Tired of the same old shots? Want to add a cool effect without any post processing? Zoom blur may be just the ticket. With just your DSLR and a kit lens, you can take some creative photos that break the traditional mold. Use this fun technique to produce unique results and enhance your portfolio. Zoom on!
[ Top image It's coming right at us by Flickr user RobertFrancis]
What is Zoom Blur?
You may have seen this effect as a menu choice in photo editing software, but zoom blur is also something you can do in camera. This effect adds the appearance of motion to a photo, and the result is an object of focus with motion lines radiating from it. You do this by zooming while your shutter is open. Yep, you do this by changing the focal length as you are taking the picture. You can zoom in or out for different effects.
Bringing Me Down by Flickr user Sean Davis
If you have been cussing that kit lens (likely an 18-55mm), put it to good use with this technique. In fact, if you have a more expensive zoom lens with a larger focal length range, you may find all that zoom creates too much motion and only a partial zoom may be in order. On this occasion a prime lens will not work well. (You can actually try this with a fixed focal length lens by moving your feet to zoom, but I don't recommend it, unless you have the coordination of an Olympian!) Moving your feet only adds to the issue of camera shake we will discuss below. If you do have a tripod, it is handy for this trick.
How To Do It
The key to this effect is to use a relatively slow shutter speed. You will need to experiment and could start out around 1/30, but you will likely need to go quite a bit slower like 1/8 or even a full second. You can do this in shutter priority (Tv) mode or shooting in manual. You are working with a long exposure, so that is why a tripod is so helpful. This type of photo is somewhat blurry by nature, but you don't want utter chaos so try to keep your camera as still as possible. If you do not have an actual tripod then improvise and try to set up with your camera on a stable surface.
impact by Flickr user Daniel Kulinski
It also helps if the subject of your photo is stationary. Trying to photograph a moving subject with an added zoom creates a lot of motion in the picture. You can experiment, but you may find there is just too much going on! Also try to place the focal point in the center of your frame. Normally, you want to shed quite a bit of light on your subject but low lighting is actually helpful for this technique. The reason is that you need to minimize the amount of light in the photo in order to avoid overexposure at a slow shutter speed. That's why most of the zoom blur photos you see are at night. You can try narrowing your aperture to f/22 and using a low ISO setting like 100. Even at such a narrow aperture, you may still find that too much light is getting in. Consider the conditions when you are setting up your photo. A bright, sunny day actually makes this more difficult.
You may zoom out or zoom in while the shutter is open. If you have a 18-55mm lens you can zoom over the entire range. If you have a longer lens, like a 28-200, you will probably find a partial zoom works better. Try a reverse zoom, from out to in, to give the illusion of the object moving away from you. You can pause mid zoom for added effect. What the camera is "seeing" during the pause will be the strongest part of your composition. You can also try adding a burst of flash to "freeze" your subject and add sharpness to the image.
You can try this technique with any subject, but like I mentioned previously you should start with something that holds relatively still. Lights are a great choice and create an awesome effect. Your photos will look like something out of a Star Wars battle scene.
Zoomblur by Flickr user 96dpi
Architectural features and flowers are also interesting subjects for added zoom blur. People are a little trickier because they will be slightly out of focus and skewed, which goes against all the rules of standard portrait photography, and may bother you. If the person's face will show, make that the focus of your composition and make an effort to have sharp focus on their eyes. If you are after an edgier, more abstract look then give this a whirl!
This blur was achieved in Photoshop, rather than in-cameraE-Motion by Flickr user left-hand
Now that you've seen some of the cool, creative effects you can create with zoom blur it is time to get out and give it a try. No complicated techniques here. Snap on that zoom lens, stabilize your camera, slow down the shutter speed, click, and zoom away! Many of your photos will be junk, but with a little trial and error and a heap of practice you will get a few keepers. If you like the unconventional, give this technique a try and create your own work of abstract art.
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