Photographic Style Experiment: Zoom Blur – 31 Days To Better Photography

It’s time to start putting the last weeks’ worth of information into practice.

As the month winds down (HINT: There will be more than 31 days of posts) I am going to start posting some experiments for you to try. None of these is anything super grandiose in and of itself, but I’m planning on them leading you to think critically about what is happening in the image and camera as you shoot the experiments yourself. Then, with practice, the ideas become embedded in your photographic mastermind as to be recalled years from now without even having to think about them. You’ll see a situation and know what to do, automatically. That comes with experimenting and practice. These 31 days are just the start.

Today’s experiment is zoom blur. It’s a fun tactic that is simple to try and, with practice, can make some interesting images.

For this experiment you will need:

  • Camera
  • Zoom Lens
  • Tripod (optional)
  • Patience or Patients, because you can zoom on them too

The idea is simple:

  • Choose a mildly slow shutter speed
  • Choose an aperture to let in enough light or to block out enough light if it is day time
  • Use a tripod if you have one
  • After pressing the shutter release, zoom your lens in or out, depending on which end you started with.

The idea is to make a nice smooth zoom. Trying this experiment at night works best because the lights of a city, house, headlights, headlamp, whatever will streak and can make for a 3D like effect. And everyone loves 3D. Yes they do.

Here’s one example I shot last night for the fun of it. I had previous experimented and learned that 1.6 second worked well for this image off the back of a Washington State Ferryboat looking towards the lights on shore, but after taking some other shots, and changing my settings, I go the image you see below when I tried to use 1.6 seconds. Can you figure out why?

Manual Exposure Mode, ISO 2000, 28mm, f/16, 1.6 seconds, no flash

Figure it out? The f-stop is too high. f/16 is not letting in that much light.  At first I thought it was just from the lack of flash, which I had also been playing with (you’ll see why in a minute). So I turned on the built-in flash. Will things improve?

Manual Exposure Mode, ISO 2000, 28mm, f/16, 1.6 seconds, flash fires

The foreground received some help from the flash, but it’s still too dark. What would you do in this situation to bring out more of the distant lights?

Manual Exposure Mode, ISO 2000, 28mm, f/5, 1.6 seconds, no flash

I remembered I had set the aperture high for an interior shot where there was too much light. Moving it back down to f/5 let it ample light. But, as I am handholding, the foreground sign is a bit too blurred for my liking. How to improve that? Punch it up by using the built-on flash to highlight it. As such:

Manual Exposure Mode, ISO 2000, 28mm, f/5, 1.6 seconds, flash fires

Now the sign is a bit more obvious while the city lights are more streaked. This was a full range zoom, from 28mm to 300mm. There’s no need to go the full length of the zoom. Play around with what works for you.  For instance, here’s another shot of the interior of the car deck.

Manual Exposure Mode, ISO 2000, 28mm, f/16, 1.6 seconds, no flash

Not exactly a work of art, but fun to play with, nonetheless.

Some people hate it, some people love it. Don’t worry too much what other people think and shoot what you like to see. And if you get a good result, post a link in the comment section below. I’d like to see it.

31 Days To Better Photography is a series written by professional photographer Peter West Carey on The Carey Adventures.Com. The series is designed to unravel the mysteries of photography so you can take better pictures. Subscribe here to receive all the updates, and bonus material, all month long. Your comments are always welcome.

8 Replies to “Photographic Style Experiment: Zoom Blur – 31 Days To Better Photography”

  1. frederic

    Great article !
    I’m a bit confuse with the speed. You wrote 1.6 second and after you wrote 1/6 and for me this is not the same.
    1.6 second should be 1″6 and 1/6 should be 0.166 second.
    Could you please help me on that.

    Now about the flash, by default it’s set up on the 1st curtain. Is this why the foreground is “clear” and only the background have this zoom blur “effect” ? if you went from 28mm to 300mm.

    Thanks a lot for all these sharing/teaching !
    Keep capturing great memories and have fun!

    • Peter West Carey Post author

      First….ACK! You caught me. That was a typo, now changed to 1.6 second. You were absolutely correct.

      On the foreground. In essence, yes. The flash fired and then I zoomed and the foreground was out of the picture, so it doesn’t have as much zoom.

  2. tl wood

    Here is one of my attempts.
    (I couldn’t get the pretty light traces because it is daytime on this side of the world)
    there was too much light to take outside but taking a pic of the outside from the inside seemed to work quite well, I thought.

    Manual Exp: 0.6 Aperture: f/20 ISO: 125 Focal length: 18mm
    Canon 50D EFS 18-200

  3. Lanora

    Hey Peter! Here are a few zoom blur shots I took a few years ago at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont, onboard the Steamship Ticonderoga. Fun!

  4. Lanora

    Oops… forgot to add exif details.

    Shot back in June 2006:

    Shot 1 – Exposure 0.3 sec, Aperture F4, ISO 400, Focal length 21mm
    Shot 2 – 0.8 sec at F6.3, ISO 400, Focal length 200mm
    Shot 3 – 0.4 sec at F4.5, ISO 400, Focal length 28mm

    Canon Rebel XT, 18-55 kit lens and 70-200L F4


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