The Zoom Effect

Images captured using the zoom effect are identifiable by motion lines, which make the subject matter appear to be moving away or towards you. Essentially, the technique involves zooming the camera lens in or out in one even motion whilst taking the photo, but there are a number of things to be aware of in order to capture a successful zoom effect image.

As you’ll need to use a longer exposure time than normal it’s advisable to use a tripod. This is to ensure that the subject matter is as sharp as possible and also that the motion lines are even. A good tip is to begin zooming before pressing the shutter button, which will help to ensure smooth motion lines.

Some of the more successful zoom effect images are taken at night where lights of various colours and intensity can create interesting effects. Taking photos at night also has the added benefit of allowing longer exposure times that are required for this method of photography.

Try taking some test shots initially using an exposure time of approximately 1s, take a look at the results and adjust the shutter speed accordingly depending on the effect you’re looking for. Adjusting the shutter speed and also the speed at which you rotate the lens can produce a variety of results.

Using the zoom technique over a limited focal length is recommended, I would suggest a maximum range of up to 100mm achieves the best effect. If I were to use this technique with my 70-300mm lens and rotate through the full range, the motion lines would be too extreme and it would also be more difficult to maintain smooth motion lines.

However, following convention doesn’t always produce the best results. There are a number of alternative methods to experiment with that can create more interesting images. Try pausing the zoom whilst taking the photo - this can be done either at the start, midway or at the end of the zoom process. This means that the point at which you pause will appear clearer in the photo than the rest of the image. Another option is to rotate the camera whilst simultaneously zooming and pressing the shutter button, which will create radial motion lines.

When I visited New York, I wanted to capture an image of Times Square that portrayed the vibrant colours, bright lights and the bustling atmosphere. I considered a long exposure with vehicle light trails, but in my opinion it didn’t quite fit the bill and had already been done many times before. Following some reading on the zoom effect, I decided to give it a try on my trip. I set my camera on a tripod and set the shutter speed to 1/5s as I found that this worked best through the focal length range on my 14-42mm lens. To give the scene a sense of place, I used the iconic yellow NYC taxi cab, without it I think it would be difficult to determine where the photo was taken.

There’s no right or wrong way to use the zoom effect technique, have fun with it and experiment. As with everything in photography, it’s only with lots of practice that you’ll become familiar with the technique and the variety of effects that can be captured.