How to Take Stunning Abstract Pictures With Movement & Zoom

Camera movements have been used a lot to create an abstraction from a scene. The recipe is very simple: in a long exposure time move the camera while exposing. The result will look similar to the scene but in a more abstract way, in this small article I will discuss how to do it and what kind of results you can expect.



Many of these images can be done handheld but it will be a lot easier with a tripod. If you handhold the camera it will be really difficult to get motion in only one direction and the result will probably look messy. If you have a tripod you also need a good head, a head that can allow you to move the camera in only one direction. Three way tripod heads or geared heads are perfect for the task. A ballhead will not be very useful but you can use it to pan horizontally if it has a panning knob as most ballheads have.

On a Sunny day you may also need some ND filters are you will be trying to achieve long exposure times. A ND8 filter is probably enough if you stop down the lens to F16 or F22. Diffraction is not a big problem as nothing in the image will be totally sharp.

A zoom lens is a good idea to create different compositions and to do some zooming!

Exposure Time

This depends a lot on the scene and what you plan to do. Very long exposure times or very short exposure times usually produce an unpleasant result. If you can try to use exposures from 1/30 to 4  seconds. With 1/30 you need a fast wrist!


The movements you can try depend on your equipment and the scene some basic ideas are:

– Vertical panning (typical for trees)

– Horizontal panning

– Circular panning

– Zooming


ND8 Filter, 1/4”,F11, Zooming from 24mm to 105mm

Back lit scenes including the sun or the moon are ideal for zooming as you get rays of light coming towards you. Magic!


3.2”, F14,Panning up-down several times while exposing

With a long exposure you can pan up & down several times to remove everything from the scene except a very dark subject against its background.


1.6”, F16, Moving camera moving the tilt axis of the three-way head.

Circular movements are nice for fisheye views of a forest with the lens pointed straight up or for the opposite effect with the lens pointed 90 degrees down on a flower field or some scene with a lot of contrast.

Camera movements can be fun to try and can help you create a beautiful scene with bad light or when there are distracting elements in the middle of your composition. It’s a simple way to create abstract representations of what you see and if you process them strongly they can be beautiful prints.

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2 Comments on "How to Take Stunning Abstract Pictures With Movement & Zoom"

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Thanks for the information. I’ve been seeing a lot of buzz over movement shots like this and have started playing with the technique, but I haven’t found such a great example of a zoomed shot before (the forest shot). Very nice. I plan on practicing this today.

William Elliott

great ideas here, really want to try them out!
However, I was wondering how do you zoom in without getting any/much camera shake?
Thanks 🙂

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