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Swipes, Swirls and Zooms For Creative Captures

May 3, 2017 by Marie Joabar

I don’t remember exactly who I learned the technique of swipes and zooms from but I’ll never forget how much fun it was when I first tried it! To this day I still look for ways to use this technique to mix things up and to exercise the creative side of my brain. In a nutshell, you use a long exposure and move your camera or lens while exposing for a very creative and abstract looking image.

A Swipe is the practice of moving your camera up or down (or sideways) in a straight line while exposing. This gives you a linear look. With Zooms, you hold your camera still but turn the zoom ring on your lens while exposing. This gives you a circular look. A Swirl is when you rotate your whole camera, giving you a spinning look. Let’s look at it in more detail.

Exposure Settings

Long shutter speeds are key as you need enough time to be able to move the camera. Anywhere from 1 second to 4 seconds works well. Depth of field is not important because most of the scene will be blurred anyway so just use the aperture to control the light. With a long shutter speed, you may need to use the lowest ISO setting (usually 100 ISO) depending on the brightness of your scene.

Filters Can Help

Long exposures in daylight can be challenging because we risk overexposure. Using a circular polarizing filter will help to take away some light (about 2 stops) and that may just be enough but if not, then a neutral density filter (ND) will definitely do the trick. ND filters are available in various degrees of density from 1 stop to 10 stops and it's always good to have a couple of them in your bag.


ZOOMS – Press the shutter button while turning the zoom ring on your lens. You may or may not want to zoom the full range of your lens as you might include more in the frame than you want. Conversely, you may not capture enough of the scene and may need to zoom wider. Take a few test shots and decide if you should zoom less or more. It’s helpful to start turning lens before you actually fire the shutter. This will help you to move more fluidly and avoid jerking the camera.

SWIPES – Expose while moving your camera up, down or sideways. How far up or down you move your camera depends on what you want in the frame. If you have a bright or dark area that would be distracting, stop the swipe before you get to that part. Start moving the camera before you actually fire the shutter for a more fluid motion. Continue moving after the shutter fires too for this same reason.

For SWIRLS, it’s good to fill the frame with what you want in the shot and then swirl the camera around staying on the subject. Again, begin moving the camera a little before you actually fire the shutter for more fluid movement.

Tripods or Hand Holding

Hand holding is fine for this technique but you’ll see that when you’re zooming (as opposed to swiping or swirling) you’ll have a cleaner look with a tripod because only the lens will be moving, not the camera. Try this with and without a tripod and decide if using it gives you better results.

Subjects That Work Best

The list is long for subjects to use this fun technique with but here are a few of my favorites. - Zooms give you an exploding scene and can be fun with just about anything but I especially like using it with brightly lit night scenes or anything with lights. - I like to use Swirling on very colorful scenes so I get a kaleidoscope looking image. - My favorite Swipes are taken of trees in a forest and of colorful flower beds.

So there you have it, a new tool for your photo tool bag. Give these a try and you’ll be capturing photos in a whole new and very creative way!