You could leave it like this, but for the sake of completeness let’s make those greens really stand out by toning down the background color a little.  If you hit CTRL+Shift+I you will invert the current selection which will effectively select everything but the guitar i.e. the entire background in this case.  Head back into your Vibrance option in the adjustments menu and this time experiment with moving the sliders left to dull down the table colors.  You could take it all the way to black and white to really make the guitar stand out but I’ve settled with keeping a little color in the background.  Check out the before and after images below.

guitar photoshop guide starting image for comparison

guitar photoshop guide finished guitar image

You cannot say that isn’t a massive improvement can you?  For that little extra finesse I even added a tiny lens flare effect on the metal bridge.  You can find this option in the Lens Flare menu (Filter > Render > Lens Flare).

I’m guessing that if you followed this tutorial entirely you’ve just lost an hour of your evening, but rest-assured once you get the hang of it this is a 10 minute job at best.  I hope you’ll agree that the skills here are worthwhile knowing.  You can of course be far more creative with your work (especially if you shoot RAW!), but these tips should serve as a good introduction.  Once you’ve mastered these skills the world is truly your oyster and it shouldn’t be too difficult to take any photo and give it that professional touch.

If you manage to create something stunning let us see your work, leave us a link in the comments or upload a photo to the FaceBook Page!

8 Comments »

  1. Dave Philips September 11, 2010 at 8:35 pm - Reply

    Hey, really cool guide. Seems fairly straightforward and makes such a difference! We have Photoshop at college so I'm going to try this out next time i'm in the studio! I guess it will take me a while though, I've never really used photoshop much lol.

    • LeftyFretz September 12, 2010 at 10:28 am - Reply

      You'll get the hang of it really quickly Dave – there's a lot of stuff to read here but that's only because I was trying to explain everything in enough detail that anything could follow it. Realistically, making the selection around the guitar was the only part than took some time.

  2. Akshay January 31, 2011 at 5:27 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this superb article Neal! Photoshop is awesome! Tried the techniques above on some guitar pics, and the result was amazing. After doing the colour curves I was impressed. But after adjusting the vibrance n saturation the result was jawdropping! :D Just one question, if I make mistake, or select another tool, or double-click by mistake, the selection that I've painstakingly done goes waste, how do you "save your selection"??

    • Neal January 31, 2011 at 6:11 pm - Reply

      Wicked, glad you found it useful Akshay. If you check out the first Photoshop article I did (link above) it will tell you how to save a selection path.

      In a nutshell, you go to the 'Select' menu, and there should be an option in there called 'Save Selection' or something along those lines. You can then recall your selection later the same way, but by choosing 'Load Selection'. Alternatively you can press CTRL+Z to undo one action, or CTRL + ALT + Z to keep taking steps backward – although taking steps backward obviously erases whatever you've done to the photo as well.

      When you're playing with the saturation you need to be careful not to overdo it – what looks good on one screen may look comical on another! I've got one really nice graphics monitor and one cheapo just to be sure whatever I do looks ok.

      But yeah, nothing more annoying than painstakingly clicking out a selection only to lose it at the last hurdle. I'm guessing we'll see some more photos soon from you on facebook :P

      • Akshay February 1, 2011 at 5:44 am - Reply

        Ahh I see thanks! Yup you probably will, perhaps I could post the "photoshopped" one side by side with the original to show the real effects of this article! :p

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