How to Take Photos with the Zoom Blur Effect [Includes Printable Cheat Sheet]

How to Take Photos with the Zoom Blur Effect [Includes Printable Cheat Sheet]


I was walking around London recently with my camera and I got a bit bored, as I had been wandering by the same part of the city a thousand times, waiting for inspiration. To make it more fun I thought I would try experimenting with long shutter speeds. All of a sudden things got interesting and before I knew it a few hours had passed by.
Here is an article on how to do slow shutter zoom photography. Photography, like many things in life, is easy once you know how. Here is my 6-point guide to creating these impressive effects (there is also a cheat sheet at the bottom of the post that you can print and take with you as a reminder of how to do it).


1. Control the Zoom

The main principle to taking these types of shots is really quite simple. Once you have set your camera to a slow shutter speed, you press the shutter release button whilst simultaneously zooming either in or out and this will automatically distort your pictures.
One of the best things to do is to play around with different zoom techniques as you will discover the best ways to dramatically change the effect of your photographs. Try zooming at different speeds – go from fast to slow or stop half way through for a split second. If you have a camera with a wide zoom range, for example 28-300 mm, you might want to alter the zoom in a more controlled manner otherwise you might get more distortion than is desirable.


2. Watch out for the Light

Although the secret to creating these types of photographs is to have a slow shutter speed, this will only work well in dim lighting and on overcast days. When the sun is out you might well find this technique near impossible to achieve, this is due to over exposure. The problem is easy to combat, to an extent, by increasing the aperture value to as high as it will go. For example, if you set the aperture on your camera to F32 this will make the hole in your lens very small, automatically reducing the amount of light entering the camera. It is also better to have your ISO down low.  Try setting it at around 100 as this actually makes the sensor in your camera less sensitive to light, therefore, when the shutter is open your photograph will not be over exposed.

3. Keep the Camera Still

This is a no brainer but it really does pay to keep the camera as still as possible – this is easer said than done though as you inevitably move your hand when you turn the zoom. Try twisting the zoom smoothly and not snatch at the controls. This might take a bit of practice but it will definitely pay off. Get in a comfy position and try to support yourself and your camera using whatever is available. This will enable you to get the best possible results.


4. Shutter Priority Mode

Putting your camera in shutter priority is a good place to start with your ISO set to a low value, just turn the dial down to increase the shutter time until you get the results you are looking for. If the light is changing because of the clouds then you will have to tweak shutter speed for the current light levels. I use 1 second as a starting point and then adjust the shutter speed from there up or down to get the results that I want.

5. Let’s go Full Manual

Sometimes you might want to go manual to get the shots you want.  How you set your camera all depends on the light conditions, but if you are shooting on an overcast day you might have a very small aperture, which is a high F number in the 20-30 range, and your ISO very low at 100, which is a similar set-up to the shutter priority mode. I would then set your shutter speed to 1 second as I find this is a great starting point and then you can tweak the shutter speed setting to get the results you like by increasing or decreasing the shutter speed time.

6. Practice

To take effective and interesting blur-effect photographs will initially be a case of trial and error but with a little practice and using the tips I have suggested you will soon get the hang of things. The beauty of learning this technique is that it not only encourages you to use all the different settings but it will ultimately give you a much better understanding of your camera. 

I have enclosed a cheat sheet (below) that you can print off and take with you as a reminder of how to achieve these results. Please use this sheet as a guide only as all the settings will change depending on the light levels, the subject you are shooting and the camera you are using. Click the image below to get the full-sized image.

Lifes a blur how to get blured photos 1.jpg

Read more about the Zoom Effect from another photographers perspective here.

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Some Older Comments

  • Ezra October 16, 2012 06:57 am

    An old trick, but still going strong. :-)

  • Jeff E Jensen September 24, 2012 01:57 am

    This is fun to experiment with, you can get some interesting results.

  • Luke Chapman September 8, 2012 05:57 am

    I hope it helps love to hear how you get on with using it over the weekend.

    Cheers, Luke

  • Martijn September 7, 2012 04:05 pm

    This looks like fun. Will going to give it a bash over the weekend for sure!!

  • Jodi September 7, 2012 10:33 am

    Love the cheat cheet...more please.

  • mholland September 7, 2012 04:24 am!__misc-shots/photostackergallery3=30

  • Dick Parkans September 7, 2012 04:10 am

    Your cheat sheet is a fantastic idea. Thanks

  • Naz September 7, 2012 03:22 am

    I used this technique for the fireworks this year and got soem really cool results- if you want to see them they are on

    I'm not tryign to pimp my site- - I just think you'll really like the technique for fireworks- my shots htough were handheld and do have motion blur to them unfortunately, but in some cases, it enhanced the effect I think- I did a slightly different technique just recently where I zoomed the fine focus ring instead of the larger zoom ring and it gave soem really interestign results too- but I don't have them processed yet- but do take a look at the fireworks photos- these were standard firworks, which bloomed out jyust like any fireworksm, but as you';ll see, the technique completely altered how the fireworks looked. Be sure to view the photos as their largest by clicking o nthe photo and bringign htem into the lgihtbox with hte black background- it makes the photos look a bit better with the dark background

    For the technique, I manual focussed al lthe way out with hte fine focus ring, then when the fireworks exploded, I waited for just a muilesecond, to let it bloom good, then zoomed all the way in fairly quickly- but you'll haqve to experiment with diffrent speeds liek this article states to get different results

  • GariRae September 7, 2012 02:05 am

    Mike st al, so very sorry about the iPhone typo. I obviously meant "shoot at f11". Ahhhhh.

  • GariRae September 7, 2012 02:03 am

    Mike, if you don't shhit smaller than f11, then you're missing images that have full focus DOF, such as land and urban scapes with a close foreground subject and fully focused background. From my reading, LOTS of professionals regularly use apertures up to f22 without noticeable diffraction in the images. Ansel Adams often used f45!

  • Jens September 7, 2012 01:29 am

    Personally I like to keep the shutter speed quite fast, and zooming fast too. I find that helps me keep the camera still since I rarely carry a tripod with me.
    This is shot at f/2.8 and 1/50s:

  • Mike T September 4, 2012 05:53 pm

    This is a good guide for beginners but wouldn't diffraction resulting of apertures around f22 degrade the picture quality? I use an nd filter and never go smaller than f11 for this reason... if I had a full frame I wouldn't go beyond f16..

  • Karim September 4, 2012 05:52 pm

    If there is still too much light, you can darken things a bit with a Neutral Density (ND) filter...or even stack more than one ND if needed.

  • Daniel Aquino September 4, 2012 12:13 pm

    Zooom, with film!!!

  • marco catini September 4, 2012 11:32 am

    Thanks for the great article!

    I have played around with this technique while taking photos of musicians. I use a flash and a monopod, small aperture and low ISO. Shutter speed is usually around 1 second.

    Some examples are here:

  • Mei Teng September 4, 2012 10:57 am

    I have attempted this technique before in the past and trying to keep the camera still is a challenge for me. But I love the zoom blur effect.

  • timsdd September 4, 2012 08:03 am

    I've tried it more at night than during the day, just lends itself to some cool effects.
    I have a dozen examples alone in this gallery

  • Victor September 3, 2012 04:29 pm

    Its good for artistic shot like this too

    [eimg url='' title='6305117821_43fe7c00d8_z.jpg']

  • Shobhit September 3, 2012 11:31 am

    Need to try this out...

  • Eik Kerstenbeck September 2, 2012 05:40 am

    Wonderful article, great examples and uber cool technique!

    Here is one from NYC Brooklyn Bridge - so happy we only had one F-Bomb from a New Yorker when we took this!

  • Mridula September 2, 2012 01:56 am

    For sure I have to try it out. Thank you for making it sound so easy.

  • ccting September 2, 2012 01:35 am

    Dolly in shot...