Home Art and Technique Harness the Power of Blur and Take Better Photos

Harness the Power of Blur and Take Better Photos

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Blur Technique

To develop your photography you must unlearn the lesson that blurry photographs are bad. It is deeply ingrained into us that all photos should be in focus and that blur is negative. In fact deliberate blur is a vital weapon in the professional photographer’s arsenal. It allows you to covey movement and masks distracting background elements. Understand the deliberate uses of blur  and your photos will stand out. This guide will help you to improve your shots by using different kinds of blur.

Motion Blur

Motion Blur

Courtesy of Martin Fisch

When you see photographs of dancers or sports people they are almost always frozen with a blast of flash. Sometimes this works well by capturing a vital moment or beautiful shape. Other times it looks artificial and doesn’t convey what was happening at the time. Instead of relying on flash, take original photos of moving subjects by capturing their motion on film.

Record motion blur by keeping your camera still and leaving the shutter open to record any movement. This technique will give you flowing patterns but no point of focus. You will need a tripod or a firm surface to support the camera. A shutter speed of about a second is a good place to start but the exact exposure time depends on the speed of the subject. Use this technique to record dancers and even the movement of fish in an aquarium, or cars on a road at night.


Blur panning

Panning allows you to keep a moving subject in focus and blur the background. It gives photos a strong sense of motion. Pan by moving the camera parallel to subject at the same speed as it is moving. Use a shutter speed between 1/15 of a second and 2 seconds, depending on the speed of the subject. You won’t get perfect focus but provided the subject is more in focus than the background, the results are effective. Use panning to record moving people, vehicles and animals.

Deliberate Blur

Courtesy of Fabian Mohr https://www.flickr.com/photos/fabianmohr/

Courtesy of Fabian Mohr

Some photographs work best if they are completely defocused. For example a defocused shot of a child on a beach in the late afternoon light expresses nostalgia perfectly. Photographs with strong repeating patterns, such as tree trunks in a forest, can be defocused for a painterly effect. Zooming with a telephoto lens during a long exposure can also create interesting defocused effects.

Background Blur 

Background Blur

Courtesy of Paul Hocksenar

Use a shallow depth-of-field to throw the background of your photos out of focus. This isolates your subject and makes it stand out. This technique works well for small subjects such as flowers and leaves. You can also use a shallow depth-of-field to draw the attention to draw attention to a portrait subject’s eyes. Blur can also give your photos a sense of depth if you include out-of-focus foreground elements in your compositions.


Courtesy of Neil Fowler https://www.flickr.com/photos/31878512@N06/

Courtesy of Neil Fowler
https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/

Bokeh is a photographic term that describes the aesthetic qualities of a defocused background. If your background is defocused with attractive colours and no obvious detail, it has good bokeh. Bad bokeh is where a background is distracting or clashes with the colours of your subject. Get good bokeh in your shots by using a very shallow depth of field of 3.5 or less. This will reduce details to an even, creamy blur, and turn background lights into large, defocused circular or polygonal shapes.

Jerroid Marks is founder of Band of Light, photographer and world traveler.


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