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Zoom Burst Photography in Four Simple Steps


Zoom burst photography (also known as zoom blur photography) is a photographic technique that generates an intriguing tunnel-like effect. Like ICM photography, the zoom burst technique is simple to do but can be tricky to master. A form of kinetic light painting, zoom burst photography utilizes zoom as a tool to create new effects in a combination of illumination and gesture.

Zoom burst photography black and white abstract art photograph city

What is Zoom Burst Photography?

When the shutter is open for a longer period of time during an exposure, any movement that occurs within the field of view is recorded as motion blur. Zoom burst photography takes advantage of this. A uniquely warped perspective of an environment is created by physically adjusting the zoom on a zoom lens while a longer exposure is made.

Equipment for Zoom Burst Photography

Zoom burst photography requires a camera body and a compatible zoom lens with a manual zoom ring. For my zoom burst photography, I use a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM and sometimes a Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM on a Canon 5D MKIV body. That said, almost any manual zoom lens configuration will do, though the greater the focal length range, the more dramatic the zoom burst.

Other examples of lenses ideal for zoom burst photography include the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM, the Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR, the Tamron AF 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 Di-II VC or the Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Auto Focus OS. The same goes for mirrorless configurations, with lenses like the Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-f/6.3 IS STM or the Fujinon 18-135mm f/3.5-f/5.6 R LM OIS WR providing a more than adequate zoom range. And while lenses with a shorter zoom range like 17mm-50mm work too, the zoom burst effect won't be as pronounced.

An optional piece of equipment for zoom burst photography is a tripod. Zoom burst photography can be executed with a handheld camera, but for smoother renderings of abstraction, a tripod will often be required due to the slow shutter speeds needed to make the zoom burst effect.

How to Make Zoom Burst Photography in Four Steps

Zoom burst or blur is created by zooming a lens with a manual zoom ring during an exposure, creating an impactful visual effect. By making adjustments to the focal length of a lens during exposure, the zoom burst effect can complement other ICM photography techniques, or manifest as a standalone visual effect in itself.

Cherry blossom tree zoom burst photography

Step 1

Set Camera Settings

Like ICM, the process of narrowing down an ideal exposure in a given environment can hinge on trial and error. Zoom burst photography requires a lengthy exposure. Using Shutter Priority Mode, I start shooting zoom burst photography at around 1s. However, during daylight hours, a longer exposure may create images that are too washed out. In this case, shooting indoors, working in shaded areas or using an ND filter might be required.

Working early in the morning and the evening are the ideal times for zoom burst photography because the sensor won't be bathed in excessive amounts of harsh light during the long exposure times needed to achieve the full zoom burst effect.

zoom burst black and white abstract photography signs

Step 2

Select a Subject and Compose the Shot

In addition to cutting down on the chances of overexposure, working in the early or late hours of the day takes advantage of artificial ambient lights that can render spectacular zoom burst effects. Busy environments populated with colours and lights are ideal for zoom burst photography, but they aren't the only subjects available to photographers looking for subject matter. Portraiture, natural scenery, landscapes, architecture and street photography can all blend well with the zoom burst method.

Mount the camera on the tripod if desired. Assess and compose the subject or scene by setting the lens at the widest focal length (zoomed out) to see all the elements within the frame. Then, zoom in completely, focusing the camera on the desired subject in a scene by half-pressing the shutter button.

Step 3

Taking a Zoom Burst Photograph

Once focused, depress the shutter button to begin the exposure and quickly rotate the zoom ring from the set focal length to the widest focal length in a smooth motion. When the exposure ends the zoom action will be rendered as pathways of warped subject matter and light. This process can be repeated in reverse (starting from the widest focal length and zooming in) or it can be performed with abrupt changes in zoom direction.

Take a look at the finished exposure to evaluate the camera settings and composition. Repeat the process as many times as desired - making incremental adjustments to exposure settings, composition and zoom technique as needed.

Zoom bust photography in four easy steps abstract rain photograph black white by megan kennedy

Step 4


Zoom burst photography is an experimental process involving the creation of unrepeatable imagery relying on chance, subject matter and the gesture of the photographer. This means that there is an inexhaustible range of variables to experiment with. Zooming in and out a number of times over one long exposure can create unique abstract images, while intentionally moving the camera while adjusting the zoom combines ICM photography with the zoom burst method.

Using a tripod, activating a long shutter speed and then waiting for a moment before zooming in/out will capture a more fixed rendering of a subject or scene. Quickly zooming in/out in abrupt stops and starts creates a more jagged result. It is also possible to focus on moving subjects and take a zoom burst photograph while panning.


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Megan Kennedy is a writer and multidisciplinary artist based in Canberra, Australia. More of her work can be viewed on her website or Instagram.


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