How to create the ZOOM Blur effect!

We love being a little bit creative with our photography and although many special effects can be created in software these days it is always rewarding when you can achieve them in-camera instead.

The ‘Zoom Blur’ effect is a technique we show on almost all of our photo walks and workshops. It is a fun and pretty simple effect that adds motion and action to your photography. The effect can produce an interesting and creative feel that gives your image a unique look. It is a versatile effect that can be used during the day or night on just about any subject.

The technique is created by changing the focal length while the shutter is open. It can be a bit tricky when you first attempt it, however, with a little practice, you can capture some great zoom blur effects.

Don’t own a zoom lens that allows for this effect? Check out the end of the post for other ways to create similar blur effects.

1/10 sec | f/4 | ISO 800

10 sec | f/10 | ISO 100

Gear Required

This is probably one of the cheapest effects you can do with the gear that you already own. All you will need is a zoom lens, any focal range will do, however, a longer zoom (e.g. 24-70 or 18-200) range will create more noticeable results. The following items will make it far easier to achieve the effect

  • Tripod: Although you can do this effect hand-holding a camera, a tripod can also come in handy and makes applying the effect a lot easier. Check out the range of tripods for any budget here.
  • ND Filters: Depending on how bright it is, an ND filter* or Variable ND filter* will also help to reduce the amount of light to obtain a slow enough exposure. A C-PL (polarizing filter)* may do the trick as well.
  • Remote: If using a tripod you can use a remote which lets you concentrate more on the smooth movement of the zoom.

* We strongly recommend GOBE Filters. They are reasonably priced and great quality. To purchase, click on the banner below and use ‘widescenes‘ at checkout to receive a further 15% discount.

Choosing a Subject

As mentioned, any subject works with this technique, however, it works particularly well when there is a central element in the shot or patterns (lines, circles, etc) that can be used to enhance the effect. Shots taken at night with lights and colour provide great results as well. 

Luna Park SydneyLuna Park Sydney

Before: 1/5 sec | f/7.1 | ISO 200  –  After: 1/2 sec | f/7.1 | ISO 200

TIP! 

For best results use a tripod. This will provide sharper images (in the centre) and allow for longer exposures either at night or when using an ND filter.

Camera Settings to Use!

We find that the best camera mode to shoot in is Shutter-Priority Mode (S, Tv) during daylight hours. In this mode, you choose the shutter speed and the camera will choose a corresponding aperture based on the ISO setting. If you are confident using Manual Mode (M)  then this will work just as well. Manual Mode may be preferable for shots taken at night.

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Hand-held Settings

Using this technique while hand-holding the camera can be a little tricky to master as you need a fast enough shutter speed for some centre sharpness but also enough time to zoom the lens during the exposure. As a result, there is more chance of camera movement during the process of zooming when hand-holding at slower shutter speeds and zooming at the same time but with a little practice, you can achieve some great results.

  • Camera Mode: S/Tv or M
  • ISO: Start at 100 (lowest possible) and increase if needed. Alternatively use AUTO-ISO.
  • Shutter Speed: The shutter speed should be as slow as you can handhold. To start with you may want to use a setting around 1/15th. Depending on how steady you are, this can be as slow as 1/2 sec. Remember this will all depend on how much light is available.
  • Aperture: This will depend on the shooting mode you are using;
    • In Manual Mode (M) you will need to select a suitable aperture to ensure the best exposure, this will depend on the amount of available light. If it is bright, use the smallest apertures f16-f/22 and refer to the over/under compensation bar and adjust exposure accordingly.
    • In Shutter-Priority (S, Tv), your camera will choose the appropriate aperture to obtain the best exposure based on the available light. If it cannot find one, the camera will give you an exposure warning and the aperture will start to flash or turn RED when you half-press the shutter button. The camera will, however, still be able to take the shot. The warning means that the exposure will be too bright based on the shutter speed and ISO selected.
    • Regardless of the shooting mode, if you are not able to obtain the desirable exposure (because there is too much available light) then you will need to use an ND Filter (or Polarizer filter) to reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor.

1/30 sec | f/22 | ISO 50

1/15 sec | f/22 | ISO 100

Tripod Settings

When using a tripod the shutter speed can be as slow as required depending on the amount of light available. If it is dark enough or you are using an ND filter to reduce the amount of light then consider the settings below.

  • Camera Mode: S/Tv or M
  • ISO: Start at 100 (lowest possible) and increase if needed.
  • Shutter Speed: The shutter speed should be as slow as required. In low light or at night, use a shutter speed of 0.5 to 2 seconds (or more if required), again it all depends on the amount of available light.
  • Aperture: This will depend on the shooting mode you are using;
    • In Manual Mode (M) you will need to select the suitable aperture to ensure the best exposure, this will depend on the amount of light. In low light use an aperture around f/8 and in bright conditions, you may need to use f/22. Either way, refer to the cameras over/under compensation bar and adjust accordingly.
    • In Shutter-Priority Mode (S, Tv), your camera will choose the aperture to obtain the best exposure. If it cannot find one, the camera will give you an exposure warning and the aperture will start to flash or turn RED when you half-press the shutter button. You will still, however, be able to take the shot. The warning means that the exposure will be too bright based on the shutter speed and ISO selected.
    • Regardless of the shooting mode, if you are not able to obtain the desirable exposure (because there is to much available light) then you will need to use an ND Filter (or Polarizer filter) to reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor.

1/2 sec | f/4 | ISO 500

1/15 sec | f/22 | ISO 100

Taking the shot

As mentioned above,  it may be a little tricky if hand-holding the camera, however, the technique is quite simple. All you need to do is set your focal length at its widest on the lens. For example if the lens you are using is a 24-70mm zoom;

  • set the focal length to 24mm
  • focus on the main subject
  • press your shutter button and while the shutter is open ZOOM lens through the focal length 24-70mm as smoothly as possible without moving the camera.

The speed at which you zoom will depend on the length of your exposure (faster for shorter exposure time, slower for long exposures). Alternatively start at the 70mm and zoom out while the shutter is open.

That’s it, you just need to practice zooming to master the technique.

Don’t Have a Zoom, No Worries

If you do not own a zoom lens or your zoom is only a very short focal range then you can apply a similar effect using editing software. The effect can be reproduced in pretty much any editing software that has a Blur Effect for motion, radial or zoom. Below are three application that we occasionally use that you are able to apply this effect. It’s a quick process in all three applications: –

 

  • ON1 Photo RAW
    • Open the image
    • Click on ‘Edit’ and select ‘Effects’
    • Click on ‘Add Filter’ and choose ‘Blur’
    • Choose ‘Radial’ under the Type section and use the sliders to achieve the desired results
  • Topaz Studio
    • Open the image
    • Click on ‘Add Filter’
    • Select ‘Motion Blur’ under the CREATIVE filters section
    • Choose ‘ZOOM’ under the Type section and use the intensity slider to achieve the desired results
  • Photoshop
    • Open the image
    • From the Menu choose ‘Filter’
    • The select ‘Blur’ – ‘Radial Blur’ from the dropdown
    • This will open a new panel. choose ‘ZOOM’ under the Blur method and adjust the Quality and Amount slider to achieve the desired results then click OK

ON1, Topaz Studio & Photoshop can be used as stand-alone applications or as a plug-in for Lightroom Classic. To find out more about them, click on the links above and don’t forget to check out our Deals page for a discount code to use if purchasing.

ON1 Photo RAW 2020

Other techniques you can try

The following techniques work well whether you have a zoom or prime lens. They are just a few more ways to get creative: –
 

  • Swirl/Turn (below): This has similar settings as mentioned above. Instead of zooming, you add motion by turning the camera while the shutter is open.

1/8 sec | f/22 | ISO 250

1/4 sec | f/8 | ISO 100

Peak Design Travel Tripod
  • Up/Down (below): Again, this technique has similar settings as mentioned above. Instead of zooming, you add motion by moving the camera up (or down) while the shutter is open.

1/30 sec | f/11 | ISO 100

1/8 sec | f/14 | ISO 125

1/10 sec | f/13 | ISO 100

  • Left/Right (below): Similar to the up/Down technique, you add motion by moving the camera from left to right or vice-versa while the shutter is open.

1/2 sec | f/16 | ISO 100

10 sec | f/11 | ISO 100  | 10st ND filter

We hope you have enjoyed learning about these techniques. If you have any comments or questions about this post, we’d love to hear from you. 

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