Photographers work very hard to capture the perfect shot. Whether it's adding special effects to images, such as artistic blur, or taking dramatic shots during 'magic hour' – the brief window in time when the sun is low in the sky and casting a warm glow on your subject.

However, if you've got a Digital SLR you can put into practice a few tweaks to ensure you can capture similar shots, with very little effort.

We'll start with zoom blur.

What is Zoom Blur?

While zoom blur can be done with an image editor, it doesn't need to be. You can get awesome results by doing it with your camera when you take the photo. To take a zoom blur shot, you need to use a digital SLR with a zoom lens - or any camera that allows you to change the focal length of the lens while the picture is being exposed. Alas, most point-and-shoot cameras use an electronic control for the zoom setting that locks while the exposure is taking place.

Mastering the Zoom Blur technique

If you have a camera capable of playing along, give it a try. The basic idea: You'll shoot the scene with a somewhat slow shutter speed so you have time to change the focal length during the exposure. Since the exposure will include a range of focal lengths, the resulting photo will be a blur that ranges from wide angle to telephoto.

Set your camera to Aperture or Shutter Priority mode and dial in about 1/4 second. There's no one perfect shutter speed, but keep in mind that you'll need enough time during the exposure to move the zoom, but not so much time that the photo is jittery from being held during the shot.

Line up your shot, then point the camera at your subject and start zooming with a firm, steady, and consistent motion. Don't zoom too fast, or you will make the camera jerk around - and don't do it too slow, either, or you'll reach the end of your zoom range before you finish the exposure.

Just after you start zooming, gently press the shutter release. Just as in golf, be sure that you follow through the zoom motion during and even after the shutter releases. That way, you won't stop moving the zoom in the middle of the exposure, and the overall effect will look smooth and natural. And just as in golf, you will need to practice this a few times to get the shot right.

That's all there is to it. You can experiment with different settings - I've found that brightly coloured subjects and a simple backgrounds tend to work best - and vary the zoom range and shutter speed to see how they affect the result.

If you have a tripod, you can try mounting the camera for support so you don't introduce hand jitters into the shot, and you can use longer shutter speeds without worry.

Zoom Blur alternative

I think that using a digital SLR and zooming with a real lens is the most fun way to try this photo style, but you can always add the effect afterwards using a photo editor as well - which is a good alternative if you have a point-and-shoot. To give it a try, check out the Radial Blur tool. In Photoshop Elements, for example, you can choose Filter, Blur, Radial Blur. In the Radial Blur dialog box, you can change the mode from Spin to Zoom.

NEXT PAGE: Take photos at Twilight

  1. Blur photos artistically
  2. Take photos at Twilight

Photographers work very hard to capture the perfect shot. Whether it's adding special effects to images, such as artistic blur, or taking dramatic shots during 'magic hour'. We show you a few ways to ensure you can capture similar shots, with very little effort.

When it comes to taking photos at Twilight, the first thing you should so is set your alarm so you don't miss the right time. In general, we're talking about the first and last hour of sunlight each day, so you don't have a huge margin for error when planning your photo exploits. Depending upon where you live and the time of year, you'll have somewhat more or less time.

It's somewhat relative in any event. I will sometimes start shooting a bit early in the afternoon, and as the sun goes down, the photos will, in almost imperceptibly small increments, get better and better - until the sun truly drops below the horizon and I abruptly lose the golden light that was giving me such awesome results. At that point, I'm done for the day.

Shoot silhouettes

The most forgiving magic-hour photos to practice on are silhouettes. In these photos, you can let the setting sun do most of the work for you; when you point the camera at the lighted horizon, the camera will do its best to expose for the sky and underexpose your subject, resulting in a silhouette. Take a test photo and inspect the result; you can use the exposure compensation dial to underexpose or overexpose the scene a bit until you get results you like.

If you want to try your hand at a manual exposure, set the shutter speed to about 4 seconds and the aperture to f/16. Take a test shot and see if you like the results. If the first shot came out too dark, open up the aperture to f/8. If you happen to be shooting around water, such as at the beach, the long exposure will give the water a dreamy, blurry effect as the waves lap up on shore throughout the exposure.

Mix artificial light and the sunset

Another cool effect: You can find a subject that has its own lighting, and combine it with the warm, glowing light in the sky in the background by using a longer shutter speed, which allows both light sources to influence the photo. This is one of my favourite ways to use sunset lighting. Check out my shot of a ferry at Blake Island in Washington state; the artificial lighting is a nice contrast to the warm, dusky sky.

The exposure settings in this photo are very similar to what I used in the silhouette example; I used 4 seconds, but you can try as much as 8 seconds with a fairly small aperture, like f/16.You can make the sky (and overall picture) brighter by increasing the shutter speed, and make the points of artificial light brighter and larger by opening up the aperture.

Take a portrait at sunset

Those are fun ways to capture landscapes, but what if you want to put someone in the shot? If you take an ordinary photo late in the day, the flash will fire, but the brief exposure will render the background dark and muddy - you'll lose the gorgeous colours of sunset.

The easiest approach is to put your camera in its slow-sync mode, in which the flash fires, but leaves the shutter open longer than usual. (Check your camera's user guide to see if it has this mode and how to use it.)

You can get better results by putting the camera in manual mode and dialling in the shutter speed of your choice. In this photo, for example, I used a shutter speed of 1 second and an aperture of f/4, and I let the flash fire to exposure the subject.

See also: How-to overcome 5 common digital photo problems

  1. Blur photos artistically
  2. Take photos at Twilight