Photo by Rick Hanson
When creatively playing with focus, having out of focus areas that are the main focal point rather than having a sharp, in focus point of interest can add more intrigue and interest to a shot. You can also use out of focus foregrounds as frames, to guide the eye through the shot or throw sharpness entirely out of the window and create something much more abstract with your out of focus shots. But to do this you first have to know how you can control it then execute it in a way that doesn't make it look like something you did by mistake.
How Do I Control What's In Focus?
The easiest way is with aperture priority as you can change the size of the aperture to bring more or less into focus. If your camera struggles to focus where you want it to in auto-focus, use focus lock to get the image you want rather than taking a photo the camera thinks is right.
The elements can help you make more creative shots too as fog / mist can help soften scenes as long range images gradually lose contrast and far objects will disappear or appear as silhouettes. You can also try shooting through things. With a wide enough aperture and a close shooting distance they will add an extra level of out of focus interest to your shot.
We are always told that sharp portraits with backgrounds thrown out of focus are what work but there are times when a little blur can go a long way. It can work well when you're trying to create the feel of a candid, reportage style shot rather than something that's posed and set up. It can also add a little romanticism and mystery to a shot. Indoors, making your subject a little less sharp can work in the studio too as Rossella Vanon
explains: "I personally love shooting portraits by using a very big aperture and blurring the whole background and part of the subject too. It gives a very simple, creative twist to the picture and I would definitely recommend it."
Same Shot Different Message
A simple change in focus will not only change the main focal point of your shot but can change the message too. The two shots here are of the same two people but the first you're left wondering what the women in the foreground is looking at and thinking while the second shot is all about the subject in the background of the shot.
Out On The Town
Blurry backgrounds shouldn't be forgotten altogether but instead of throwing something that's usually seen as secondary out of focus, step further back from what you're photographing and throw the, what others would consider to be the main point of interest, out of focus. This can work well with landmarks, particularly in cities where you can use tourists taking photos of the landmark or even artists as your main point of focus. Do remember you need the right angle and interesting, contrasting elements for this to work successfully, though.
On rainy days, shoot through windows that have water running down them, blurring what's on the outside or use the ripples of a puddle to shoot a more abstract shot of city lights at night.
Frames are a great tool for guiding the eye to what's important in the shot but they don't always have to be obvious, frame – like objects such as windows for the shot to work. Some out of focus foreground detail such as foliage, grass, branches or even fabrics and plastic will add another level of interest as well as act as a guide for the eye to your subject. Make sure you're close to your foreground detail and use a wide enough aperture to throw it out of focus otherwise it won't blur and will pull attention away from your main subject. Auto focus may want to focus on what's in the foreground rather than the background so switch to manual if this happens.
If you're trying to create an abstract shot where everything is soft, you need a subject that's colourful and has interesting shapes and lines otherwise your shot won't have the impact you first intended it to have.
Zoom, Zoom, Zoom
This technique is more about having an image that's not sharp rather than focusing but still, it gives you an interesting result that shows sharp isn't always best. To get it right 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. Fit a neutral density filter
or a polarising filter
if you can't get a slow enough shutter speed and meter from your main focus point. Make sure you have a low ISO set and switch to a small aperture to get the slower shutter speed that's needed.
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