Welcome to the first Exploring with a Camera of the new year! Over the last few months, I’ve been very attracted to more impressionistic photographs. I’ve been enjoying them both as an end product that is a photograph, and as the starting material for digital paintings. Since I’ve been exploring how to create these “fuzzy pictures” (as one friend called them), I thought Artistic Blur would be the perfect Exploring with a Camera topic to dive into.
For this exploration, I’m defining “blur” as anything that gives an impression of softness in the edges of the photographic elements. It may not be “blur” as defined technically in a software program like Photoshop. Artistic Blur is creating this softness on purpose, for artistic effect, either in-camera or in post processing. This month, we’ll look at the ways you can create Artistic Blur in-camera. Next month, in Part 2, we’ll cover creating Artistic Blur in post-processing.
There is a fine line between the a good result with Artistic Blur in-camera and a mistake. Blur due to incorrect focus, camera shake or similar problems would usually be considered a mistake and not an artistic effect. When a photograph is intended to be sharp, it should be sharp. If it’s slightly blurry, usually it just looks wrong. Intentionally creating blur to look artistic takes a lot more effort, and trial and error, than the type of blur you typically get as a mistake.
There are quite a few ways to intentionally create blur in-camera. For all of these, experimentation is the key to success. Playing around with camera settings and approach will be required for each subject and situation to find something that works well. Sometimes you’ll get something great on the first try. Don’t worry if that doesn’t happen! Be prepared for many, many failures to get one photograph where it works. But when it works — WOW! It’s wonderful.
Long Shutter Speeds
Movement during a long shutter speed, either of the camera or in the surroundings, is the most common way to create blur. You can move the camera with your hands, zoom during exposure or capture movement happening around you. Using shutter priority or manual mode, set the camera to a long shutter speed. (If you don’t know how to do this in your camera, download my free Digital Photography Basics eBook to learn more.) You will need to experiment with what shutter speed gives the “right” amount of blur for an artistic look, but start at 1/6s of a second and go from there, adjusting up or down as needed. I’ve found that shutter speeds shorter than 1/6 will tend to look more like mistakes than something intentionally created.
Below are a few ways to generate the movement during the exposure. I’m giving the camera settings here to help you understand how I created the image. I’ve noted if it’s a mobile image; more on that later.
In addition to long shutter speeds, some cameras or apps have the ability to overlay multiple exposures in-camera. When you move slightly between each exposure, you reduce the definition and overlay multiple edges in the final image. My dSLR doesn’t have this feature and I’ve yet to play with any apps that do this, so no examples for you! More on combining multiple exposures in post-processing in Part 2 next month.
Mobile Photography Note: You don’t have the control of camera settings on a camera phone like you do with a traditional camera, so you have to find apps that allow you to achieve the same effects. For the iPhone 5 images above, I used the Slow Shutter Cam app.
Out of Focus
Intentionally unfocusing can create dreamy effects! Turn your lens to manual focus, and then play with different amounts of “out-of-focus-ness” (not sure if there is a term for that). Also adjust your aperture setting. Both focus and aperture settings will affect the size of the bokeh generated by any point light sources or highlights, like these Christmas lights.
I haven’t played with using out-of-focus blur to create artistic images in my iPhone yet, so I think that’s my personal challenge for the next couple of weeks as we explore this topic. Check back! I’ll share what I learn.
Another way to create in-camera artistic blur is to photograph through something else that provides the blur. This can be through rainy windows, atmospheric effects like mist and fog, or even something held over the camera lens, like plastic. A few examples:
Reflections can be a great source of artistic blur! When you have water on a surface, you can get distortion from the underlying surface and elements, often creating a blurry effect. I love this! Any rainy day you can find me running around in parking lots with trees, looking for interesting images in the puddles.
Glass also provides reflections which can be an interesting source of blur, basically another form of shooting “through.” While the camera is in focus, the out-of-focus reflection creates an interesting interaction in this image.
So what do you think? Are you ready to explore creating Artistic Blur with your camera? If you haven’t done this before, have a great time experimenting, and then come back here and share your results. Feel free to share any new or archive shots of artistic blur created in-camera, through the end of the month.
Now, go! Explore!