Pulling light with a zoom lens can create electric results.
I have been a prime lens—one focal length—kind of guy most of my career. A zoom lens has varying focal lengths built into one. It never felt right to me.
A friend and relatively famous photographer and teacher from the South, Jack Corn, use to scoff, “I don’t need a zoom lens. I have two legs, and can move closer or back away.”
I am great believer in learning to use different lenses the way a golfer learns to use different clubs. Just as each club—a driver, wedge or putter—is designed for a specific purpose, wide-angle, portrait or telephoto lenses are designed to make pictures in different situations.
I must confess, a few years back I bought a 35-70mm zoom, primarily used for landscape photography. I found the lens extremely practical, especially in tight positions where there simply wasn’t space to more forward or backward without jeopardizing my life. Another benefit of zoom lens is carrying one lens instead of three: 35mm, 50mm and a 70mm.
In a tutorial, National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore spoke of the Nikon 24-70mm as one of his favorite lenses. I decided I would try the lens. I am not in love with it the way he is—we do different types of photography—but it is a handy zoom focal length and a very sharp lens.
The concept of pulling or dragging light with a zoom lens is starting with the shortest or widest focal length—say 24mm or 35mm—and slowly increasing the focal length (magnification) while making your exposure. With pulling or zooming, you are drawing lines, shapes and color toward you as they increase in size—sort of like those opening scenes in the first Star Wars movies.
You can do the reverse as well—start with maximum focal length and decrease image sizes while making a long exposure. Zooming out doesn’t usually work as well with light because it overlaps, and light loses definition because of overexposure.
For best results try shooting in low light with a small aperture and slow shutter speed. Trying alternating from 5 seconds to one minute or longer, which gives you time to push or pull during exposure.
In essence, you drag light, color and shapes so they come alive like colored worms or dancing fairies.
Tips When Zooming
- A tripod is helpful.
- Try both pulling and pushing.
- Use a low ISO: 100 or 200.
- Use a small aperture: f/16 or f/22.
- Scenes of lights and shadows work well, but also try photographing faces with this technique.
- As with all photography, have fun and experiment.