Essence of Photography: Zoom Blur

What is a zoom blur and how can you create it with your camera?

December 30, 2021

Within long exposure photography, there are several different kinds of techniques such as adding motion to your photos, and panning.

A zoom blur is a little more challenging however as it works best with the right kind of lens and camera. You also may want to use a tripod and even a flash to get a certain type of effect.

Still, the premise is fairly straight forward. If you have already been using a longer shutter speed for other long exposure photography, you set your camera in a similar way.

The shutter speed does not have to be that slow to get the effect. This forest image was taken at 1/8" and is a subtle zoom blur that adds some motion to the image.

You don't have to get too fancy to try this technique. Just set a longer exposure (1/10" or slower for example) point at a subject, and try to spin the zoom wheel just after you click to take the photo. You might find that even if it doesn't look as you envisioned, you can still get some cool effects. This is a great technique to experiment and see what creative results come out of the camera.

Tunnel Vision

You can get more extreme effects if you use even longer exposures.

For an 8 second exposure for example, you are going to hold the camera still and count to 4, then spin the zoom ring on the lens in or out. The photo will look like there are two of the same subject but one is larger than the other, connected by a tunnel effect.

This is because you are essentially taking two photos of the same subject at different focal lengths. A wider angle version and a zoomed in version which makes them appear as one larger and one smaller in the frame. The way you spin the zoom control on the lens will determine how the "tunnel" effect looks. And if you shake the camera a lot in the process, the subjects may blur up or down as well.

If you use a tripod, you can create a better quality "tunnel" with no up or down movement.

Flash Plus Zoom Blur

If you have already learned about freezing action, you may recall that a flash can freeze a subject in your photo. This principle works well with a zoom blur because you can freeze part of the image, but the zoom blur will be more prominent in another part. This has a special name in photography, it is called, "Dragging the Shutter".

One of the best ways to practice this is with Christmas lights. If you find a subject with lights behind, you can set your camera for a long exposure with a flash, then zoom the lens as you click the photo. This should create a static subject (like the dog below) but the lights make squiggly lines.

The image below was a one second shutter plus a flash with a quick spin of the zoom-in dial on the lens to create the effect.

More Examples

Here are a few more examples of in-camera zoom blur photography to give you ideas of what to photograph with this technique.

Cheating With an App

While getting a zoom blur in the camera is a good objective to master your skills, you can also fake the effect in an image editing program by using something like a "Radial Blur" filter. The effect may look similar but you don't get the satisfaction of learning how to create effects in-camera.

Essence of Photography is a series of tips, tutorials, and visual inspiration on a variety of photography skills and techniques.

You can practice these skills and more by purchasing a deck of Photo Cards from Zoom In Reach Out, a non-profit with a mission of teaching to see the world from a different perspective.

All photos in this article were posted to the Aminus3 Photography Community and are copyrighted by their respective photographers.

Click on any photo to see a larger version or to leave a comment for the photographer.

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TOPICS: essence of photography

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