When does BLUR work - is it purely a gut call?

Over these last few months I've never attempted to take a blurry picture. So I cannot claim ANY artistic intent. But, shockingly(!), I have taken a few, maybe even more than a few. Most are just garbage and are treated as such. Some I liked the underlying image enough to sort of hang onto just to be bummed that it didn't come out well. But some I find myself really liking and in ways that I might not if they were in focus. And for reasons I can't begin to describe or predict - it just seems to be luck.

So I'm looking for input. Not so much on the quality of the examples here, but just in general - what makes blur work or not work for you.

The first is one that I think I would have liked but for the blur - I think it wrecks what might have been a decent photograph. Perhaps that means its not blurred, its just out of focus! :cool:

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/20889767@N05/4951578048/" title="Blur (3) by ramboorider1, on Flickr">View attachment 149636"1354" height="1050" alt="Blur (3)" /></a>

Next, here are two examples of motion blur, which I think is pretty well accepted as OK, fine, good, etc. Probably better if intended (and these were accidents), but OK nonetheless. The first is pretty subtle, the second a bit more severe.

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/20889767@N05/4950986337/" title="Blur (4) by ramboorider1, on Flickr">View attachment 149637"1354" height="1050" alt="Blur (4)" /></a>

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/20889767@N05/4950986195/" title="Blur (2) by ramboorider1, on Flickr">View attachment 149638"1354" height="1050" alt="Blur (2)" /></a>

The next is a shot I've shown here before (in color) that I love and I don't know if I'd like it as much if it was in focus. I might, but I suspect I wouldn't. I can't explain it, but the overall image blur gives it just an air of mystery, of that netherworld between a photo and a painting, fantasy and reality, etc. The blur isn't extreme, but its a pronounced part of the photograph.

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/20889767@N05/4951577870/" title="Blur (1) by ramboorider1, on Flickr">View attachment 149639"1354" height="1050" alt="Blur (1)" /></a>

And, finally, this one has been in my reject pile but I just can't bring myself to toss it. It HORRIBLY blurred - I clearly must have jerked the camera while taking it and the photo is nothing but overwhelmingly blurred. But on some level I sort of like it anyway. In a very abstract way.

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/20889767@N05/4951577778/" title="Blur by ramboorider1, on Flickr">View attachment 149640"1354" height="1050" alt="Blur" /></a>

So what do you folks think? Not so much about the underlying photographs, but about whether the blur in each is a help or a hinderance. I've seen a number of shots with some blur in them from photographers around here who I have a lot of respect for and I generally have liked them. I'd be interested in whether they tend to be intentional or just happy mistakes. This is not a topic I've thought much about in the past, but some of these shots (particularly the young girl in the dress, who reminds me a LOT of my younger daughter about 5-6 years ago) have made me think about it a bit.



Mu-43 Veteran
There was some interesting blur work going on over in the PAD blogs, I for one consider blur (or explicitly; loss of focus) a natural part of most pictures - in that you as a photog are always trying to minimise it, but if you let it, it's always there.

Shaping the blur so as not to appear amateurish, careless, or incompetent, is hard work.

Often removing it completely is easier.

Your pictures are all very nice, I enjoyed them, the penultimate one however is exceptional and a piece of art; in my opinion if it were in crisp focus it would doubtless be a very nice portrait - but the movement and pp give it a story.

Blur, like poetry, comes from the gut.


Mu-43 Regular
Hi Ray, my opinion is simple, if YOU like it then it works! I'm a novice at photograhy and, as a result have taken my fair share of blurry shots. I've even posted a couple as part of my PAD project here in mu-43. Like you, I've found myself liking some of my own blurry shots and have even taken perfectly focussed images and blurred them up pp just for fun, yet finding myself liking those blurry ones better than the original!

Of the shots you posted, I like the last two best but your very last one is my favourite. I have no idea whether I would have liked these images better if they were in focus because I have nothing to compare it with, but the effect you have achieved (intentionally or accidentally, or a bit of both) I really like. The reason I think I like them better than the other pictures you posted is because the appear more like an artist's impression of reality rather than a simple photo. Kind of like you were trying to convey an idea rather than fact. Does that make sense?

Maybe people should start posting their own favourite blurry pictures in this thread to open up the debate a bit more, perhaps saying why they like their blurry pictures. It would be interesting, I think.
Thanks for your input and thoughts. I think Briar sums up pretty much ALL of photography by saying "if you like it, then it works". And beyond that, the suggestion that blurred photos can "appear more like an artist's impression of reality rather than a simple photo" sounds about right. Although Akulya's suggestion that shaping and manipulating the blur is hard work makes it sound like an intentional exercise, and I'm sure it is for some people. In my case, however, they're all unintended. And so to the extent they work, I can only chalk it up to being a happy accident. But that's true of many of my shots that aren't blurred too - some of my favorite are the least well conceived or planned or even composed in the field. Sometimes you just hit the shutter and it comes good, despite every attempt to screw it up! Almost like a random occurrence and the trick is to spot it after the fact.

I'd love it if others would follow up by posting some of their blurred images and talking about how they got there, was any of it intentional, etc. Not sure if there's that much interest from the group as a whole, but I'd love to see some.



Mu-43 Top Veteran
I particularly like your pictures 3 and 5, they work well for me. I get quite excited when I see blurry images because they provide so many possibilities for pp. I think sometimes they can get to the essence of the image without any distracting elements. I like the cat image I posted here perhaps because the high key treatment brings out the cat's eyes. The other photo is from the DP1 that I just happened to take today. It's also very blurred but I think a bit of pp has produced an interesting effect (in my view :smile:) I guess that as in all art, it's subjective.



Mu-43 Regular
Hi Christilou

I like the effect you have achieved in the first image, particularly the top half of the picture. The cat is my favourite of the two images, the eyes are quite striking.

I've attached one of my own from the Edinburgh Festival. This picture appeared on m PAD and I was unsure about including it, but the more I look at it, the more I like the picture. In the original picture, the hat was in clear focus, but the man's face was a little blur as he was walking towards me, and I was stepping out of his way. I blurred it more in post processing, increased the contrast and changed it to black and white.

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/briar34/4920084153/" title="Day 51 - Edinburgh Fringe - Dr Faustus by Briar34, on Flickr">
"640" height="458" alt="Day 51 - Edinburgh Fringe - Dr Faustus" /></a>
Yeah, this stuff is interesting to me. So both of you had at least some level of intentional blur in those pictures, not just happenstance? I may have to stop being so damn honest about how unintended mine is! :cool:

I like those, particularly Christilou's first one, which with the sepia looks almost like a lithograph or something.

Yeah, i guess all art is subjective and gut driven, so if it works for my gut, I should assume it may work for someone else's as well.



Mu-43 Regular
I think the selective use of blur can help elevate a photograph from being merely a 'snapshot' to something that can convey an idea/expression/emotion.

Blur mostly occurs accidentally for me:

This is one of my first shots taken with my camera. Framing and focus was my priority here. I think the blur works here but not necessarily essential.

But there are times when I intentionally thought inducing blur would be a good thing such as a water fall. Without blur, it doesn't properly mimic what your eyes actually can see.

But with some blur, the water feels more natural.

My photos aren't the best examples but I think it's a effective tool to help express your vision. But like others have said, whether it works is definitely a gut call I think. Thoughts?


Mu-43 Regular
Took this blurry one tonight (unintentionally) but think it works better than it would have, had it been in focus.

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/briar34/4961562810/" title="Day 58 - Too late - Blinked! by Briar34, on Flickr">
"1024" height="731" alt="Day 58 - Too late - Blinked!" /></a>

Seems to add more menance to the image. Its a toy "Weeping Angel" from the Doctor Who series.
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Brian S

Mu-43 Top Veteran
Blur caused by slow shutter speed and the subject being in motion will work, but camera jitter is usually operator error.

As to whether it works or not, very subjective. Opinions will vary, and only the observer can make that choice for themselves.


Mu-43 Top Veteran
I look at blur as more of an abstract thing in that it might resemble an impressionist painting sometimes. I think blurring water is often done to great effect but everyone knows it's water! Blurring the outline and using depth of field can make a very different effect altogether. It's like a fleeting glimpse at something as you pass by and you are just left with an impression rather than being presented with an ultra sharp image which leaves nothing to the imagination. Am I making any sense here?! :biggrin:


Mu-43 Regular
I've looked at blur.. as a way to set an object/person/building as the "focus" or to bring an effect of saying "oh hey, this moves!"


Mu-43 Top Veteran
I think this shot works on its own, but I'd have liked it better if it were in focus. I was having a bad eye day and missed that it was out of focus until I reviewed it -- it was shot with a Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 lens (but at something like 2.8).


Part of the blur is motion, which would be more obvious if I hadn't shot it quite so fast. Part, however, is just my bad.
I like those last two, particularly the motion blur on the red bus and car. Here's one I took this morning. The blur wasn't even totally accidental. I was purposely shooting with a slow shutter and set hyperfocal pre-focus, assuming some of the shots would be, uhh, 'soft'. Many were garbage, but I like this one.


<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/20889767@N05/5021567056/" title="Blur by ramboorider1, on Flickr">View attachment 150512"1354" height="1050" alt="Blur" /></a>


Mu-43 Regular
Being in the honeymoon stage with more serious photography, I've looked at what seems like thousands of images over the last couple months. What most people (my observation) call blur is just an out of focus shot. I, personally, like composition with at least some part of the picture in focus. Now, movement (like the bus), is a completely different matter. I really like the pictures that have fast moving objects slightly or greatly blurred against a still back and foreground.

Some intended blur shots I can appreciate on an artistic level when it adds something to the overall mood of the picture. However, from what I've seen, it's used too often in times when it was just a bad shot.


Mu-43 Regular
generally, apart from moving water etc, I only do blur by mistake. But here I think it gives a soft and cosy domestic feeling which wouldn't have been there if I'd had a faster shutter speed available or, heaven forbid, used flash.


By the way, it's a good topic --wonder if my local camera club's "creative group" would take that on as a theme for a night.


Mu-43 Top Veteran
Blur is definitely great for those action shots. Here's a group breakdancers in Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade. A difficult shot to have early dusk:




Exposure 0.02 sec (1/50)
Aperture f/3.5
Focal Length 14 mm
ISO Speed 1000
Exposure Bias 0 EV
Flash On, Did not fire
Exposure Mode Shutter speed priority AE
AELock Off
Metering Mode Center-weighted average