Photographers often strive to capture razor-sharp images, and often the quality of an image seems to be judged on how sharp it is, but sharpness isn’t the be-all and end-all.
There are different ways that blur is used in photography, including long shutter speeds to capture motion blur or light trails, but even a static subject can be made more atmospheric or eye-catching by using blur – either through camera movement or in post-processing.
The Depth of Field and Blurred Background
This is one of the easiest ways to introduce a blurred background to your image while your subject stays sharp. Think of portraits or wildlife images where the person or animal stands out beautifully against a softly blurred background.
This is achieved by using a wide aperture and/or a greater distance from the background. A wide aperture is typically a small f-number, such as from f/1.4 to around f/5.6. If you put your camera
For maximum blur, you would open your aperture up as far as it will go –f/1.4 or f/2.8, depending on your lens. In Aperture Priority mode your camera will choose the shutter speed and ISO settings to suit your aperture for correct exposure.
The distance your subject is from the background will also play a part in how blurred it is. The further away they are from the background, the more blurry it will become, and vice-versa.
Panning is a good way to introduce blur to a moving subject and works well for motorsports, cycling and any other subject that moves fast.
It’s simple – select a shutter speed that is slower than the speed needed to freeze motion (that’s around 1/250th second, so anything less than that is good). Follow the target in the viewfinder as it progresses, and the aim is to move the camera at the same speed as the subject so that it is captured sharply while the background is blurred.
It takes a bit of trial and error to master the panning shot, but try starting at 1/60th second and experiment from there.
Blurring Through Camera Movement
This is a way of introducing motion blur to an image of a static object through moving the camera side to side or up and down while the shutter is open. It’s important to keep the camera viewfinder to your eye if you can so you can make sure your composition looks right.
The aperture doesn’t matter so much for panning, as you are creating blur with movement. Put your camera into Shutter Priority mode, and experiment with different shutter speed settings. It’s usually best to limit the exposure time, so you may get a good effect at 1/60th second or have to go down as far as 4 seconds. A slow and steady movement is better than a fast one, but it’s all down to what you are trying to achieve.
Shooting From a Moving Vehicle
This kind of blur is motion blur, and you can get some great images where you are a passenger shooting from a car or bus. Set a fairly high shutter speed for this (try starting at 1/125th second) and you will get a certain sharpness to the center of your subject while the edges are blurred. Of course
As the name suggests, you can only achieve this type of blur when using a zoom lens. You need a tripod and a slow shutter speed, and also a stationary object.
To start with, try a one-second exposure, which will allow the subject to be captured by the sensor, then twist the lens barrel to zoom in near the end of the exposure. This will give you the subject at the center of blurry streaks radiating outward from it. It’s a very eye-catching and dramatic technique, yet so easy to do.
You need a tripod to create a successful water blur, as you need a slow shutter speed. This blur gives water a sort of ‘silky’ look, and I’m sure you’ve seen seascapes and waterfall images where this has been used to great effect.
You may also need an ND filter to go over the front of your lens so you don’t overexpose the image during a long exposure. These filters can reduce the light reaching the sensor considerably, allowing you to do long exposures during daylight. Try setting your shutter speed to 1/10th second to start with, and reduce it from there depending on how silky you want the water to look.
There is a difference between soft focus and bokeh, but people often confuse them. In soft focus
Bokeh is created by a shallow depth of field, but distance plays a part in it too. The best subject for bokeh is one that is easily captured in close-up, such as a flower. Lighting is essential for good bokeh too, as the points of light behind the subject are rendered out of focus, which gives them the characteristic round, soft shapes.
Use a tripod and manual mode for this, and focus sharply on the subject, then un-focus the subject ever so slightly so that the background is completely blurred. You then need to decide on the settings for correct exposure, which is easier if you use a light meter. An aperture range of around f/5.6 downwards will create a shorter depth of field, making the already blurred background become softer, and the points of light become brilliant little circles.
You can experiment using this technique by stringing up some fairy lights behind a subject and practicing.
This technique is done in post-processing and will give a soft blurry effect around the edge of your image with the center perfectly sharp. It’s good for drawing attention to a specific part of your image.
This is created by using the Iris Blur filter in Photoshop, but other image editors (like Luminar’s Vignette Filter or GIMP’s Gaussian Blur) have their own blur filters you can use to create different ones. As it is a process that involves many steps it is beyond the scope of this article to write them down here, but check out this link to a step-by-step tutorial on how to achieve a good vignette blur.
The tilt-shift blur in Photoshop aims to recreate the effects of using an expensive tilt-shift lens. Tilt-shift is a way of making subjects look miniature by selectively focusing and defocusing parts of the image to create a shallow depth of field, and it can create amazing effects.
Try this tutorial to create a step-by-step tilt-shift effect in post-processing, with an added bokeh effect.
There are many different ways to experiment with the creativity of blurs in photography, whether you choose to do it in your camera, or add a blur effect at the end in post-processing. Whichever way you choose to do it, have fun and add some extra skills to your photography repertoire.