The Psychedelic Zoom-Burst Abstract Photography Effect

Zoom burst using a Nikon D610


Recently, a couple of people have asked me about zoom bursts. 

I love doing zoom bursts. I'm into trying new and different things with my camera. And I love abstract art. Zoom bursts are the perfect marriage of photography and abstract art, so why not?

If you follow my work on Instagram, you'll notice the occasional zoom burst in my gallery. I've contemplated starting another IG account only for zoom bursts. But, I've spread myself pretty thin already with different types of photos, so that can wait...for now!

Since I've been asked, I'll do a mini zoom-burst tutorial. 

Zoom-Burst Method

Zoom bursts are easy and hard at the same time. 

They're easy because there's not much to know about how to shoot them. They're hard because they don't always come out right. 

Here are the basics:

The yellow forsythia plant, above, was taken at 1/10th, f/20, ISO 100. I took it outside on a slightly overcast, but still pretty bright day.

Start with your zoom lens all the way zoomed in or out, it's up to you. Focus on a spot in the middle of your subject. Then, using a shutter speed of about 1/10th or even a little slower, zoom in or out while depressing your shutter. I usually have to take multiple shots to get one I like. 

Ideally, the center point is perfectly in focus while there's movement in the rest of the photo. As you can see in the photo above, the center point isn't perfectly in focus. But I liked the shot anyway. 

It's fun experimenting with different shutter speeds and moving the zoom in and out. No two photos are alike. 

Holding the camera steady while zooming in or out and hitting the shutter button all at the same time takes some practice!

The feeling of motion in the final photo is wonderful, though sometimes dizzying. 

I like doing partial zoom shots as well for a dream-like feeling. In this next photo, there's a real sense of movement, but it's not as abstract. You can see some of the surrounding environment. 

Some surrounding details are still evident in this partial zoom burst

Zoom burst with surrounding details still present


The last one is a colorful tree I took a couple of years ago. I love the beautiful colors and the abstract, painterly quality of the photo. 

Zoom burst of a colorful tree in the fall makes a great abstract photo

Colorful fall tree shot using the zoom-burst method

Light Issues

One of the issues with doing zoom bursts is getting the right amount of light.

When you slow your shutter speed way down, you're letting in a lot more light, so it's easy to blow out the highlights. Put your ISO down at 100 and stop down your aperture. As I said, with the top photo, I used an aperture of 20. That's because the first photo I took was completely blown out. 

Another option, if the day is bright, is an ND filter. I'll discuss those in a future post. 

Have Fun!

Have fun with your photography. If you like abstract art, and you've got a zoom lens, try a few zoom bursts. It's sometimes a little frustrating getting one you like. But persevere, and enjoy the process!

Here in Atlanta, the weather has turned hot and it looks like summer is upon us. I'm hoping to get out this weekend and get some great photos, and maybe a few zoom bursts!

Hope you have an awesome weekend!

And see you between the raindrops!