How to Use Intentional Lens Movement for Creative Photos

There are so many things we can do with cameras and lenses to create amazing photos without manipulating the image in post-production. If you have a willingness to think outside the box and experiment, there are many simple techniques you can try to add a little oomph to your photography. Here, Joe McNally shows us how moving your lens during exposure can produce a creative and unique effect:

Moving the lens while you’re snapping a picture is usually considered a no-no and may seem like a sure-fire way to mess up a perfect shot, but what if it actually makes the picture better?

While it will ruin the shot if you’re looking for a clear, sharp final image, moving the lens during exposure can produce a particular type of effect that adds some character, edge, and a little fun to your photo.

Positioning his model in front of a simple background of Venetian blinds, McNally shows us just how easy it is to add a sort of vortex feel to an otherwise nondescript setting by using a zoom lens. He uses 24-70mm lens and a gridded Nikon SB-910 TTL AF Speedlight Flash positioned over his subject. To blend in a little ambient exposure in the room, he lengthened his shutter speed. McNally shot with a small aperture—f/13, and a shutter speed of 1/6 of a second. The slow shutter speed is crucial, because you need the extra time to adjust the lens.

The Technique

So simple. As you click the shutter and it opens, you physically move the lens. Since the physical elements of the lens are now moving as you make the exposure, the image will distort. Here are McNally’s steps:

  • Set the timing of flash to rear curtain (the flash will go off at the end of the exposure).
  • Begin the zoom before triggering the shutter, since 1/6 of second happens pretty quickly and doesn’t leave much room to zoom after hitting the shutter.
  • Squeeze the shutter as you’re starting to zoom.

McNally tends to zoom from telephoto to wide, because depth of field increases as you zoom to wider. Some people prefer to do it differently to get a different effect, but it’s up to you.

creative photography technique

Zooming the lens during exposure creates an interesting vortex effect.

So, as much as photography rules make sense in other cases, for this technique you want to throw the rules out the window. Forget about the rule of thirds, stick your subject right in the middle of the frame and zoom in on the bullseye as you shoot to create a pretty trippy image.

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