Mastering the Zoom Effect

Mastering the Zoom Effect


If you want to have a little fun with your digital camera next time you go out with it, have a go at experimenting with the zoom effect.

In essence the zoom effect is a picture which look like the subject is either moving towards or away from you with motion lines.

There are a number of ways to get this effect, some are done while shooting the image and some afterward through zoom blur post production techniques. I’m not going to talk about post production techniques here but will instead focus upon what to do to achieve the zoom effect while taking the shot in camera.

Ultimately, what you need to do to get this effect is set your shutter speed to be a longer exposure and then while taking the shot (between when the shutter opens and closes) you will need to use your zoom lens to either zoom in or out from your subject.

That is the basics of it but in reality getting a good zoom effect takes a lot of practice and experimentation and/or a bit of luck.

Here are a few tips to help you improve your results:

  • Keep the Camera Still – as you will be using a slow shutter speed any movement of the camera will significantly impact your shot. Ultimately you want to capture a zooming movement in these shots so any side to size or up and down shake will impact the smoothness of the lines in your image. Of course camera shake can also add interesting effects to the shot but it can also make the shot too blurry. To eliminate camera shake use a tripod or set your camera on a still surface.
  • Lower Light Situations might help – one of the problems with using longer shutter speeds is that you let more light into your camera. You can help your camera cope with this extra light by using a larger aperture (the larger the number the smaller the hole that lets light in) but in bright situations you still might not be able to use long shutter speeds without over exposing your image. As a result it can be easier to get well exposed zoom effect shots in lower light situations.
  • Zoom
  • Lights are Fun – taking the last point into consideration one of the most popular subjects for the zoom effect is lights whether they be city lights, Christmas lights, neon signs etc. They are often a good place to practice the technique and can produce pretty spectacular effects.
  • Move the Camera Manually if you don’t have a zoom lens or your camera won’t let you zoom while the shutter is open (as happens on some point and shoot cameras) the other way to get this effect is to manually move your camera towards or away from your subject. Of course this introduces other camera shake (see above) but it is possible to get a nice shot if you’re good (or lucky).
  • When choosing a shutter speed – there is no one shutter speed that will work for all situations. Factors to consider will include the levels of light, the speed at which you’ll zoom etc. I generally would shoot at up to a second (or even a little longer) which is usually enough to zoom a lens from one end to another. The key is to experiment with different shutter speeds to see what works best.
  • Zoomed
  • Work on Smooth Zooming – to get nice smooth motion lines in your photo you’ll need to work at a ‘smooth zoom’. ie you don’t want to zoom at one speed early on and then speed up and then slow down (see next point for the exception). This will make your lines a little jerky. Getting a nice smooth zoom technique takes practice.
  • Pause mid-zoom – another technique to experiment is to pause your zooming either at the start, end or during the procedure (while the shutter is still open). This will mean that what your camera sees at the point when you pause your zoom will be stronger and hopefully clearer in your shot.
  • Fire your Flash – another element that you can add to this technique is light. You can do this with virtually any light but the most common one is obviously the flash. Fire it during your long exposure and you’ll freeze part of the image while still getting movement behind and around it. Some cameras will allow you to do this using ‘night mode’.
  • Zooming
  • Reverse the Zoom – zooming in on a subject can give a different result than zooming out, especially if your subject is moving and depending upon whether you pause at the beginning and or end of the zoom. Experiment with both.
  • Partial Zoom – some zoom lenses have very wide focal lengths. I have a friend with a 28-200 zoom and he finds that using the zoom effect can be too much if he starts at one end and goes right to the other. For starters he can’t maintain a smooth zoom over that focal length but also it’s just too much motion for one image. Instead it can be more effective to only zoom part of your focal length range. If you have a 28 200mm try zooming from 28-100mm or from 80-200mm or even smaller ranges.

Most of all have fun with the zoom effect and experiment.

You’ll only really work out what works with your camera and photographic situation when you give it a go and tweak your approach as you go.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Philips Kaffeemaschine February 10, 2013 12:48 am

    Hey there! I've been following your website for some time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Atascocita Texas! Just wanted to say keep up the good work!

  • elad August 7, 2012 04:25 pm

    Hi! Is there a possibility to create this effect with bridge cameras such as the canon sx40 hs? Thanks!

  • Partha January 19, 2012 04:08 pm

    Thanks for the tips. I tried it and it is fun.But only difficulty I am facing is to keep the subject clear/in focus. At the end all I get is a blurry face........ :-(

  • Elane December 7, 2011 11:57 am

    @zach- i shoot Nikon and haven't had any trouble. But I no realize I need to turn off my auto focus to really improve the shots.

  • Zach August 13, 2011 04:35 am

    I am curious. I have been experimenting with this a lot now, and I have realized that it works Significantly better on my friends Canon DSLR than on my Nikon DSLR, both being used with the same stock 18-55mm lenses. Does it have something to do with the build of the lenses between brands, or is canon set on a different focusing mode that makes the difference. I have yet to take a quality picture on my Nikon using this technique, but always succeed with a canon. Any ideas?

  • Nubia August 7, 2011 11:42 am

    Thanks for the tips. This is a fun and sometimes difficult effect to achieve unless you practice a little and have the appropriate settings and conditions.
    A note to point out that when you set the aperture is actually a smaller (not larger) aperture that is used in bright conditions ( as Darren states, smaller aperture = larger number on the lens barrel aperture scale). I think it is easier to grasp for beginners, to know that it is actually a smaller aperture that is being used.
    I'll try posting an image one of these days. I am not sure I know how to do it (technically a klutz), but I will read the instructions carefully :))

  • TNH August 2, 2011 08:59 am

    Is it possible to do the Zoom effect with a Nikon Coolpix S300?

  • sarah | the walking tripod July 15, 2011 09:35 am

    Whoa! This technique is really cool. I just practiced some tips posted here and even though I'm just using a point and shoot cam, it still delivers. Well having a stead hands would be a plus as my camera doesn't allow shooting while zooming so I have to manually zoom my cam to the subject. Takes practice though. Many thanks!

  • Shim June 23, 2010 10:49 pm

    Hi, I just curious will this zooming effect will damage the parts of the camera ? One of my friend warn me that this will damage the camera !! Expert opinion needed.

  • dario April 16, 2010 06:49 am

    hi, i tried but i failed, i will keep on trying til i get perfect one, thanks for this wonderful tutorial, am neophyte in photography trying to get the "wow" factor of it..cheers.

  • Shariq April 9, 2010 03:02 am

    Here's my attempt - at Islington in London. Got this on the first day I tried, but I did end up shooting about 170 pics that afternoon...

    [eimg url='' title='My%20lifelines%20%283%20of%205%29.jpg']

  • mahadeolalbarai March 28, 2010 12:23 pm

    Dear Darren really you are a great hearted and great minded person,you are really a very good site for photography intrested person really mind blowing examples it is very easy to revise any one very nice zooming chapter you are a great tutor '''''''';;;;;;;;;mahadeolalbarai

  • chrsjc March 28, 2010 07:23 am

    [eimg link='' title='' url='']

  • Ben March 27, 2010 12:41 am

    The Nikon 18-200 is GREAT for this.

    [eimg link='' title='2009 Georgetown Grand Tasting' url=''][eimg link='' title='Wedding Zoomburst' url='']

  • Deepak March 26, 2010 05:30 pm

    wonderful articles..helps a lot for Newbies like me..will try this as a project for the weekend

  • JMP March 26, 2010 07:05 am

    I love this technique! Some might say I use it too much ;-)

    [eimg link='' title='Marrakesh Lights' url='']

    [eimg link='' title='Hamburg Dancer' url='']

    [eimg link='' title='Amsterdam Colors' url='']

  • Nika January 25, 2010 07:54 am

    [eimg link='' title='IMG_1193' url='']

  • Ildefonso Enriquez January 23, 2010 07:54 am


    Really, Really, Thank you!!! for the information, you solved all my doubts and gave valuable information to decide which kind of lens, and which price will be an approach to a 24 X zoom.

  • Craig Maunder January 22, 2010 09:30 am


    What you're looking for is every photographer's dream. A cheap, quality 24x zoom lens on a DSLR with higher sensor quality. The short answer is that what you're looking for doesn't exist. The greater the zoom range on a DSLR lens, generally the worse the quality, and the more expensive it is. The only decent zoom with anything close to that sort of range for Nikon is the 18-200mm f3.5-5.6 VR (200mm/18mm = 11x zoom). It's about $800 US new.

    If you want the long reach of the telephoto zoom in your p90, you're really better off sticking with that (or maybe renting lenses only when you need them).

    The p90 goes from 26mm-624mm f2.8-f5. Since a D90 has a crop-frame sensor, the focal length (in mm) gets multiplied by 1.5. So 625mm/1.5 = 417mm, meaning to get the same maximum zoom, with the same ability to gather light as your P90, you need a lens that goes to 400mm at f5 or lower. You can get an 80-400mm f4.5-f5.6 zoom for just under $2000, a 200-400mm f4 zoom for upwards of $6000, a 400mm f2.8 prime lens for $8800, a 300mm f4 prime lens for $1400, or a 70-300mm f4.5-f5.6 for $500ish (for the VR version). There's a 70-300 f4.5-5.6 non VR for a couple hundred which might be your best bet, but without the VR, you'll need a tripod beyond 200mm (same goes with any non-VR lens).

    I'm not familiar with pricing on the secondary brands (Tamron, Sigma and Tokina) and I think Tamron or Sigma does actually have a zoom lens with a massive range, but the quality is terrible. Anything that has a maximum aperture greater than 5.6 on a zoom extending to 400mm or greater will be so dark your autofocus likely won't work properly too.

    Long story short - keep the p90 if you're going on safari.

    The 70-200 VR 3.5-5.6 (about $300 new) and a wider zoom like the 18-70 f3.5-4.5 ($200ish used) is your best bet for a well rounded lens set on a budget for your D90. A 50mm f1.8 (about $130 new) is the best lens you may ever buy, as long as you can deal with not being able to zoom. Until you're prepared to drop at least 3-4x more for f2.8 lenses, you won't notice any increase in quality.

    For lots more recommendations on what to get or not to get, I highly recommend Thom Hogan's advice (

  • Ildefonso Enriquez January 22, 2010 08:38 am

    Hi, it´s great to read useful information, lots and lots of useful information, for beginners like me, I´ve moved from a Nikon coolpix p90 to a Nikon D90, Now I have so many options, so much to learn, but I´m confused about what lens to buy to achieve the power of the 24 X zoom of the Nikon coolpix p90 for the Nikon D90 with a limited amount of budget, What do you recommend me?. Thanks and congratulations for your website.

  • Alesa Dam December 28, 2009 05:32 am

    Tried it out with candles, shot from above:
    [eimg link='' title='Zoomed candles' url='']

  • Pigon December 9, 2009 03:34 am

    Great article, very useful tips. Just go and experiment. It's the only way!

    I tried the zoom technique together with panning some time ago - this shot was made from a moving car. Adding extra movement to the photographer itself can strengthen that zoom effect too:

    "Walk on by"

    [eimg link='' title='Walk on by' url='']

  • rick lumpas December 1, 2009 02:14 pm

    I will definitely give this a try. Thanks fro sharing this article.

  • Pat December 1, 2009 01:20 am

    I liked the article. I've been looking for a good place to use the zoom effect for a while. Check out my haunted pumpkins using the zoom effect. [eimg link='' title='Halloween 2009 - Pumpkin Carving' url='']

  • tacgurl November 28, 2009 12:23 pm

    This is a fun creative technique! I first learned how to do it in a flower photography course. Look for the same technique in old photography books (nothing is new). Thanks for the great tips.

  • Kris Hunt November 28, 2009 04:09 am

    This is what Photoshop's radial blur is for.

  • Roberto Suriguez November 28, 2009 03:51 am

    Very good explanation, I will practice. Very good article. Greeting from Argentina friends.

  • Gary November 28, 2009 12:10 am

  • Gary November 28, 2009 12:05 am

    Spotted a free seat

  • Sameer Mathur November 27, 2009 05:56 pm

    A very beuatiful and simple tip.

  • sanjay pratap November 27, 2009 04:51 pm

    very interesting technique,good to know that it is very easy and create stunning pictures
    thanks a lot

  • B P Maiti November 27, 2009 11:04 am

    The Article is very useful.Previously zooms were push/pull.It was comvenient.Now it is circular In circulars the effect some times is half moon.What can be this circular movement/motion speed for shutter.Can any body advise.Thanks in anticipation.

  • Tunde November 27, 2009 10:43 am

    I do my 'normal' shooting but never forget to zoom the subject/object . Way too much fun to miss it.

    Many zoomed and blured shot here.

    Great article to get creative.

  • Sherry November 27, 2009 08:24 am

    I had a lot of fun making people motion sick with this awhile back. I did this:

    [eimg link='' title='Motion sickness' url='']

  • Franz C. November 27, 2009 06:59 am


    I was trying to say, what happened to your caps, commas, periods and generally sustained writing style? As an editor I had been most happy until now...

    Keep on the good work, and please put back those diacritical signs that are important to me, an humble mortal raised when text was more important than image... :D

  • Franz C. November 27, 2009 06:52 am

    Hi Darren,

    Hope your trip was fine.

    Very interesting topic, that I see for the very first time. I'll practice along your guidelines.

    However, what happened to you

  • supersonic November 27, 2009 06:41 am

    Hi great pics thought i would have a go this is what it looked like.
    [eimg link='' title='Zoom Shot' url='']

  • Craig Maunder Photography November 27, 2009 06:01 am

    Note that it's very important to begin zooming before you open the shutter to enhance the smoothness of the final image.

  • Azzam Elsoufi November 27, 2009 04:28 am

    Really interesting technique. i took a couple of shots using this technique, though they are not perfect but i like 'm.[eimg link='' title='Look into my eye, tell me what you see!!!' url='']
    here is another one;
    [eimg link='' title='2 Fast 2 Furious' url='']

  • peter kovak November 27, 2009 03:10 am

    Wow, looks great. Gotta try it as soon as possible. Thanks for the tip ! I think that in the beginning will be awful, but with the time I hope to do it.

  • Pratik November 27, 2009 02:14 am

    Nice article ! I have tried some pictures like these. I'll get some here in sometime.

  • nomadic saffa November 26, 2009 08:03 pm

    love this effect. you could always twist the camera while zooming in/out

    of my own examples
    normal zooming:

    [eimg link='' title='' url='']

    and then with the twist:
    [eimg link='' title='round and round' url='']

    [eimg link='' title='reader' url='']

  • Jason Collin Photography November 25, 2009 05:04 pm

    I keep wanting to memorize how to do this technique but never think of it when I have my tripod with me or something else. I will try it for Thanksgiving! And I'll try it with my flash. I have an 80-200mm lens, so it seems that is one of the recommended zoom ranges to try.

  • Levi Self November 25, 2009 12:40 am

    My Canon PowerShot SX10IS won't let me zoom and press the shutter, or press the shutter and zoom. What a let-down! :(

  • DejanP November 24, 2009 10:59 pm


  • mooniak November 24, 2009 10:10 pm

    "You can help your camera cope with this extra light by using a larger aperture"... actually, isn't it "a smaller aperture"? The larger the number= the smaller the aperture?

  • Chris November 24, 2009 10:05 pm

    @haris: To get an answer for your question, you might be better off asking this on the forum.

  • Chris November 24, 2009 07:54 pm

    Also great to try at night:

    Or to use with a flash at the same time:

  • G7 November 24, 2009 11:46 am

    Its funny, I was playing around with my lens one day while moving backwards and zooming in at the same time. It looks like one of those video shots in movies when they try to give a scary effect sometimes. But I never got to taking a shot with the effect. Now motivated to do so. I like the one from Espion, GustavoBockos, and CmC.

  • jojit November 24, 2009 10:47 am

    great idea! can't wait to try this. thanks.

  • Grey Street Girl November 24, 2009 10:30 am

    I love this technique, but hadn't thought to use it with people. Great idea.

    I usually do road zooming like this one:


  • Tanabata November 24, 2009 09:41 am



  • (CMC) November 24, 2009 09:13 am


  • (CMC) November 24, 2009 09:12 am

    like this...?

  • Steve November 24, 2009 08:29 am

    This is a fun effect. I was playing with it one night at a highschool football game when a friend came up to me and saw what I was doing. He told me I should try holding the lens still and turning the body of the camera as I take the shot. I did and the result was very cool.

  • Timo November 24, 2009 07:08 am

    A nice effect indeed.
    I did such a shot for my photo blog a few months ago:

    Did not use a tripod there though. Had to try several times until I was content.
    It was really fun and I can only recommend it.

  • gaerun November 24, 2009 06:46 am

    I also find userful to start zooming before hitting the shutter button. At least for me, it helps reducing the camera shake.

  • demi November 14, 2009 11:14 pm

    how does one zooms out with a digital camera? (i.e.making the subject farther away or smaller)

  • Bill Lewis October 30, 2009 01:21 pm


    Really enjoy your newsletters, very informative. Thank you for sharing. I would like to add another factor in zoom photography.

    Camera position. If you are off to the side you can really get strong lines of light. If you want to have an exploding effect with light beams generating from the subject uniformely then shoot straight on.

    I also like to stop my zoom or delay to the zoom effect to get a stronger image from which to zoom.

    Keep up the good work,


  • sbunting108 October 23, 2009 07:55 pm

    Good post i have tried doing this before and it went horrible wrong but you have given me some inspiration to have another go!

  • diah August 22, 2009 06:10 am

    great post.
    i tried but seems my camera (Compact Canon) doesn't allow to press the shutter while zooming!

  • Arun June 14, 2009 02:52 am

    Great post! I really loved this topic.. And what more.. I also loved the pic by GustavoBockos! ;) Great woman, great zoom, great composition.. I should be trying this out now! Thanks a lot guys!

  • Haris July 27, 2007 03:52 am


    I have been taking pictures of jewelry for quite some time now. I'm Using the Canon Rebel (8.0 MP) digital camera. I am also using a light box (made out of shiny white cloth) (To see the light box i am using please click on this link ). I have the LB surrounded by Fluorescent lights on both the right and left side, and one light angling from above. I final images i am getting are pretty good, but now I am trying to make them look even better. By late August i will be working on a new assignment, which is Photography of Diamond Watch. Now i have tried every thing, but for some reason I’m not able to get a perfect finish I’m looking for. The type of finishing I am looking for is some thing like the pictures on the official website. The sharpness and smoothness on there images are amazing, and that is the look I am trying to achieve.

    What my question to you is, to achieve this type of finishing, what necessary steps do i need to take. Do i need a better camera, Lens, Lighting or can this be achieved by Photoshop. I don’t mind spending money as long as i can achieve my objective. Please let me know what skills do I lack and where is improvement needed.

    If you want i can e-mail a picture taken by me so you can compare the two ( Rolex or Gucci Web Images ) and see the difference. Thank you very much for your time and effort.

    You can contact me @
    Have a pleasant day.
    Looking forward to your response.


  • Spoteira July 24, 2007 03:48 am

    Can a compact digital camera do such technique? Anyone achieve such shots using Fujifilm F31d, Lumix TZ3 and Sony DSC T-100?

  • Sherri Meyer July 20, 2007 11:12 pm

    I have a similiar post on my blog on "zooming." Check it out at

  • Ajith July 18, 2007 08:15 pm

    Since I joined DPS I have learned a lot and are very informative and interesting for a beginner like me, I am going to try this today.

  • J. Sanders July 16, 2007 09:17 pm

    I am going to try this!!!!!!

  • digital portrait from photo July 16, 2007 05:45 pm

    I’m afraid I’m only familiar with giving a 3D Zoom effect to an image through Fireworks. This is a bit easier than using the camera to do this. I tried to use my camera to deal with this but I ended up having blurred and totally useless photos.

  • Ryan Du Bois July 16, 2007 03:19 pm

    This effect is more commonly known as "racking the lens."

    Just FYI. =)

  • Dave Reinhardt July 14, 2007 07:03 am

    Here some examples of using this technique on a tripod in Cardiff.

  • shroticg July 14, 2007 05:58 am

    this zooming technique is practised previously also with films, but you had to go on bracketing the shots since the result is not yet known to you. digital cameras made it easier to see the effect on the spot and if necessary repeat the shot. we saw many good examples of this sort in the photography competitions. it give an etherial effect to yr photo and very effective when thinking of presenting something different. thanks for bringing us again in this world of zooming since photography has enlarged so much that sometimes we ourselves forget to experiment of what we were doing so far many a times.

  • Jaap Lotstra July 14, 2007 03:23 am

    I'm gonna give it a try, thanks for the inspiration!

  • Phil July 14, 2007 03:02 am

    that's a pretty cool effect, I'll have to try it out this weekend!

  • Shyamal kumar Roy July 14, 2007 01:37 am

    This zooming is certainly gives a wonderful effect on the photographs. Nowadays anybody may do the effect after the taking of the photograph, through photoshop techniques. But as an old photographer I should say previously we had to do it only and only through camera. I think if we use a tripod it will be easier to make zooming perfectly. However thanks for the beautiful hints.

  • Craig July 14, 2007 12:17 am

    This would be a great affect when a new baby arrives. I'll have to try this when our next child comes.

  • Casey Lewiston July 13, 2007 11:54 pm

    Nice effect... however, it's not just point and shoots that lock up the lens sometimes. I guess Canon doesn't like the effect as much as I do.

  • Lavanya July 13, 2007 08:04 pm

    Very interesting effect on the BW pictures (one with the lady) when you zoom out. Very helpful..

    No brownies for guessing my project for the weekend :)

  • PRH July 13, 2007 07:15 pm

    Nice tutorial. When using a point and shoot (or prime lens), I find that being seated (if possible) and pivoting from the waist can help to reduce unwanted camera shake. Also, using the view finder instead of the rear display can help to steady the camera.

  • Michael July 13, 2007 01:03 pm

    When using your flash, opt for using the "second curtain" option, which sets the flash to fire off right before the shutter closes. That way your final piece of the image will appear most prominently.

  • John Sercel July 13, 2007 12:02 pm

    Very interesting effect... especially when the main subject can be kept stationary by moving the camera in the opposite direction during the zoom.