Are Zoom Shots Wrong?

Image courtesy of  Juno Namkoong Lee

Image courtesy of Juno Namkoong Lee

I recently watched a promotional video that employed the use of zoom shots quite a bit. You've probably seen this technique used in corporate work and local commercials. You know, the shot starts out tight on the sign overhead the store front and then the camera slowly zooms out to reveal the building? Or the interior shot that starts out on a wide and slowly zooms in to a specific product on the shelf?

When I saw this technique used again and again in the video I was watching, I have to admit that I had a negative reaction. Then I started thinking, "Why?" What was it about seeing a shot zooming in or zooming out that affected my emotional response to the piece? Is it wrong? Is it a violation of some cinematographer code?

The short answer is, "Maybe." In my opinion, contrary to what others in the industry may say, zoom shots are not old-fashioned. Serious and well-respected filmmakers still use them, as the following video discusses. But before you consider this carte blanche to start zooming in and zooming out on every shot, remember that choosing to move (or not move) your camera will impact your piece and will result in an emotional response from your audience, whether positive or negative.

As you learned from the above video, using the zoom is another tool in the cinematographer toolbox. Like any tool, it should be used at the proper time to achieve the proper result. It should be used for good reason. I don't want to watch an entire video where every shot is either zooming in or zooming out. But I also don't want to watch an entire video that utilizes nothing but jib shots or dolly moves.

The problem with zooming is not the act itself, but choosing when to zoom. Every composition, every move, should be motivated. It should enhance the story you're trying to tell, not distract from it. If there's no good reason to zoom, maybe you should try a different technique. However, using the zoom at the right moment, and in the right way, can be beneficial to your video.

What are your thoughts on zoom shots? How do you feel about them? What advice would you give to other shooters? Leave your thoughts in the the Comments.