HOW TO: USE BLUR CREATIVELY...

As artists (in particular – photographers) I think we often have a tendency to get bogged down in the techniques and technology of our art.

We all get caught-up in the best technique for creating whatever.

We start thinking in terms of

- “is my subject in focus?”
- “is my ISO set to 400?”
- “is my shutter speed correct so that I will get a nice sharp image?”
- “is my colour reproduction correct?”
- “is the lighting correct?”
- “what is the best way to photoshop this image?”

and in the end we forget to feel with our hearts and with our cameras.

There was a time when photography was much much harder than it is now.

Today people love their 21-point autofocus system, but auto-focus has only been around for about 40 years. I remember my Dad’s Konica view-finder camera… he had to guess the distance and adjust the lens and hope for the best!

We all get caught-up in the best technique for creating whatever-effect in post-production, and we forget that there was a time when if you mixed your chemicals wrong in the darkroom you would ruin your print and your negatives, and maybe even burn your house down!

The point I am trying to make here is that photography is NOT about your technology. Photographers since the time of Daguerre (et al) have always been at the fore-front of the technology of their day. So, don’t get too caught-up in your equipment or for that matter trying for perfection.

Photography, both technologically and artistically, is all about EVOLUTION.

The evolution of the technology goes hand in hand with the evolution of the artist.

To this end I want to talk about stepping outside your comfort zone and learning to experiment with your technology, and with your art.

When an artist experiments, it means they are trying something new, therefore experimenting as an artist means to evolve, to grow, and to learn.


In this tutorial I am going to examine some fine examples of the “other end” of photography.

We are all familiar with sharp, in-focus images, after-all that’s what we are trying to achieve with autofocus, auto white-balance, auto-exposure… we let the little computer in our cameras tell us what is “best”.

But what is “best”? – Sometimes “wrong” can actually be right.

I am talking about the other end of the spectrum (so to speak).

So (I hear you ask) what does he mean about “the other end” of photography, I am talking about what happens when we slow everything down a bit and hope for the best…

I am talking about s – l – o – w shutter speeds.


Let’s look at this first image “THE FINISH LINE” by MIKE LANE

Camera: NIKON D40X
ISO / ASA: 200
Aperture: f25
Shutter: 1/5sec (on Shutter Priority)

Here is what Mike had to say about this image:

I took it with my Nikon D40X , ISO 200, shutter priority, f25, at 1/5 second. I can’t remember if I used my neutral density filter to enable a slow shutter speed, but common sense suggests that I used it.

This technique is easy to do and get “good” results. It’s very difficult to get “excellent” results because everything happens so fast you usually don’t get second chances. So my advice is to set your camera to consecutive shooting so you just depress the shutter and take 3 or 4 consecutive photos as the racer speeds by.

Start with an oncoming shot and move the camera to follow the racer. Manual focus is best here because a lot of cameras will focus too slowly and you’ll miss shots.

Even if its out-of-focus slightly as the rider speeds by, it doesn’t matter because the image will be blurred intentionally anyway. Take tons of photo and delete 99% of them later.

This one needed no post processing, except the normal exposure and levels tweaking. I’ve used this technique very successfully on other subjects such as cars, motorcycles, sailboats etc. You often get a lovely unintentional blur this way. And sometimes your mistakes are better than anything you could have planned.

This is a spectacular example of what can be achieved artistically by using very slow shutter speeds. Mike has created an image with dreamlike quality that speaks to the viewer about the spirit of the athlete.

In many ways Mike’s image is like an impressionist painting. There are great swathes of smeared colours blending into other colours which finally coallesce into the rough form of the athlete on the bike. We know it is a person riding a bicycle, even though we can not clearly see anything in the image. It is technically the exact opposite of what we usually try to achieve with our photographs.

Mike has achieved so much more with this image simply by slowing the shutter and moving the camera with the subject than he would have achieved if he had used a fast shutter speed and captured a crisp clear sharp image.


Now lets look at this second image “COMIN’ AT YA” by Rick aka MARTINILOGIC

Notice how the bike riders seem to actually be moving towards you? This is a clever effect created by using a slow shutter speed and shooting at an object that is moving towards you.

The great thing about using this technique for this subject is that it gives the viewer a very intense feeling of what it was really like to be there. Creating this sense of “being there” is something most of us try to do all the time. We see something which moves us, we want to capture that scene, but do we use the correct technique that will really communicate how we feel to our viewers?


Now let’s have a look at our third image “COMPOSURE” by SKYOFTEXAS

Camera: Pentax K100D
Lens: Pentax FA 50 mm f/1.4 lens.
ISO / ASA: 200
Aperture: f5.6
Shutter: 1/25sec (on Shutter Priority)

OK, so there is a bit of a cycling theme going-on here, its not intentional – they are just fantastic examples of technique.

Let’s see what Michael (Skyoftexas) said about taking this photograph:

I went into Austin one Saturday evening with only one lens, a 50 mm f/1.4, and a monopod. I stumbled upon this women’s bike race. It was after 8 pm before the men’s race began so the lighting was getting low.

I found a good spot and mounted the camera to my monopod and used a cable shutter release. The AF shots weren’t working so I changed to manual focus, focused on a good spot, and panned as they came by.

Michael has used slow shutter speed and panning to isolate the rider within the pack. Our attention is firmly on this rider, and consequently we almost feel as if we are in there with him. We get a real sense-of-place, and a great feeling for the action of this moment.

Michael’s photo is not about correct lighting, or composition (allthough it is very good) or diagonal lines, or anything else that we (and myself) usually talk about. It is about communicating a feeling to the viewer. Michael has used the best technique for the situation and created so much more than a standard action shot of a bike race.


In our final image (no bikes in this one folks!) “SHADES OF BLUE” by JOHN EDWARDS

We have all taken photos of flowers (and our cats/dogs/babies…) until all our friends are sick of looking at them!

John has managed to ellevate the ordinary into the extra-ordinary by using the zoom facility on his lens combined with a shutter speed slow enough to allow him to do so.

This technique is similar to the one used by Martinilogic. Except instead of the subject moving towards the lens, the lens moves towards (or away) from the subject.

You set your camera on a tripod, focus on your main point of interest, set your zoom in close and pick a slow shutter speed and a low ISO. Release the shutter and manually pull the zoom back very carefully and smoothly.

By using this technique John has ensured that our attention is firmly placed on the stamens of this flower and framed them with a beautiful soft blue blur which leads your eyes back to the stamens.


Start learning to “see” as both a photographer and as an artist.

When I am shooting, I “see” in Black & White. I see shadow and light and shape and form in a 2-dimensional play against each other, and I think to myself “How can I best communicate how this makes me feel?” I really do not see colour through my viewfinder, instead I “see” my final image through the viewfinder just as I release the shutter.

While it is important to know and understand the technical aspects of your equipment and your art, it is equally important to just forget them and think with your heart. Ask yourself “what am I trying to say with my photo?”

So, start thinking with your heart when you release the shutter, and remember this:

Pretty pictures are a dime a dozen, but pictures that grab the viewer’s emotions will last forever.

Journal Comments

  • shazart
  • BYRON
  • Sonja Wells
  • BYRON
  • lokanin
  • BYRON
  • Sheryl Kasper
  • BYRON
  • Lois  Bryan
  • BYRON
  • Beth Mason
  • BYRON
  • Kymie
  • BYRON
  • Dawn di Donato
  • BYRON