Monday, August 8, 2011

Zoom Rack Photography in New York

Street Action

Earlier this year, my good friend and fellow photographer John Downey (John A Downey II Photography) introduced me to a photographic technique I decided to play with during a trip to New York over the weekend.  I don’t know that the technique has a name, so I gave it one – zoom rack photography.  The technique is conceptually pretty simple, but it takes practice to get it right.

Times Square

The technique involves composing a photograph using a zoom lens at a short focal length then simultaneously “racking” the zoom to a longer focal length while depressing the shutter button.  Easy stuff, right?  But wait, there is more.  The real challenge of executing this shot is a sufficiently long shutter speed that allows you to rack the zoom from a short to long focal length.  My experience with this in NY led me to conclude that the optimum shutter speed was 1/4 of a second.  To get a decent exposure at this shutter speed generally means lowering your ISO and increasing your f-stop (high number/small aperture).  If you are shooting in bright sunlight, even your lowest ISO and highest f-stop may not get you to 1/4 second shutter speed.  In bright light, you may have to add a neutral density filter.

Bikes and Cones

The next challenge is stabilizing the camera.  The amount of stabilization will depend on the level of clarity you are trying to achieve.  This type of photography intentionally blurs most of the photograph.  However, you can increase the clarity by good technique (bracing your arms), steadying the camera against a solid object (like a lamp post) or using a tripod.  All the photographs in this post were hand held or braced against something solid.

One of your first impressions of this form of photography may be that it looks somewhat like photography made with a Lensbaby.  I would not disagree but would point out two aspects that distinguish this approach.  First, because of the longer exposure time, objects in motion are further accentuated with motion – like the cyclist in the previous shot.  Second, you get some unique effects I can’t as easily account for such as in the following photograph.  I don’t think I could recreate this photograph using a Lensbaby.  The smoky, ghostly steaks coming off the buildings while keeping most of the shot in relatively good focus is not something the Lensbaby is built for.

Ghost Buildings

Like any photographic technique, this is certainly one that can be overdone.  However, used judiciously and in compositions amenable to the technique, you can add another fun tool to your kit.  Later this week, I will post more shots from NY using this technique – just to be sure I have overdone it.

Have fun, and go make some great photography.


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