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.”
Shortly 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:
- 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.
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.
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.
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).
I 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?