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

November 10, 2016 Waiting

Waiting to cross; Shadows on a sunny Fall day
International District
Seattle, Washington

November 10,2016

November 3, 2016 Playing with Light and Shadow

Midday sun illuminates the railroad tracks 
at King Street Station in Seattle, Washington
November 3, 2016

Casting a long shadow

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