Friday Foto Talk: Deliberate Blurring   4 comments

Aspens in abstract.  This recent image from the Rockies was shot at 1/6 second while moving the camera straight down.

Aspens in abstract. This recent image from the Rockies was shot at 1/6 second while moving the camera straight down.

I’ve been deliberately blurring my pictures more and more lately.  In fact, the last post has an example of blurring in it.  To create a deliberately blurred photo, you need to combine a relatively slow shutter speed with movement of either the camera or subject.  For this post, I will concentrate on the types of blurring I’ve done in nature photography.  Though I’ll list and briefly explain the other types, I will leave panning and urban motion-blur effects for another post.

To be honest, I’ve in the past thought many blurred images looked too gimmicky for me.  And images like the above have become very popular pictures to post on the internet.  That said, I’ve now come to the conclusion that blurring (more than water at least) has a place in my portfolio so long as I’m selective about it.  Maybe it has a place in your portfolios too.

A new image, I shot this small falls on a recent icy morning in the Colorado Rockies.

A new image, I shot this small falls on a recent icy morning in the Colorado Rockies.

I use deliberate blurring to help create a mood and/or tell a story with the picture.  In addition, I like the painterly, watercolor effect that blurring sometimes gives.  The goal of mood/story is what I’m usually thinking about when shooting.  The painterly effect, though very worthwhile when it’s there, is something that only comes through when I’m looking at and processing the image later.

In other words, for me shooting to create some artsy effect is pretty much anathema.  It is not how I approach photography.  I almost always want to tell a story or impart a mood with my images.  In addition, I often try to put the person inside the image.  That’s not to say that I want people to have a specific first impression when they look at one of my images.  It’s just fine when someone says “that looks like a painting.”

Colorado Aspen Grove

View from within an aspen grove in the Colorado Rockies. I moved the camera only slightly for this image.

Your shutter speeds when blurring will, in general, be about 1/50 to 1/5 second.  You are normally best off starting at 1/15 to 1/30 sec. and going up or down from there. The exception is when blurring water, when shutter speeds will start at a half to one second and go longer from there.  Note that your focal length plus the speed of the subject or camera movement will likely influence the shutter speed you end up using.

 Here are a few ways you can use deliberate blurring in your photos:

      • You can blur to imply movement, using a slow shutter speed to blur a speeding car, person, animal, etc.  You can simply mount the camera on a tripod and let the subject accomplish the blur.  I regard blurring moving water, as you see in most waterfall images, to be a special case of this type of blurring.
Northern California Coast, where a shutter speed of 0.6 seconds served to streak the incoming surf.  Worth the wet sneakers!

Northern California Coast, where a shutter speed of 0.6 seconds served to streak the incoming surf. Worth the wet sneakers!

      • Related to the effect above, you can “show the wind” by allowing moving trees, flowers, etc. to blur part or all of your image.  Again, you should probably use a tripod for this.
Spring flowers in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.  There is a reason that the Gorge is a mecca for wind-surfers.

The blooming Columbia River Gorge, Oregon on a windy spring morning. There is a reason why the Gorge is a mecca for wind-surfers.

      • You can follow a moving subject and blur the background.  This is called panning and is a topic for another post.
      • You can move or vibrate the camera to imply tension or other emotion.  This takes even more practice to get right than other types of blurring, probably because it involves the most random types of camera movement.  I need to try this.  But It’s hard for me to shoot while I’m tense!
      • You can blur to spread out colors.  This is a favorite of mine.  It can easily result in a painterly look.
      • You can move the camera in one direction to exaggerate the lines in an image.  I like doing this too, and it can be combined with the effect above, spreading out colors.  It’s quite a popular look these days, so I’m picky about when I do this; don’t want to overdo it.
Click on this image for purchase options.  Since I was shooting these reeds in an Eastern Washington wetland at a longer focal length (160 mm.), I used a faster shutter speed (1/80 sec.).

Click on this image for purchase options. Since I was shooting these reeds in an Eastern Washington wetland at a longer focal length (160 mm.), I used a faster shutter speed (1/80 sec.).

      • While using a zoom lens, you can zoom in or out during a slow exposure to create a radiating pattern.  This can create tension and impact, depending on your subject.
      • You can combine any of the above.  For example, you can zoom in on a moving subject, or spread colors while showing the wind.
I haven't yet done much zoom-blurring.  This is a big, snow-basted fir tree I admired during a cross-country ski tour in Oregon.

I haven’t yet done much zoom-blurring. This is a big, snow-basted fir tree I admired during a cross-country ski tour in Oregon.

You’ll undoubtedly find other ways to blur as you get into this.  In fact, I hope you do!  Realize, however, that you’ll probably be shooting tons of images to get the effect. It’s not really that it takes practice to get right.  What is “right” in abstracted images of this type after all?  Truth is, deliberate blurring encourages experimentation.

Later on when you take a look at the images, if you’re like me you will initially think most of them look cool.  You may end up liking too many!  That’s natural.  Your eye will become more discerning with time.  Keep your mind on what you want to impart with the image and you should be able to whittle down all of your experiments to the very few (or one) that are just right.

If you are interested in any of these images, please contact me.  I’ll be glad to accommodate any request.  Note that they are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  If you click on the images you will be taken to my galleries, or in some cases to the high-resolution version.  Thanks for your interest and have a great weekend!

Click on this image of a sunset in abstract for purchase options.  The fast camera movement here was courtesy of a speeding motorboat in Sian Kaan Lagoon, Yucatan, Mexico.

Click on this image of a sunset in abstract for purchase options. The fast camera movement here was courtesy of a speeding motorboat in Sian Kaan Lagoon, Yucatan, Mexico.

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4 responses to “Friday Foto Talk: Deliberate Blurring

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  1. Thanks! I’ve been doing some blurring using iPhone ap Blur. Want to do blurs with my Olympus OMD1 and found your article
    and images interesting. Thanks, Martin

  2. Great set! I normally don’t like blowing grass/flowers in the foreground of an image, but your ‘blooming Columbia river gorge’ image makes for a very dynamic composition. Can almost feel the breeze.

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