The Beauty of the Blur

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[singlepic=254,240,,,right] DeviantArt member and fellow photographer, Eric Sallee (AKA: xwingkiller) reminded me yesterday through his work that sometimes, the most beautiful photos aren’t in focus at all.  The beautiful shot (right) is one of his latest works, a photo he has titled Sibling.  As you can see, nothing in the photo is in focus at all, but that doesn’t detract from the shots beauty.  The bokeh has such a nice quality to it that this almost looks like a pastel or oil impressionist painting, as if it were created by the hand of Claude Monet.

Looking back at my own works, I found this photograph I took many years ago on my old Nikon N2000 (Film) called ‘Sunset on Wet Cain’. Only a small section of the one blade of grass is in focus, leaving the majority of the image blurry.  To date, this is still one of my favorite photos from my own portfolio.

The point is that sometimes, you can create a warming and appealing photograph without having a clear subject matter.  This is, of course, an exception to the rule,  ‘Always Have a Clear Subject‘, but artists are constantly breaking rules.

[singlepic=101,240,,,left]If you’re looking to experiment with bokeh rich images such as these shown here, here are a few tips:

  • Use a Wide Aperture – The wider (the smaller the ‘f’ number) the better.  This will narrow your depth-of-field making it easy to ensure that little or nothing remains in focus.
  • Disable Autofocus – For obvious reasons, autofocus is your enemy here.  You’ll want to experiment with your focusing ring because some focal depths will yield different results.
  • Compose Abstractly – It will be a little difficult at first to visualize the composition of these photos, but in time you will get the knack for it.  Take lots of shots and experiment.  But compositionally, you’re looking at shapes and patterns, try not to identify the actual objects in the photo when you’re setting up.
  • Know Your Light Source – Your medium in a bokeh rich photograph is almost entirely light.  Contrast will be your friend, but in some cases, lack of contrast will be equally as appealing.  But again, the subject in this case is almost entirely light, so you have to think abstractly about how it all fits together.  This is one of the few cases that I will say that your on-camera flash can help you create interesting images.  If you’re not quite getting the effect you want, try turning on your flash.  Under normal circumstances, on-camera flash will create flat images.  But in the case of bokeh rich images, it can help you achieve the contrast you need to make a photograph work.  Experiment with reflective surfaces for more flash fun.  And don’t worry about blown-out (overexposed) areas, they could be appealing.

Finally, loosen up.  You’re working in the world of abstract photography now, almost anything goes.  You can ignore the minimum focus distance, you can stack colored filters, you can place your finger in front of the lens, you can ignore the rule of thirds and you get it completely “wrong in-the-camera”.  You can expect to delete most of the shots, but every once in a while, one will just speak to you.  Who knows, it may even become your favorite image.  But getting that image was both a lot of fun and educational.  So give it a shot.

Again, I would like to thank to Eric Salles for giving me permission to use his photograph in today’s post.  Please visit his gallery to see more of his fine work.

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About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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