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8 Ways Blur Can Enhance Your Photographs

Not all blur is bad as you'll find out if you read this article.

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Having a blurry image isn't always a bad thing. In fact, when it's used in the right place, it can actually make your photos better. Here are a few examples of when blur can be used and a few tips on how to produce the shots.

1. Water / Waterfalls

  • Use shutter-priority so you can control how long the shutter is open.
  • The slower the speed you choose the more blur there will be.
  • The speed you need will change depending on how much blur you want, how much water there is and the distance between the camera and your subject.
  • Start between 1/8sec to 1/15sec and just adjust until you get the blur you're looking for.
  • If you struggle to get the shutter speed low enough try fitting an ND filter to your lens. 
  • Always use a tripod to prevent shake spoiling your shot and if possible use a remote / cable release. 
  • Meter carefully as large areas of light tones can fool the camera into underexposing your shot.
  • Slow shutter speeds will blur anything that moves so if you don't want what's surrounding your subject to be blurred, try taking two shots: one with the slower shutter speed then the other with a speed that will freeze movement. You can then combine these in editing software such as Photoshop.
  • Try blurring the movement of waterfalls, rapids, waves breaking along the coastline, a fast flowing river and water flowing from a tap


2. Fields With Slow Shutter Speeds

  • Use a slower shutter speed to blur the movement of the crops/flowers in the field on a breezy day.
  • Crop fields such of barley will have a golden glow to them while Rapeseed and Poppy fields will give you photos with more colour and punch.
  • A small aperture will give you front to back sharpness so you can capture the whole crop field as it sways in the wind. The smaller aperture will also mean your shot is less likely to be overexposed as less light will be able to reach the camera's sensor.
  • Tracks left by farm machinery can be used to guide the eye through the shot and help break up the blur. While farm buildings and trees will add an extra element of interest and give the viewer a focus point.


Photo by David Clapp

3. Action Photography

  • For people, animals or vehicles which are moving, adding a touch of blur to the image can give the impression of speed, emphasising motion and creating a sense of drama in the shot.
  • If you use too higher shutter speed you'll just freeze the motion, too slow and there can be too much blur and the background and your subject will seem like they're merging together. So it's worth experimenting with a variety of shutter speeds to get it right.
  • Try panning with the subject as they move. Start panning, release the shutter button and then continue the pan even after the camera's captured the image. If you get it right the subject will appear sharp as it hasn't moved position in the viewfinder, but the background will be blurred making the subject look as though its hurtling along.
  • Try to get enough blur so the background isn't distracting and the movement of the wheels on the vehicle you're photographing are blurred to create the sense of motion in the shot. This will also help the eye focus on what it's meant to.
  • Try using slow sync flash which is where you use a slow shutter speed and flash together to freeze your subject but blur the background. The low shutter speed continues to record the ambient conditions and further subject movement. It's used mostly by sports photographers recording cycling events or motor sports but can also be creative in any environment that has a moving subject in the foreground. Try using it next time you're photographing your child playing on a swing.



4. Light Trails 

  • Do not try and drive the car and work the camera at the same time. Get yourself a driver or you drive and get a friend to operate the camera.
  • Make sure the windscreen is very, very clean otherwise smears will spoil the final shot.
  • Make sure the tripod is secure before you set off so the camera doesn't get broken from it falling over during the drive.
  • Try positioning the camera so you can only see the view through the windscreen but don't worry if you have the roof or dashboard in shot as you can always crop it out. The lights and shape of the dashboard can also add an extra element of interest to the image, giving the trails something to contrast against.
  • Focus on the distance - you want the lights sharp ideally.
  • Use a small aperture to give you front to back sharpness. It'll also mean you can use longer shutter speeds.
  • 10-30 second exposure will capture the light trails. If you want longer shutter speeds, use the B setting.
  • Use a remote trigger, cable release or self-timer to fire the shutter.
  • Twilight is a good time and you need a location with a variety of light sources.
  • Towns are good locations for this as they'll be streaks of light on various levels and of several shades on offer. Motorways are also good but here you'll get more continuous, long light streaks.


Photo by David Clapp

5. Abstract Shots 

  • Sometimes you don't need anything to be sharp and in focus to make an interesting image.
  • If you're using lines try to find a location that gives you a shot that has lines that vary in size and colour. Bolder lines will have more impact than small, faint ones and do remember they will still guide the eye through the shot and tell the viewer where they should be looking.
  • Shapes are obviously softened so make sure you're photographing something that's interesting and bold, otherwise your image won't have any impact.
  • Strong, bold colours work well because you're losing texture and detail you see in sharp shots. Make sure your tones don't clash though and check to see if any shades are overpowering certain areas of the frame.

Abstract lights

Photo by Peter Bargh

6. Drag Landscapes 

  • Overcast days are perfect for this technique.
  • Find a scene that has strong lines – fences with flowers in front of them and trees work well.
  • Basically, you need to press the shutter button and as the exposure processes, dragging your camera up, down left or right as it does.
  • Don't stop panning until you're past your subject as you won't get the blurry lines you're looking for.

Drag landscape


7. Zoom Blur

  • You have to get the zoom right – too much and you won't be able to make out your subject, too little and it will just look like a normal shot.
  • Use a small aperture to get the slower shutter speed that's needed. Use a low ISO too. This is particularly important when your subject is backlit.
  • Fit a neutral density filter or a polarising filter if you can't get a slow enough shutter speed.
  • Make sure you meter from your main focus point.
  • You need to set the zoom to either the short or long end of the focal length range, open the shutter, wait for a while then in one, smooth, quite quick movement, zoom out. By pausing at the start your subject will have a little definition before the blur kicks in.
  • Stained glass windows are good subjects for this technique but try it in a forest with the light that flows through the trees too.

Zoom blur

Photo by David Pritchard


8. Remove Distracting Backgrounds 

  • If you're working somewhere that has a busy background use a larger aperture to throw it out of focus. This blur will hide whatever was distracting the eye, allowing all focus to fall on your subject.
  • If you're using a compact camera try switching to the appropriate mode (portrait for people, macro for close up work) so the camera knows you want to throw the background out of focus.



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