observed by Diane » photo journal for those who enjoy vignettes of an ordinary life

The Right Kind of Blur

Blur can be a good thing in photographs. There is a kind of blur that is very desirable and then there is just plain poor focusing, which is undesirable blur (well, most of the time). The thing about rules in photography (or anything really) is that knowing the rules gives us a foundation but once practiced and understood, they can be broken. This all sounds incredibly ambiguous so let me explain myself.

The goal when taking photographs is to ensure the primary subject is in focus – true. But then if we’re taking a portrait for instance, there is an advantage to having the background or negative space blurred or at least slightly blurred. This produces the effect of decluttering the background in a soft manner to bring even more focus on the primary subject. This is primarily accomplished by opening up our aperture. Pretty blur.

Another name or type of blur is called bokeh. The word has Japanese origins and generally means blurry as it refers to the out-of-focus portion of the image providing aesthetic appeal. There are even different forms (or shapes) of bokeh. Some forms of bokeh are smooth and silky, some are round little “bokeh balls” (when the aperture is wide open) or some are hexagonal when the aperture is stopped down a bit, for instance. Nice blur.

Another form of blur occurs in images to demonstrate motion or movement in contrast to the area in focus. You see this in images of people, animals, water, or vehicles in motion for instance. This type of blur is created either by using a slow shutter speed or by panning the subject to create blur in the background. Good blur.

And then there are shots created with a lens called the Lens Baby. Right now the Lens Baby has become a real fad so is widely used to create serious blur. The problem with Lens Baby is that most new users tend to really overdo the blur. I love well used blur demonstrating a shallow depth of field as well as finely executed bokeh (both created with any ordinary lens) but I really dislike most blur done with a Lens Baby. The reason I am not fond of those images is primarily because it’s too extreme and the image no longer focuses on the primary subject. There are some professional photographers who use them for portrait photography and in those hands, in a well executed manner, the resulting images are dreamy. Dreamy blur (only in the right hands).

More blur doesn’t mean a better image. What is important is finding the best blur to balance the subject. The right kind of blur.

Here’s a nice blog post discussing Depth of Field and Bokeh if you’d like to read more about bokeh and how to achieve it. It’s worth the practice!

Of all the photography books I have, my favourite, Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with a Film or Digital Camera (Updated Edition)has some excellent how-to information about this topic including excellent examples showing the differences. If you already have the book, check out the examples (plus the settings to achieve each one) on pages 28 & 29, 32 & 33, and 36-39 (and several more as you work through the book).

The Digital Photography Bookby Scott Kelby is another great book for those wanting to get the most out of your digital SLR.

{NOTE: All of these terms are in a highly condensed form for brevity in this post.}

Tweet thisFollow me on TwitterPin thisshare on Facebook