All of my life I’ve been chasing what I see out of the corner of my eye; those elusive visions, slightly blurred and a bit magical. But when I turn and focus on them, they disappear into ordinary. I wanted to learn how to capture that state of blur. It’s what caught my eye in the first place – I think it’s worth chasing.
If you stop and think about it, most of what is in our field of vision is out of focus. Our eyes are only able to focus on a very small area. Our true focus has no depth of field. I think that’s why many of us are fascinated by photographs without clarity – or how our eye finds clarity within blur.
I’ve actually trained my eye not to focus so it can explore scenes looking for what catches my eye. Only then do I focus in and see what I have found. Then comes the challenge of capturing it in all it’s blurry beauty.
A few years ago, I got an app for my iPhone that easily allowed me to capture those images in their magical and unfocused state. I could leave the phone shutter open one second or two and I could watch an image build and morph on the screen. I was transfixed. The phone became an obsession as I studied what was happening and learned what was possible.
The next step was to take that knowledge and transfer it to my digital camera. I had to figure out how to get the right settings and the correct motions to fix those moments in time onto my sensor. It was incredibly challenging because unlike the phone, where I could watch a photograph emerge, I had to work blind within my camera.
That turned out to be a bonus because through trial and error – lots of error – I made new discoveries and learned. My limited expectations began to expand and they continue to expand to this day.
This journey into capturing my peripheral vision is still a work in progress. I hope it always will be. But I’m far enough along now to share what I have discovered – what I have learned. Here are a couple of tips and hints.
When shooting blur, it is important to follow some kind of line that will maintain clarity. Our eye needs a place to rest and it doesn’t rest in a state of blur.
Subjects for blur can be anything we see – or don’t see clearly. The first step is to start paying attention to what catches your eye. We never find a subject to shoot in clarity that hasn’t entered our consciousness in a state of blur. In your next ‘aha’ moment, back up and think … what caused me to look at this? What caught my eye? Be mindful.
The next step is to identify if you want to try and capture that moment before clarity. If the answer is yes, then your journey has begun.
Blur photography happens with a longer shutter speed. My favorites are 1/10 – 1/13th for most subjects but I also have other subjects that do well with one or two seconds. I started with the shorter exposures and worked hard on camera control. I personally do not use a tripod – I sort of dance with my camera. Without a tripod, steady hands are important.
Here are two examples of camera settings. One short and one a bit longer. These are Lightroom screen shots.
The only important setting to note is shutter speed. The ISO and aperture are set only to serve proper exposure at whatever shutter speed you choose. Sometimes you can get by without any type of light reduction filter (ND Filters) but usually it is easier to use one. Your camera’s sensitivity and the ambient light will determine what your choices are.
Motion usually needs to be smooth and sure. This takes practice. So be grateful for digital and the trash can. You will use the trash a lot at the beginning.
Like anything worthwhile, it takes practice, practice and experience to be good. If you want exceptional blur results then it takes a lot of practice.
ICM is just one style of blur photography. There are more and each gives exciting and often dramatic results. It’s a new way to look and savor and capture the world around us.