A guide to creating artistic images.
Blurs have always been an intriguing part of photography. The best part about them is the technical challenge that they pose.
Blurs require practice, technique, and luck.
They could be have a variety of subjects, such as birds, flowers and even landscapes. Who has not tried to blur a bird in flight or a waterfall?
Low light is almost a prerequisite to blurs, providing the conditions so your camera can easily go for slow shutter speeds. In case you want to try blurs with stronger light, the use of neutral density filters can make it possible. The most practical strength to get would be a .9, which is three stops in density. There is also variable filters, that will let you dial in your desired strength. The Vari-N-Dual, by Singh-Ray, goes from 1 2/3 stops to 8 stops and it includes a warming polarizer. Although you can still add another ND filter on top of this one, the darker you go, the more difficult it will be to autofocus.
We will be covering a serried of blur technique, from panning to multiple exposures and will dedicate a section to each, with examples.
Practice is the key to many of the techniques included, so do not despair if you do not get perfect results at the beginning.
The most common type, panning requires a steady hand and smooth tracking of the subject. It is recommended that you start following the subject before you press the shutter, in order to synchronize your movement to the subject’s speed.
The shutter speed of choice is dependant on the subjects speed, distance and angle.
The further away, the slower your shutter speed will be. Example, a bird across the filed could be rendered successfully at 1/8 of a second, while the same bird, much closer to you would require 1/60 of a second.
It would be desirable to have sharpness or at least some definition in the head, having the body and background blurred. Of course, you can have pleasing images where nothing is very sharp, but the human eye feels more comfortable having some degree of sharpness as reference.
Technique: Use a single point, not necessarily the center, depending on the size of the subject. Once you acquire focus, follow smoothly and when you feel your speed and the subject match, fire a burst, following through after your burst is over. The smoother you can pan, the better you will be. You can experiment with different shutter speeds, depending on the effect desired. As in any other type of photography, composition and exposure are important. Don’t forget to check your histogram. This type of blur can be done hand held or with a panning head.
copyright Alfred Forns f/6.7, 1/50, ISO 500, 600mm
This technique works with zoom lenses and slow shutter speeds. We recommend starting this with the use of a tripod and very slow shutter speed (like on second).
This will allow you to press the shutter, hesitate and them zoom, yielding for a more recognizable center of attention. Once you have more experience, you can increase the shutter speed to 1/8 or 11/15 and even hand hold.
You can use the Zoom from wide to tele or vice versa. We favor starting at the long end and zooming out. You can experiment with the focus in the center, or move the point of focus to a side for a stronger composition. Centered captures can also be cropped if needed.
Once you have a bit more practice, you can combine panning and zooming for interesting effects. Colors and shapes play a major role in the success of the images.
Copyright Alfred Forns f/16, 1/8, ISO 50, 320mm
This technique requires a long exposure and a very small camera movement and it works extremely well in very colorful subjects, such as flowers. Do not shake or move the camera too much, less is more here. The idea is to get a subtle movement that resembles brush strokes on a painting.
Another way of doing this is keeping your camera steady, a let a live subject travel through your frame. If you want to exaggerate the movement, pan in the opposite direction, keeping in mind that your blur will be much stronger and you may loose definition.
Copyright Fabiola Forns f/32, ¼, ISO 50, 180mm
Copyright Fabiola Forns f/8, 1/50, ISO 50, 840mm
Copyright Fabiola Forns f/29, 1/15, ISO 100, 340mm
Most high end Nikon cameras have the multiple exposure feature. Technology at your service, the camera will calculate your exposure and divide by the number of frames and will mix and give you one NEF file. It is important to keep the “Auto-gain” option on, in case you decide to take a different number of frames to the one you indicated, as not to offset the final exposure. We normally use about nine frames, in a rapid burst, with minimal or no movement, hand held. The way you will move the camera will depend on the subject’s shape, like vertical movement for trees.
You can also play with a tripod mounted camera and rotate the lens in the collar for each frame, maintaining consistent focus in one central point.
For Canon users, you can still acquire images the same way. Mixing them in post processing, with Ellen Anon’s technique as described in Tony Sweet’s book
“Fine Art in Nature Photography”.
First/background layer: 100% opacity, of course.
Second layer: (100 divided by 2) 50% opacity
Third layer (100 divided by 3) 33% opacity and so forth.
Change the blending mode of the last two layers to Overlay.
Coopyright Fabiola Forns f/11, 1/640, ISO 800, 24mm
Copyright Fabiola Forns f/22, 250, ISO 640, 70mm
Blurring with Lensbaby.-
Lensbabies are revolutionary little lenses that have a special blurred
look in the edges. The lenses do not communicate electronically with the camera (use your histogram to guide you) and the aperture changes with a ring that you place inside the lens. They are fun, they are light and they can get your creative juices going.
The Muse (originally named 2.0) gets bend to find the “sweet” focus point and is still our favorite today. If you need to replicate a certain look, the Control Freak will do it, and the latest, Composer, has a turning element to focus in the front.
Here are two examples of what you can do. It is important to approach this lens with an open mind and discover the possibilities.
Copyright Fabiola Forns f/2.8, ISO 100, 50mm
You can do blurs with high shutter speed. If you want to just show colors or shapes without detail, as abstracts, or with maybe just with minimal focus, going to manual focus and play with it, remembering to leave at least some trace of the original shape that is recognizable.
Copyrigth Fabiola Forns f/3.5, 1/1250, ISO 250, 180mm
Similar to focus blurs, you portray colors and shapes, with a slight movement of the camera, depending of your inspiration. Your shutter speed will be dependant on the camera movement.
Copyright Alfred Forns f/13, 1/8, ISO 400 400mm
At times, blurs will be your best choice, if the light is poor or the surroundings are cluttered. If you have to shoo in the middle of the day, using the neutral density filter and creating a blur may solve the problem. They are not for every day use and some people will not like or understand them, but they do have a place in artistic photography and learning to appreciate and capture them will open your mind as a photographer.
Alfred and Fabiola Forns:
A husband and wife team, they share the same passion for nature photography and love teaching others to make the best of every situation.
They are both award winners, including NANPA and Nature’s Bet Windland Smith Rice International Awards.
Since joining the Photographic Society of America, they both became Mentors for new members.
To learn more about their work and custom workshops, please visit their website: