Stuff's Guide to Photography: How a little zoom can make a big difference

Zoom doesn't just make things bigger. Use it right and you'll be able to pull all sorts of clever tricks, from making people look pretty to moving buildings closer together

Stuff's Guide to Photography: how to use a zoom

You don't need a high-end DSLR to get into zoom photography.

No, really. The best compacts go up to 30x zoom, while Samsung's Galaxy K zoom sticks a 10x magnifier onto an Android phone. But no matter what hardware you employ, because the humble zoom can do much more than just make things far away bigger. Here are our top tips for getting the most from zoom.

Make it busy

A wide-angle lens or setting (the default for most compact cameras and phones) is useful for something like a party where you want to fit a lot of close-up subjects into the frame. However, if you want to create bustle in a picture, get farther away and zoom in. A high zoom factor compresses the perspective and brings features closer together. You can use this trick to convey the bustle of shoppers on a high street or to exaggerate the tightness of a queue of people or traffic.

Move a few buildings

Ever wondered how travel photographers manage to fit a whole skyline into one shot, but your holiday snaps only fit in one side of a building? The answer is zoom. Take one long zoom and one river (rivers are very useful because they force a clear, wide break between buildings), stand on one side of the river and shoot the buildings on the opposite bank. You'll find you can squash a whole load of landmarks into a single frame. Next, find a bend in the river and look along the far side at an angle, and you'll find buildings crowding into your lens.

Layer it up

While a wide-angle lens makes distant objects appear even farther away and emphasises wide, open spaces, strong zoom can be a more effective way to document the changes from front to back in an expansive scene. Portrait orientations will allow you to capture everything from the middle-distance up to the horizon and sky in a stack of layers. The zoom will even out the size of the features in the foreground and the distance and help you lay out a concise representation of the whole scene.