Exploring with a Camera: Artistic Blur, Part 2

Hey, it’s Exploring with a Camera time! This month we are continuing our discussion of Artistic Blur, talking about adding blurry effects in post-processing.

My little break from routine, ditching my planned schedule to take a hike with our new dog Zoey yesterday morning, paid off in more ways than one. It was an opportunity to get out of the house and get to know Zoey a bit more, but it was also a foggy morning — wonderful for photography! I didn’t take too many photos, as I was more focused on working with Zoey on the leash, but I did capture a couple. This morning I processed this lovely image of trees in the fog, and it’s serves as an example of creating blur in post-processing for artistic effect.


Post-processing is a great way to get artistic blur, either by enhancing blurry effects we created in-camera or transforming a perfectly focused image into something altogether different. Let’s look at the different possibilities…


Artistic Blur is, at some level, about imperfection. One way to add some imperfection is to blend a photograph with a texture. The photograph takes on variations in both color and texture from the image it is blended with. I think this may be the most common way to add artistic blur in post-processing for many of us.

The image of trees in the fog, above, was blended with a couple of different textures as well as an artistic filter, “Chalk” from the AutoPainter II app. Another foggy tree image, below, uses a texture to further obscure the trees in the background. There is also some edge blur and vignetting, adding to the blurry effects.


The blending mode and opacity you choose when you combine a texture will have a strong impact on the final image. Do you find you use the same blending modes all of the time? Experiment with different modes, trying them with different types of textures and images, to see how they work. You can get some fantastically interesting effects just by varying your blending mode.

To use textures, you will need a software program that allows you to blend multiple layers. I use Adobe Photoshop Elements when I’m working on the PC and the Image Blender app on my iPad. You will also need texture images, which you can create yourself or download from the web. Here is a great link to a list of places to find free textures. What’s your favorite source? Share in the comments.

Multiple Exposure

If you can’t create multiple exposure images in-camera, you can creating them through blending after the fact. You can use either disparate, unrelated images, or similar images. For the tree image below, I blended three slightly shifted images. The clouds behind the tree were moving quickly, so my goal at the time of capture was to keep the tree in a similar place but mainly catch the motion of the clouds relative to the tree. The shift of the location of the tree within the frame made for an interesting form of artistic blur, when blended.

photo (28)

Here is another example of blur created with multiple exposures, although in this case the different exposures were created in post-processing as well. The original image of the tree was processed through the decim8 app, creating different versions where the branches were shifted relative to each other. The different versions were blended back onto the original, to create a digitized, blurry effect.


Blur, Blur and more Blur

Of course, there are all different types of blurring effects you can do in post processing. The standard allover blur effect is typically achieved using gaussian blur filter. From there, you can find many variations on the “blur” theme.

Gaussian blur, blended back with the original image, is often called “diffused glow.” It creates a very soft, dreamy effect:


Radial Blur which mimics zoom blur captured in camera:



Motion Blur mimics the impact of a long shutter speed with movement:


Edge Blur mimics a foggy or plastic lens:


Combining Effects

In many cases, combining both in-camera and post-processing blur effects create a wonderful artistic image. They both add different types of imperfections. I often will combine soft, foggy images with a texture, as shown above in a couple of examples. Another combination I like to use is a slow shutter in-camera combined with textures and/or painterly filters, in as the tree image below.


Tree branches blurred with a long exposure, almost become blowing grasses after painterly effects are applied:


The combination of multiple types of blur creates something artistic and truly unique.

One advantage of blurring effects added in post-processing is the ability to control the blurry effects. You often have options to mask regions of your photo from the effect, change the strength of the effect or move the origination point of directional effects. That can be nice, serving your artistic vision. The disadvantage is the blur can look mechanical because it is applied so consistently. So much for the imperfection that makes artistic blur so great! That’s why you have to try both in-camera and post-processing to create blur, to see which you like best. A combination of the two may even be your favorite way to add artistic blur.

It’s time to experiment! This month I encourage you to try at least one new type of blur in your post-processing, along with reviewing your favorite types of blur already. Share with us the results of your exploration!

Exploring with a Camera: Artistic Blur, Part 1

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.

Straight camera motion. ISO400, 35mm, f/22, 1/13

Straight camera motion. ISO400, 35mm, f/22, 1/13

Circular camera motion. ISO 50, 4.13mm, f/2.4, 0.7s (iPhone 5)

Rotating camera motion. ISO 50, 4.13mm, f/2.4, 0.7s (iPhone 5)

Swoosh camera motion. ISO400, 35mm, f/20, 1/6s

Swoosh camera motion. ISO400, 35mm, f/20, 1/6s

Zoom during exposure. ISO400, 65mm, f/10, 1.3s

Zoom during exposure. ISO400, 65mm, f/10, 1.3s

Moving vehicle. ISO50, 4.13mm, f/2.4, 0.6s (iPhone 5)

From a moving vehicle. ISO50, 4.13mm, f/2.4, 0.6s (iPhone 5)

Moving crowd. ISO1600, 35mm, f/1.4, 1/8s

Moving crowd. ISO1600, 35mm, f/1.4, 1/8s

Movement from both camera and boat. ISO1600, 28mm, f/5, 0.6s

Movement from both camera and boat. ISO1600, 28mm, f/5, 0.6s

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.

ISO400, 35mm, f/4.5, 1/13s

ISO400, 35mm, f/4.5, 1/13s

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.

Shooting “Through”

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:

Foggy car window

Foggy car window (iPhone 5)

Plastic film over lens

Plastic film over lens

Plastic film over lens. A hole was poked in the plastic to allow one point in focus.

Plastic film over lens. A hole was poked in the plastic to allow one point in focus.

Heavy fog

Heavy fog

Distortion created by photographing through a rainy window

Distortion created by photographing through a rainy window (iPhone 5)


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.

Reflection in a parking lot puddle. (Texture also applied in post-processing.)

Reflection in a parking lot puddle. (Texture also applied in post-processing.)

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.

Looking through a reflection.

Looking through a reflection.

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!

Exploring with a Camera: The Lights of Night

Welcome to December’s Exploring with a Camera! This month we’re going to be exploring the Lights of Night. It’s the perfect time of year to get out and play around with some night photography, since there are such short hours of daylight here in the northern hemisphere and all of these extra holiday lights hanging around.

I’m going to do something a little different this month. Instead of having a whole new Exploring with a Camera topic, let’s refresh on a few oldies but goodies on the photography of night and lights. Be sure to read all the way to the end because I’ve got an extra-special bonus that I want to be sure you don’t miss!

December’s Fog, Benton County Courthouse in Corvallis, Oregon

Night Photography

Tony’s Studio, San Francisco, California

You can revisit Exploring with a Camera: Night Photography to take a look at the basics of night photography. In this article, you will find tips on everything from the blue hour, reflections, and color cast, to handholding your camera for good night shots without a tripod. It’s based on all of my “lessons learned” from wandering at night on our travels around Europe, where I discovered the fun and beauty of a city after dark. These tips are timeless… The techniques I share on getting good night/low light images while hand-holding the camera in this post are ones I still use today.

Holiday Lights

Tree Lights, Albany, Oregon

In Exploring with a Camera: Holiday Lights, I focused in on the specifics of capturing those holiday lights. Revisit this post to get some ideas and tips on capturing city lights, bokeh lights, and twinkle lights. I also take a look at capturing lights in a different way with reflections and shadows, and address the awful “ghost lights” you might sometimes find in your images upon review.

Creative Lights

Exploring with a Camera: Creative Lights will give you a few ideas beyond the basics! Visit this article to learn about layering in and out of focus lights for an interesting view, using zoom to create cool effects, and capturing the funky hologram effect I’ve shown above. These ideas lead you to more abstract creations with the lights of night.

An Added Bonus

I’ve got an added bonus for you too! In my next email newsletter, which should arrive in your inbox on Sunday, I’ll have a PDF with even more tips on night photography. One of the photographers in our local PhotoArts Guild, John Ritchie, is an accomplished night photographer. Take a look at this gallery to see his night photography work.

Last year, John combined his lessons learned on night photography with a tripod and my tips on handheld night photography to create a tip sheet for our guild. He’s graciously allowed me to share it with you all. It’s a fabulous resource! It will arrive with the next Kat Eye News so be sure that you are signed up.

Are you ready to get started? I am! I’m planning to go out in the early hours of the morning this weekend and capture the lights of night. I’ve just purchased a cable release this week and I’m ready to carry my tripod around to play with some new techniques I’ve learned from John.

You can share your explorations with us here through the end of December. Go through your archive, or go out and try something new. Share your city lights, home lights, indoors or out. It doesn’t have to be holiday-related, anything goes as long as it’s the Lights of Night!

Exploring with a Camera: Chiaroscuro

Greetings! Welcome to November’s Exploring with a Camera. This month I am going back to Italy, literally and figuratively, as we study chiaroscuro, or light/dark contrast. I found myself creating of images with strong light/dark contrast on my recent trip to England, reminding me that I used this technique on a regular basis when I was living in Italy. Images like this can create a strong mood and story.

Chiaroscuro is an Italian word, combining the words for light (chiaro) and dark (scuro), and it refers to an artistic technique of using light and dark to render an object as three dimensional in two dimensional art. It is commonly used to refer to very strong light and dark contrasts in a piece of art, such as seen in the works of Caravaggio and Rembrandt. If you aren’t familiar with their paintings, give the links a quick click to see some examples.

In photography, the concept of chiaroscuro can be used to create dramatic images. Creating an image with strong light/dark contrast has some challenges, however. Let’s take a look at how to overcome them so we can use this wonderfully dramatic artistic effect.

Contrast and your Camera

The built in light meters in our digital cameras are a fantastic tool, but they can’t read our artistic intent. The camera’s automatic settings are programmed to work with the light meter to get an even exposure across the frame. It reads the light and dark and recommends an exposure to get an average, based on mid-tone grey. This works great when we have even lighting and want the entire frame illuminated, but when we have a situation with a strong light/dark contrast, the automated exposure can be dramatically wrong. If there is a small amount of light compared to dark areas within the frame, to get the average exposure camera will try to make the darks lighter, and will overexpose. If there is a small amount of dark in light, the camera will try to make the lights darker, and will underexpose.

For an effective chiaroscuro image, you need to expose for where you want the detail. To do that, you will need to compensate your exposure manually, increasing or decreasing the exposure to get the desired effect. You can use manual mode or exposure compensation in the creative modes to adjust the exposure. Look up exposure compensation and exposure modes in your camera manual to learn more. (If you’re not clear on this, my Digital Photography Basics ebook will be ready very soon and it has a more thorough explanation. Sign up for the Kat Eye News to be notified when it’s available.)

For the typical chiaroscuro effect, a small amount of light in dark, you will want to underexposure. This will keep the dark tones very dark, almost black, while the light tones will not be overexposed. Play around with your exposure, however, to see what works best for the specific image you want to create.

If your light source is actually in your frame, don’t worry if your highlights are overexposed. In the example below, underexposing further would render the view out the window visible, but would have put the figure in silhouette — not the desired effect. With chiaroscuro, you want to see the form of the subject.

You can also adjust your highlights and shadows in post processing to create greater light/dark contrast. In this image, I pushed the shadows darker to create more contrast between the figure and the alley.

Finding the Light

It takes the right lighting situation to create a chiaroscuro effect. You need the contrast of light in dark, which requires a light source that drops off fairly quickly into darkness. An interior room with one window, an alley opening into sun, or a light at night all provide the opportunity for creating with light/dark contrast.

There is no specific direction the light needs to be relative to the camera. In my examples, I get chiaroscuro effects with backlight, side light, and top light.

Interior hallway with back light from outdoor access

Inside house with side light from north facing window

Interior with top light from lamp.

Focal Point

When you have a strong light/dark contrast, it will become the focal point of your image, whether you intend it or not. Going back the concept of visual weight, strong light/dark contrast has a strong pull on the viewer’s eye. If your intended focal point is not the part of the image with the strongest contrast, there will be competition between the two. I’ve found that creating the focal point in the point with highest contrast is effective.

In this image below, the focal point is the door at the end of the alley. The backlighting makes the door the highest contrast element in the image. In addition, all lines lead to this door, and the door is in focus. All of these give the door visual weight, pulling the eye right to it.

Now consider a similar image, with the wall in focus instead of the door. Does it work as well?

I don’t think so. The strong light/dark contrast still pulls my eye but since it’s not in focus, my eye has to wander around the image trying to find the intended focal point.

Let’s also consider the effects of color in the image. Bright color can be as strong as light/dark contrast when considering visual weight. You will notice that many of my chiaroscuro images are in black and white. Color can, at times, be a detractor from the intended focal point. Consider the alley image again, this time in color. Does it work as well as the black and white?

In my opinion, no. The green of the leaves and wall attract my eye and detract from the door. The image is not as strong in color.

Practice makes Perfect

Creating effective chiaroscuro images takes practice and experimentation. To play with this technique:

  • Find a place with a point light source, like a lamp or a window in an otherwise dark room.
  • Grab a volunteer to model for you or set up a small still life.
  • Take multiple images from different angles and at different exposures, and also try varying your intended focal point.
  • Review the images and see what works out of the camera and with post processing.

Have fun! I look forward to seeing your exploration of chiaroscuro images. You can link in and share through the end of the month!

Exploring with a Camera: Process of Elimination (2nd Edition)

Welcome to October’s Exploring with a Camera! This month I am sharing a “second edition” post, repeating the topic Process of Elimination that I first wrote a little over a year ago. I had already planned on doing a second edition post this month, since I just returned from England on Monday and knew I wouldn’t have time to prepare a new topic. But I hadn’t decided what topic I wanted to repeat yet.

I come back to this specific topic for a couple of reasons. I’m rereading Photographically Speaking to prepare for my workshop with David duChemin next weekend, and came across this quote:

The way we express ourselves first depends on our having intent. No author throws random words on the page in hopes that they will somehow make sense. Yet we photographers do it all the time. We make photographs wtihout fully engaging in the process, without being mindful of our intent for that one image. But if you identify that intent, it narrows your gaze and helps you choose the best lens, the best shutter speed or aperture, or suggests you shoot from a different, better perspective. Intent matters. It is the prime mover. Without it, we are engaging in little more than accidentally exposing light to film or a sensor.

Using the Process of Elimination to create a more interesting image in Yorkshire.

In the A Sense of Place workshops I taught the last two weekends, we talked about intent. We talked about knowing what you want to say, in order to create stronger images that tell a story. For me, the Process of Elimination is a big part of creating photographs that express what I want to say. I think this is a fundamental concept that all of us should revisit from time to time, so here we go!

Some situational context: When I first wrote this we were still in the process of settling into our home after our move back from Italy.

For the next couple of weeks we are going to focus on the Process of Elimination. Funnily enough, this topic idea came to me several weeks ago, well before our container from Italy arrived last weekend. For the last few days, we have been pursuing a physical process of elimination in our home. We have so much stuff, now that our Italian belongings have been delivered. Trying to figure out what to keep and what to eliminate has been overwhelming at times, but the end result of elimination is always so much better. I can breathe and focus.

There is a great parallel with photography here! I started noticing in the last few months that many of my images and compositions are based on eliminating the elements that shouldn’t be in the image, as much as deciding what should be there. This is one reason I struggle a bit with composition in painting. With a painting, I get to add whatever I want to the composition, which is not how I normally operate. In my photography, much of the image is formed as I take away elements that don’t belong in the picture. The choice of what to take away will depend on what I am trying to convey with my image. What caught my eye? What is of interest here?

Let’s look at some ways to pursue the process of elimination…


For this exercise, I am going to distinguish framing from cropping. Framing is how you frame the composition in the camera at the time of taking the photo, as compared to cropping which is done in post-processing. Framing is the best way to work through the process of elimination, because you can take multiple shots. You can study angles and changes to what is in your frame real time, making adjustments as you go.

The lead in image I took in Carbondale, Colorado is a good example. The focus is on the bike, and the color/texture of the wall behind it. Blue and white bike, textured blue wall. Those are the elements that caught my eye in this scene. Before getting to that shot, however, I started with this one:

Blah, isn’t it? Bike is in the center, and there is nothing that grabs you about the image. The shadows from the tree just out of the frame on the left are strong and distracting. I consider this a “warm-up” shot, helping me to work toward what I wanted to convey. First step, capture the bike and the wall. Then, use this to help me see where I want to go. For the final image at the top of the post, I worked to eliminate the strong shadows and focus just on the bike and the wall. Magic!

Here is another scene from Colorado, this time Old Colorado City, where I used the process of elimination. This is never how I would present the scene, I took this to set the stage for what comes next.

The contrasting bright colors of the purple flowers and the blue architectural detail caught my eye. This shows the scene I was working with. As framed above, I would get the color, but would the image would not be interesting. So I work to eliminate. I find an angle that focuses on the contrast between the purple and the blue.

Better, but there are still too many distracting elements. The pole and signs as you look down the wall and street on the right are distracting. The water spout in the bottom right is a distraction also. The white details from the door frame in the upper left aren’t helping anything. So, focus in further, change the angle slightly and…

We’ve got all purple and blue contrast, a pleasing composition that keeps the focus on what I saw and wanted to convey, and nothing to distract.

Let’s look at one more framing example. On my last trip to Florence, Italy, I came upon this scene walking the backstreets. Shown below is the angle I originally saw it from.

Look at that fantastic bike, being used as a store display. If you can see the bike in all of the distractions, that is. Between the street signs, graffiti, store door and shaft of sunlight you might not even notice the cool bike. So I moved, I changed my angle on the scene to the other side of the street.

Better. Quite a few distracting elements were gone, but then the new element of the door in the background was added. How to use it became the issue – crop it out or keep it wholly in the frame? What about the entry on the right, and what is that yellow thing, a handle of some cart? This image is still too busy. It was time to try again, really thinking about what I wanted to focus on. It was the bike that caught my eye, and the fact that it was being used as part of the store display. So, changing angles again, and focusing in on the store display aspect, I created one of my all time favorite photos…

Isn’t that a huge difference? From random snapshot to interesting piece of art, by the process of elimination.


Let’s face it, we don’t always get the best possible framing in the camera. We may be moving too quickly to study the scene, or might not notice a distracting element. Cropping in post-processing is a fantastic tool for the process of elimination.

There are times where cropping completely saves the image. Consider this example, from Pavia, Italy. I was intrigued by this vintage Fiat on the street, but I didn’t stop to study it. One click and I moved on.

It might be interesting to show my friends the cool Fiat I saw in Italy, but it is nothing exciting. I would never show this here on the blog. I had to focus in on the interesting parts… the vintage license plate, the cobblestone street, and the cool reflection of the Italian architecture.

And there it is! An image that says “Classic Italian Transport” and not “I was wandering around in Italy and I randomly snapped this photo.” The process of elimination worked for me here.

This image from Germany is one I’ve shared before of how dramatic cropping can save a shot. I loved the architecture and the vineyard on the hill behind the building:

There was just too much building and not enough interest, however. Where are you supposed to look? Cropping to focus in on the architectural detail but keep the vineyard behind yields this image:

So much more interesting. Now you know where to look! You can see the details of the bottle-glass window, the timber framing, and the painting under the eaves along with the context of the vineyard behind. A great image to show the classic German architecture of the Rhine River Valley.

Now, cropping dramatically has its consequences. You can lose significant resolution in the image. The final cropped image will not be able to be printed as large as it could have been. You might be surprised, however, just how much cropping an image from a modern digital camera can withstand before you have problems with printing resolution. Since I’m primarily sharing online, I don’t have to worry about it too much, but it’s good to keep in mind.

It is interesting to note that both of these cropping examples are from 2009, very early during my Italian assignment. As I took more photos and improved in my photography, I’ve gotten so much better at seeing and framing my images at the time of capture. All of the examples in the framing section are from the last few months. The practice of cropping in my post-processing over the last two years has helped me learn the process of elimination at the time of framing that I use today.

To be honest, I still crop most of my photos just a tiny bit. While I do most of my framing at the time of capture, what I see through the viewfinder and what the camera sensor captures is slightly different. Distractions may creep in there on the edges. That’s ok with me, I know I will pull the photo in my editing software anyway to make any final adjustments. Cropping is just one of those final adjustments.


One last, rarely-used tool in the process of elimination is cleaning. Cleaning is where I use the clone-stamp tool in Photoshop Elements [update: or spot removal tool in Lightroom] to copy over a distracting element with pixels from another area in the image. I consider cleaning a last resort, because it takes a lot of time and it will not always work. I get the best image at the time of capture with as little distraction as possible, and I know if the distractions can be cropped or cleaned later.

In this example from Burano, I was going for the line of colorful houses and already envisioned some fun processing for color. No matter how I framed it though, I couldn’t get the line of houses where I wanted without that last bit of pole on the right in the image.

Clone-stamp to the rescue! I removed the pole by copying other parts of the pavement onto the area with the pole. Can you see any evidence of it? Not so much at this resolution. You will also notice a slight crop, which removed some of the pole too, making my job easier.

Much better, I think. The focus is on the blue house, and the pole is no longer there to distract on the right.

I captured this great building from the top of the tourist bus, in Barcelona. I liked the repetition of the shapes, light and shadow of the windows. I was at a good angle to building, being high up on the bus, but I couldn’t move from my seat to eliminate the streetlight in the image.

Because of the repetitive nature of the light and shadows, it was easy to clone the shapes and shadows of the balcony and remove the distracting streetlight. This final image was also straightened and then cropped for composition, which also helped to remove some of the streetlight. With a conversion to black and white, it’s all about the repeating pattern now.

It’s important to note that every image cannot be saved this way. Cleaning only works if you have the “raw material” elsewhere in the image to copy over the distracting element. That is not always the case. This is a technique to learn and practice, so that you have a better feel what can and can’t be fixed later in your post-processing.

Keep in mind, cleaning takes a lot of time. It is much quicker to capture a distraction-free image than to clean it in post-processing. If you love the post-processing part of digital photography, that may be fine for you. That’s not where I prefer to spend my time.

The Process Works

I hope these examples help you to see how the process of elimination works to create interesting images. Often a great image is hiding inside a so-so image, if you can remove the distracting elements. There was something in the scene that captured your eye to begin with, so focusing in while eliminating other elements will help you tell your story.

Keep these ideas in mind as you practice the process of elimination:

  • Think about what you are trying to convey in your photograph. What was it about the scene that caught your eye or made you want to point your camera at it? What story do you want to tell? That is what you need to focus on. Eliminate all elements that distract from your intended message.
  • Move yourself to change your perspective. Will the distractions be eliminated if you move higher? Lower? Left? Right?
  • Zoom in, with your feet or your lens, to focus on the subject. Or, zoom out to keep the context in the image. If you can’t decide, go back to Step 1. When you are clear on what you want to convey in the image, the decision of subject/context is easier.
  • Watch and wait if needed. Sometimes the distractions are mobile, and if you wait to click you can create a stronger image.
  • Crop in post-processing. This is a great tool to eliminate unwanted distractions and learn more about how framing your image makes a difference.
  • Clean out distracting elements in post-processing. It may be possible to remove a small distraction in post-processing by “cleaning.”

Now, it’s your turn! Share your images using the Process of Elimination, and if you can, also share an image that shows the “before” situation. That will help us see how you eliminated the distractions to create a stronger image.

I’m trying something new this month and instead of using a link tool, you can share a link to images using the process of elimination in the comments here. This way, there is no time limit and you can come back and share later if you have a great example.

Thanks so much for your participation in Exploring with a Camera!

Exploring with a Camera: Allowing Space

Welcome to September’s Exploring to a Camera! Today is one of the rare times when Photo-Heart Connection and Exploring with a Camera overlap, due to my crazy September schedule. You can link in to both today!

This month I am exploring space in my photographs. I’m looking at when and where allowing space in the composition creates a more compelling image.

Hot Air Balloons

The balloons at the recent Northwest Art & Air festival were a perfect subject for allowing space. There is an expansive feel of the balloons floating through space. Expansive, peaceful and calm are the feelings that often come from the photographs where I allow space.

How do you allow space? Is space only created by a big open sky? Definitely not! Let’s explore…

What is Space?

Almost every photograph has some element of “space.” Any time you have separation between objects within the frame, there is space. The space I’m talking about today is a little bit different than the emptiness you find between objects, I’m considering “space” as a visual element on its own. My definition of “space” is a single, continuous visual element in a photograph that fills more than half of the frame but is not the subject.

The wall in this image from Korkula, Croatia shows the kind of space I am talking about. The subject is the set of chairs creating an inviting place to rest in the alleyway. The wall is more than half of the frame. The emptiness of the wall both leads the viewer toward the chairs, and increases the sense of intimacy of the little scene.

This example shows that space is not just emptiness. Space as a visual element can have color, texture and variation. There area few ways that I’ve found allowing space is effective in my photographs.


The space in a photograph can serve as a backdrop for the subject. This is a very common way I use space. The example of the bicycle below shows the space as a backdrop. The brick wall has both color and texture, but provides a visual element that is behind and secondary to the bicycle. It is the canvas for the bicycle as a piece of art.

In this next image, the space of the wall serves as both background for the scene and backdrop for the shadow. The space in the photo allows the subject to be the shadow rather than the actual decorative tree. If more of the tree were in the frame, it would draw your eye.


Allowing space to fill an area entirely around the subject creates an effective frame. The textured yellow wall frames the decorative house numbers in this image, changing the strong color from a distraction to an element that highlights the subject by its contrast.

The blurred background in this image frames the detail of the flowers. Visual space does not have to be a physical surface or emptiness, it can be created through a shallow depth of field which blends different elements into one continuous element. The out of focus field of the background makes the tiny details of the plant more noticeable and dramatic.


Allowing space in the frame can balance busy elements. In this scene of the food cart, the blank wall allows space that balances the busy detail of the cart in front of the doorway.

The green door in the image below provides the space to balance out the other graphic elements of square, circle and line. Again, notice that the green is not continuous. It has variation and texture, but creates space in the photograph.


Allowing space provides a contrast that helps the viewer focus right in on the subject. Along with acting as a balancing element, background or frame, the element creating the space often creates contrast too. The concrete wall in this image serves as both frame and contrast for the window. The color and detail of the window, with its reflection and plant in the windowsill, are emphasized by the lack of color and continuous texture of the wall.

The shape and color contrast of the leaf against the pebbly ground is one of the things that make this image effective. While the wet ground has lots of texture and variation, visually it serves as a background for the red leaf.

Allowing Space

So, how do you allow space? I must admit, I rarely think of allowing space explicitly as I’m framing a photograph. Space often finds it’s way into my photographs when I need to eliminate a distracting element (see Exploring with a Camera: Process of Elimination), or as a byproduct of combining other elements. The lonely bicycle in Bologna is a good example of unintentional creation of space. I wanted to capture both the interesting timeworn pillar and the lonely bicycle. The resulting photograph allows the space created by the empty wall. Effective, but not intentional.

In the image of this fun stoplight near our home in Italy, the space in the image comes from the need to avoid the distractions of the background. Any other perspective than looking into the sky would capture an ugly scene of roads, fences and apartment buildings.

Even though allowing space is not foremost in my compositional toolbox, I have used space to create a feel in a photograph, such as this one from Lake Garda in northern Italy. The space created by the water, along with the framing of the pier as a small, off-center element, provides a stronger feeling. What is your reaction to it?

Space can also create an interesting composition out of a relatively simple scene. The snow-covered spring flowers are interesting on their own, but I think the off-center composition, with the inclusion of the snowy space, makes the scene more interesting.

Isn’t it cool how this simple idea of allowing space can create an interesting image? As someone who often fills the frame, this exploration is a good reminder that sometimes “less is more.” I like the feeling of the images where I’ve allowed space. I’m going to have to use this effective concept more often.

Now it’s your turn to share. Take a look at where and how you allow space in your images, and then go out and capture some new photographs with these ideas in mind. I can’t wait to see what you find when you allow space!