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.
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.
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:
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!