Fall Leaves with Zoom Burst

Last winter my friend Jim Ericson, of Superior Imagery, posted an awesome Christmas shot using a technique most often referred to as a “zoom burst.”

superior imagery christmas zoomShortly thereafter I found some amazing fireworks photos done using this technique (which I can’t find again now) and just a few weeks ago the local photography Facebook page included a picture of fall leaves done using this technique.

In other words, I could have done some online research and learned how to create this effect. Of course, I would have to remember that I want to try this BEFORE I am standing in the woods at Banning State Park on a perfect fall day.

Since I hadn’t thought about it in advance, I improvised.

Experimenting with zoom bursts

First I tried slowing down the shutter speed (1/13 of a second) and shooting directly up into a colorful clump of trees, hand-holding the camera while twisting the zoom lens.

Here is a straight shot:

Zoomburst at Banning State Park - ExplorationVacation.netA little zoom:

Zoom burst at Banning State Park in Minnesota - ExplorationVacation.netA shot I like:

Zoom Burst at Banning State Park in Minnesota - ExplorationVacation.netThere were a couple total failures in there too, but still, I thought it worked pretty well. I learned a few things too:

  • My zoom doesn’t turn smoothly
  • It’s easy to overexpose an image using this technique
  • I need a slower shutter speed to get more range on my zoom

I got out the tripod, set the shutter speed at 1/8 to 1/3 of a second (anything slower would be over-exposed), and tried again with a different set of trees.

- ExplorationVacation.net - ExplorationVacation.net - ExplorationVacation.net- ExplorationVacation.net - ExplorationVacation.netZoom Burst at Banning State Park in Minnesota - ExplorationVacation.netThe tripod gave me more flexibility and more shots that worked, but I was pleased to realize that I could do this even if I didn’t have my tripod.

My next experiment was a disaster, but it taught me a few things, for example, that over-exposing an image and having a too dominant line running through the image are both problems.

PlayingWithPhotography failed zoom experiment collage of bad zoom jpgs(Yes, I know there was no good excuse for not getting the exposure right to begin with, but switching between straight shots and zoom bursts kept tripping me up exposure-wise.)

That failure was almost enough to make me give up, but instead I found a more densely wooded area with more even lighting and a mix of vertical lines.

Zoom Burst at Banning State Park in Minnesota - ExplorationVacation.netThis scene presented its own challenges, as all those vertical lines emphasized the fact that I can’t twist my lens smoothly.

Zoom Burst at Banning State Park in Minnesota - ExplorationVacation.netStill, I got at least one image I liked.

Zoom burst at Banning State Park in Minnesota - ExplorationVacation.netSome scenes work better than others, and I was pleased with this set:

Zoom Burst at Banning State Park in Minnesota - ExplorationVacation.net zoom burst at Banning State Park in Minnesota - ExplorationVacation.net zoom burst at Banning State Park in Minnesota - ExplorationVacation.netWhat did I learn?

Getting the right exposure using this technique is really hard. I was auto metering and a lot of my images were over-exposed (too washed out). I compensated by resetting my camera to under-expose a bit.

Straight lines like tree-trunks can get weird, less geometric objects are easier to shoot.

My 24-120 lens (my favorite outdoors lens) is sticky – I can’t rotate it smoothly. I will have to use a different lens if I really want to do this successfully.

In violation of all the information I’ve seen thus far, hand-holding at a relatively fast shutter speed (1/20 and below) gave me an acceptable image. Holding down the shutter and letting it shoot continuously allowed me to continually twist the lens up and down its full range. Doing so actually made it EASIER to move my sticky lens slowly and smoothly, while providing a pleasing amount of blur.

It’s important to focus on something interesting (not a tree trunk). This would be even more important if I had locked my focus to keep it dead on.

It’s also important to watch for especially bright or dark areas that will change from an interesting detail to a distracting blob (red leaves).

Zoom Burst at Banning State Park in Minnesota - ExplorationVacation.netI think there is a lot more I can do with this technique. Besides trying different lenses, I want to see what happens if I add a flash and figure out how to lock my focus. And, of course, I want to try it on a few other subjects.

A Perfect Fall Afternoon at Banning State Park (at ExplorationVacation)
Motion Sickness or How Much Zoom Burst is Too Much?
Processing zoom burst images: How much clarity?