Photographing Holiday Lights using the Zoom Effect

Photographing Holiday Lights using the Zoom Effect

One fun, creative technique to try when photographing seasonal lights is the zoom blur effect. This effect creates a look of things bursting forward or moving backward in space. 

It is possible to create a zoom effect in post-processing using Adobe Photoshop filters and layering techniques. 

It is also possible to create the effect in-camera while you make the original images. I like doing the effect in-camera because the results are somewhat less predictable and seemingly more organic. 

All of the photographs below were created during daylight hours using the zoom effect while shooting the photographs. 

I made the images in a corridor of an office complex in the International District of Seattle which houses the headquarters for Paul Allen's Vulcan Corporation. Paul Allen is also the owner of the Seattle Seahawks. That is why the lights are in Seahawks team colors!

Here's my technique: 

  1. Place your camera on a tripod. This will make it easier to zoom the lens while you are also shooting. 
  2. Set your camera on either Manual or Aperture Priority mode. If you are shooting at night, Manual is recommended so that the camera does not overexpose to compensate for the black surrounding your lights. Since I was photographing during daytime hours and the background of my images was close to middle gray, I was able to shoot in Aperture Priority mode and let the camera choose the shutter speed for me. 
  3. Set your ISO to 100, 200 or 400. Do not set your ISO to a high ISO. This defeats the purpose of getting a longer shutter speed. 
  4. Set your aperture to a high number, like f/11, f/16 or f/22
  5. Take a test shot without zooming. Your goal is to have a shutter speed between 1/15 sec. and 1/3 second. If your test shot has a faster shutter speed like 1/30 sec., use a higher numbered aperture or lower ISO. If your shutter speed has a slow shutter speed like 1 second, use a lower numbered aperture or higher ISO. 
  6. Take as many test shots as needed to get an exposure combination with a shutter speed between 1/15 and 1/3 second. 
  7. Put your lens/camera on manual focus. You do not want your camera to try to re-focus between shots. 
  8. Set your motor drive to continuous. 
  9. Place your hand so that it rests comfortably on your zoom. Test moving the zoom control back and forth until you are comfortable with turning the zoom smoothly. 
  10. Place your other hand on your shutter button. 
  11. As you begin zooming slowly, press your shutter button down and hold. Zoom back and forth, adjusting your zoom speed, all while holding the shutter button down. 
  12. After shooting 5 - 10 shots, review your work. Adjust composition, exposure and zooming speed to improve your photos or get different results. 
  13. Rinse, repeat and HAVE FUN! 

When you have finished taking your shots:

  • reset your lens/camera to auto-focus
  • reset your aperture to a middle of the road aperture like f/8
  • reset your ISO to your default ISO
  • take the camera out of manual mode if it is not your regular shooting mode

ISO 400    1/3 sec.   f/18
 Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM Lens

ISO 400    1/3 sec.   f/20
 Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM Lens
ISO 400    1/3 sec.   f/18  (cropped image)
 Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM Lens

ISO 400    1/3 sec.   f/20
 Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM Lens

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Photo of the Week - July 21, 2016

Female Purple martin flies towards its nest box as its mate perches outside the box. 
Boston Harbor Marina
Olympia, WA

July 21, 2016

Painting with Light

One of the highlights of large festivals and fairs is the midway full of rides and amusements. The lights, sounds and excitement are a photographers dream. It can be especially fun to photograph the carnival lights at dusk, when some ambient light remains and the rides are at their most magical moment. When it gets completely dark, that is usually the signal for the photographer to head home. Without the contrast of surroundings, carnival lights lose some of their dynamic energy. 

When I was photographing at Olympia's annual Lakefair festival this year, I ran into that problem. The last remaining color had been drained from the sky. As I photographed the rides, they were no longer recognizable and had turned into streaks and circles of light. One or two of these are interesting, but not interesting enough to keep me photographing. 

As I got ready to leave, I  decided to try one last thing. I set my camera to ISO 100 and my smallest aperture, f/32. In manual exposure mode, I set the shutter speed to 1.3 seconds. And then, I took the camera off the tripod. Focusing on the center of the Ferris wheel, I began to move the camera while I pressed down the shutter button. The Ferris wheel was moving in its circular motion. I moved the camera in somewhat square and swirly patterns. Some of the results are shown below. 

I really like the strong rainbow colors. And, the spirograph like patterns are really fun.

Photo of the Week - July 13, 2016

Flying through the air on a carnival ride at 
Olympia's 59th Annual Lakefair festival. 

July 13, 2016
Capitol Lake
Olympia, WA

Photo of the Week - July 4, 2016

The Artesian Family Festival & Thunder Valley Fireworks Show
Tumwater Valley Golf Club
Tumwater, WA

July 4, 2016

Many thanks to Chuck Denney and all the great folks at the
City of Tumwater for making the Fourth of July event run
smoothly. You make my work as a photographer so easy with
all the hard work you put in behind the scenes. 

If you haven't been, be sure to put Tumwater's 4th of July celebration
on your calendar for next year. Free face painting, games, music.
Food booths. Skydivers. And, just when you think it
doesn't get any better, there are excellent fireworks!

Photo of the Week - June 20, 2016

Male American goldfinch feeds on seeds from tall grasses
South Puget Sound Wildlife Area
Lakewood, WA

June 20, 2016

Photo of the Week - June 16, 2016

Students and visitors cross University of Washington's Red Square
in this multiple exposure image, which was created
in camera with three separate exposures.

Seattle, WA
June 16, 2016

Canon 7D Mark II

Photo of the Week - May 12, 2016

Lorquin's admiral butterfly gathering nectar from
Pacific ninebark flowers

Black Lake Meadows
Olympia, WA
May 12, 2016

Lorquin's admiral butterflies can be seen in the Puget Sound region
during the late Spring and Summer months. The butterfly, whose
wingspan measures 2 - 2 5/8 inches, has a black upperside with
white median bands and orange-brown wingtips. The underside
is reddish-brown with white markings. Its range extends from 
southern California to British Columbia. 

The Pacific ninebark is a common native plant of the Puget Sound
lowlands. It blooms in late Spring with clusters of tiny
white flowers sitting like pom-poms at the end of its branches. 

This Saturday, May 14, 2016, is the 21st Annual Prairie Appreciation
Day. This is a magnificent opportunity to visit Thurston County's
Glacial Heritage Preserve, as well as DNR's Mima Mounds. The event takes
from 10 AM to 3 PM. . You can get directions at the Prairie Appreciation Day
website. This is a great way to experience some of Western Washington's
remaining native prairie land and experience native plants, such
as paintbrush and balsamroot. 

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