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Zooming with the Shutter Open for Special Effects in Your Photos

written by: digitaldan1•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 11/25/2009

Creating a zoom effect with your digital camera is easy. You can do it without using special effects software or special filters. All it takes is a zoom lens and a slow shutter speed and maybe a tripod.

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    Introduction

    While creating special effects on the computer with an image editing program or via special effects filters is popular these days, some effects don't take any special extras. You can create them with just your camera and a little technique. Creating a zoom effect is one of those and it's really pretty easy to do. All you need is a DSLR camera with a zoom lens. It's helpful if you also have a decent tripod, but you can do it without one.

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    A 1/10th of a second shutter speed and slow zoom.A 1/3rd of a second shutter speed and slow zoom.
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    Image Descriptions

    For both photos, the camera was mounted on a tripod and I began zooming the lens before tripping the shutter. I also deliberately over exposed each image by about one f-stop to get an even slower shutter speed to heighten the zoom effect. I then corrected for the overexposure via RAW conversion. I wouldn't have tried this if I were only shooting in jpg format.

    Lisa held extra still for the zoom effect photo of her standing under a gazebo. I posed her there to put her in shade and get an even slower shutter speed and more pronounced zoom effect.

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    Using this Camera Technique

    First, choose a scene that you think will look good with this effect. City lights and skyscrapers work well and so do flowers, but there are lots of possible subjects. Set your camera to a slow shutter speed (1/8 of a second with slower being even better). This is where the tripod comes in handy. Since you're working with a slow shutter speed and zooming the lens the possibility of blur from camera shake is very high. A stable shooting platform will reduce the effects of camera shake.

    Before trying the shot, make sure to practice a few slow zooms. The smoother you can make the zooming motion, the better the result will be. Push-pull zooms are easier to use for this technique, but twist ring zooms can also work well with some practice. Make sure you make multiple efforts since it can be hard to get the technique just right without practice. Also, start the zooming action before tripping the shutter. If you're photographing a human being, caution them to remain as still as they can since the slow shutter speed will cause any movement by the subject to result in movement blur.

    If you don't have a tripod, try to find some kind of stable surface like a table or wall to brace the camera on since that will help keep the camera steadier.

    For a different kind of effect, try combining this technique with dragging the shutter. Your flash will fire at the beginning of the exposure and produce a strong start to the image while the ambient light will register a less pronounced zoom effect.