I am so confused...is blurry good or bad?
After teaching introductory photography classes for nearly a decade, there's one thing I've noticed always trips my students up...and that's blur. We talk about blur so many ways...motion blur, background blur, handshake, blurry subject. There are also different ways to achieve (and avoid blur.) I often find my students mixing them all up. It's not their fault. It is very confusing.
all the ways we talk about blur
- 1Background Blur (aka bokeh)
- 2Intentional Motion Blur (panning, showing movement, create a sense of busy-ness or anonymity)
- 3Artistic Blur (freelensing, shooting out of focus)
- 1Hand shake
- 2Unintentional motion blur (due to low shutter speed)
- 3Missed focus (either due to low aperture or a moving subject)
We discussed at great length how to avoid the BAD blur in the article My Biggest Focus Fails and How to Avoid Them if you need a refresher. Now, let's talk about GOOD blur and get creative.
We talk about background blur all the time because it is the single best way to set your DSLR photos apart from your phone camera. I've written an in-depth article on how to achieve background blur and I've created a cheat sheet that you can print and carry in your bag the next time you want that dreamy background.
Background blur is achieved by manipulating your aperture. The smaller the number, the more blur. The closer you are to your subject (in this case, the phone screen) the more blur you will achieve. The further you are from the subject (in this case, Thomas Rhett) the more blur. There are other factors as well including your lens choice. The longer the lens (aka the higher the # before the "mm" on the lens) the more pronounced the blur will be. Again, for more information consult my previous blog post.
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intentional motion blur
Why would you intentionally use motion blur in your photo? I'm glad you asked! There are many reasons and when thoughtfully done, can really elevate your photography.
to give a sense of forward motion to a static image
The technique is called "panning." You'll see this often with running dogs, race cars, bikers, or just about anything that is moving forward. It involves a camera that swivels horizontally, keeping the subject in focus, while blurring the background into a streak. It mimics what you see when you turn your head and watch something go by. Imagine the difference between seeing a race car shot at a very high shutter speed...perfectly frozen, and a race car that is in focus but the background makes it look like it is whizzing by at a very high rate of speed.
To add flow and softness
Sometimes you don't need much to add a little somethin' somethin' to your photo. Here we tossed the dress in the air and as it fell, the shutter speed was just low enough to allow for a little bit of movement and softness. She was still enough that she remained in focus.
create a sense of busy-ness
In the following examples, I slowed the shutter speed down to create a sense of activity. People coming and going, crowded streets, and busy shoppers. It creates a totally different feel than if all of these people were static. In fact, if they didn't have the sense that they were moving, I believe all of these photos would look like a snapshot of random people. The photos would be much less purposeful.
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Sometimes you just want to break the rules to beautiful results. You can do this by intentionally blurring your photos either through a technique called freelensing where you detach your lens from the camera and move it around slightly to get selective focus, or you can just throw your lens in manual focus mode and shoot your photo totally out of focus on purpose! Both are extremely beautiful and painterly. The key is that the blur isn't a "mistake" but something that is used thoughtfully as part of the story or composition. Of course there are happy accidents but this is most successful where there is intention involved.
Because I am not much of a freelenser (I tried once and dropped my lens down a mountain...) I asked my friend Anita Cline to share on of her images. She discovered the art of freelensing many years ago and fell in love with the softness and how it made certain colors pop.
She almost exclusively freelenses and it has become her signature style. Using this technique adds a painterly feel to her images and can add a sense of romance or mystery depending on what she is shooting. You can check out her work on Instagram.
throw your camera out of focus
Put your camera on manual focus and intentionally turn the dial out of focus and take some pictures. What do you see? Do you see shape and form? Do you see a painting? Do you see romance? It is fun to experiment and break the rules. See the example below for an artist that is a master of rule breaking and not worrying about what she should do but doing what she wants to do!
ways to use blur in your photography
Related Articles: Confidently Set Your Camera in Any Situation
Andrea Ferenchik, Founder
Andrea started The Big Girl School because she loves sharing her passion of photography with other women. As a former trainer at Microsoft and current professional photographer, she has the unique ability to break down technical jargon of the camera into easy to understand language. She loves nothing more than to see her students grow and thrive in their photographic journey.
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