Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Making Zoom Abstracts

Given the comments made to the blog about my image "The Road Less Traveled", I thought that it might be worthwhile to talk about how one can think about and plan these types of images.

'The Road Less Traveled'
Copyright Howard Grill

Once a scene has been chosen on which this effect is to be tried, I think there are two very important initial steps to consider. The first is how much to zoom. I start by framing the image with the shortest focal length that I want to use as a starting 'size' for the shot. I then zoom out and choose the longest focal length I want for the shot. In the example above, I wanted the road to approach the left side of the image without 'spilling' out of the frame. By organizing the image this way, I can determine the starting and finishing focal lengths for the zoom. I don't just zoom the entire available focal length of the lens.

The second issue is to decide where you want the zoom to seem to emanate from. The lens should be centered at this location. Said another way, the center of the image in the viewfinder is where the zoom will seem to emanate from and so this should be carefully placed while the lens is set to the shortest focal length that is going to be used for the shot. If you ultimately don't want that point to be located in the very center of the image, the photograph can be cropped later.

In "The Road Less Traveled", I wanted the zoom to appear to emanate from the trees and not the road. Here is an example of the zoom emanating from the road (there are also some inevitable differences in the speed of the zooming), which I don't think is as pleasing as when it comes from the trees. The effect is more apparent in larger images. Clicking on the image will show a larger version.

Zoom Emanating From Roadway
Copyright Howard Grill

Once the range of focal length to be used for the image has been determined and the image is properly centered you are ready to go.

The camera should be on a tripod so that the zoom lines are straight. The shutter speed can be varied by changing the aperture. The actual aperture isn't overly important as nothing is truly sharp, though I have not experimented very much with different apertures. Various effects can be had by changing the zoom speed and whether you start zooming from the immediate initiation of the exposure or not. Things also look a bit different when you zoom from longer focal lengths to shorter ones, though I prefer the look when going from shorter to longer.

The key thing is that there are no real rules. The suggestions above are just how I do it. Experiment. Break these guidelines and see what you get. Part of the fun of these sort of techniques, particularly when shooting digitally, is to try lots of different variations. Generally, you might only like a small percentage of the shots you try, but when it works it really can be very appealing.