Creating an illusion

“Photography, as we all know, is not real at all. It is an illusion of reality with which we create our own private world.” – Arnold Newman

Slow moving or stationary subjects, in my opinion, are perfect for zoom-burst experiments for a couple of reasons. Firstly, one can create the illusion of motion where none actually exists. And secondly, the blur caused by the motion of the subject would be zero/minimal resulting in no conflicting movement to the illusion that one is trying to create.

Obviously, one needs a zoom lens to create it. Any zoom lens ought to do. But larger the gap between the minimum and maximum focal length of the lens, the better the illusion (of motion) one can create.

The basic principle here is that one slows the shutter-speed considerably and focuses on the subject either fully zoomed-out or zoomed-in. And then, while clicking the shutter, either zoom-in or zoom-out (respectively) by smoothly rotating the zoom-ring of the lens. This will cause the image to blur towards the center (or outwards in the latter case) creating an illusion that the scene is converging into the centre (or is bursting out towards you). The key here is determining how slow the shutter speed should be so as to allow one to perform the zoom-burst.

Keeping the burst/blur even is directly a function of how smooth the rotation of the zoom-ring was and how steady the camera has been held. Also, the sharpness of the central focus point of the image is directly correlated to how steady the camera has been held during the zooming in/out operation – easier said than done as one is holding the lens and rotating the zoom-ring at the same time. Using a tripod (or any external support) to steady the lens is recommended as it usually results in a better quality of burst. Having said that, this is a technique that can be employed even in hand-held situations – just ensure that you keep your hands very steady throughout the exposure.

I had an opportunity to try this out a couple of days back on a trip to the Daroji National Park, the largest home of the Sloth Bears in India. Sloth Bears are generally slow moving creatures and this specific individual was an expectant mother named Bindu. I spent quite a while with my 70-200 lens trying out different shutter-speeds and was finally rewarded with a semi-usable image – not quite perfect but one that I could feel reasonably happy with.

As with most such techniques, the more one practises the better one gets.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett

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