Zoom blur of railroad tracks in fog
Zoom blur of railroad tracks in fog, tripod used – 1/6th second – ISO 50 – f/29

Zoom Blurs – Intentional Camera Movement

Intentional Camera Movement

There are a few basic variations on the concept of intentional camera movement (ICM). One of the easier ones to get good results with are zoom blurs. The idea of intentional camera movement is based on the idea that images do not have to be in focus to be a great image. Intentional camera movement can create some amazing abstract effects in an image. Sometimes it will be clear what is in the image, while other times, it can feel like abstract art.

Basics of zoom blurs

The most basic way to do a zoom blur is to keep your camera body steady, while you zoom your lens. Keeping your camera steady can be done easily with a tripod, but hand held is not difficult. It just takes some practice and steady hands. I do suggest starting with a tripod initially to get the feel of the zoom blur effect first. Then as you get accustomed to the process, you can see how it goes hand held. Remember, the image will be blurred, so a little movement of the camera body usually doesn’t hurt the image.

Key to effective zoom blurs

The real key to creating an effective zoom blur with intentional camera movement, is your shutter speed. You need it to be slow in comparison to your subject. If you are trying to create a zoom blur of flowers in decent light, then you will likely need to get your shutter speed down in the range of 1/10th to 1/20th second. The amount of available light can greatly impact the shutter speed needed.

If you are considering a zoom blur of something in motion, your shutter speed will need to be faster to be ‘slow’ relative to the speed of the subject. Zoom blurs with moving subjects is generally a bit more advanced, but possible. I do recommend getting the feel of a zoom blur with stationary subjects before trying to capture something in motion. A zoom blur of a moving object really adds a panning blur, while zooming.

Zoom and panning blur
Combined zoom and panning blur – 1/4th second – ISO 100 – f/32

Take more than one image

Getting the timing right for a good zoom blur can be challenging. Initially, it can take 50 or more frames to capture a single zoom blur that you are truly happy with. To get the feel of it, be sure to take at least 50 frames, but taking 100 frames is even better practice! Because your shutter speed needs to be slow, be sure to set your camera up to take multiple continuous images. You want to be able to press the trigger the entire time you are zooming your lens. Depending on the size of zoom lens you have, the rate at which you are zooming, and the speed of your camera, you may take 2-5 frames with a single zoom effort. Once you get the feel of the timing for a zoom blur, getting images you are happy with will take far fewer frames.

Zooming your lens

When you are zooming your lens, the action needs to be smooth and steady. This is where working with a tripod initially can be very helpful, so you don’t have to concern yourself with trying to steady the camera while zooming the lens. The smoother your zoom, the better chance you have for quality zoom blurs. Most lenses will zoom with a twist. You need to get a feel for how far your lens rotates as you are zooming. You want to zoom it from one extreme to the other. Fully in to fully extended. OR! Fully extended to fully in. Both will have a different look in the final image. 

Pause and zoom

A fun variation of zoom blurs can be done by pausing for a moment before zooming your lens. This captures the scene without a zoom, and then superimposes the zoom on top of the still image. This takes some added practice and timing, but the results can be quite interesting. The end result is almost like taking multiple exposures, with a single frame.

Zoom pause blur
Pause and Zoom – 1.3 second exposure with approx 1 second pause – ISO 320 – f/10

Take your time and practice

Zoom blurs are not rocket science. They just take some practice, paying attention to your shutter speed, and how fast you are zooming. Take your time, practice, and most of all, have fun with it!