Blurry is Beautiful (Blurred Vision Revisited)

· 2.August.2017

Back in January I published an article in FujiLove Magazine called ‘Blurred Vision’. I shared my thoughts on some images I took while I was in Hong Kong and Osaka last year, all of them blurry to some extent. Some were by accident, others were on purpose. The point? Not all images have to be pin sharp to be a great photo. As long as the images are well composed and the lighting purposeful, motion blur can add another layer or dynamic to your photography. This is part two of the article where I continue to take blurred images, this time in Bangkok and again in Hong Kong. Follow along while I explain why I continue to experiment with blurred images.

Fujifilm X-T20 with XF 10-24mm @ 16mm. 1/40th sec f/4 @ ISO 1600

As previously mentioned, my thoughts about image sharpness has slowly changed since my many trips to Hong Kong. I’ve met some pretty hardcore camera and lens collectors, and many of them prefer the older vintage lenses. I asked them the same question: why do you love vintage lenses and how do they compare to new lenses? Many of them shot with Leica cameras, so basically I was asking them how the older lenses compared to the modern M mount lenses. Although the answered varied, there was a consistent theme to their philosophy on lenses and sharpness: they don’t care. What? Isn’t that the number one quality of a lens, image sharpness?

Fujifilm X-T20 with XF 10-24mm @ 14.5mm. 1/5th sec f/5.6 @ ISO 800.

Technically yes, but how sharp do we need our lenses? Isn’t the rendering of the lens also important, micro contrast, correction for distortion, controlling CA and flare? Yes, there are many qualities to a lens, but these collectors cared more about having lenses that had a unique look, and ultimate sharpness (or largest aperture) wasn’t what made a certain lens special. I also looked at some of their work, and I noticed many of the images were blurry, more so than my counterparts in North America. These weren’t images that were blurry by accident mind you, these were done purposefully and beautifully. 1/4 to 1/8 sec hand held night shots, very moody, very well composed with wonderful light. I was hooked.

Fujifilm X-T2 with XF 10-24mm @ 14mm. 1/7th sec f/8 @ ISO 1600

There’s different ways to photograph a blurry image. Sometimes the motion is from the photographer’s perspective, other times it’s the subject moving, and sometimes it’s both the photographer and the subjects are moving together. I prefer to shoot wide angle since it’s easier to control the blur from the camera, and I also find the image more interesting in general. I do like having people in my images too, since people move and to see them blurry seems normal. Remember, a still person is unnatural since we can’t freeze time in real life. We expect to see people moving, and perhaps that’s one reason why images with motion blur works visually.

Fujifilm X-T2 with XF 10-24mm @ 10mm. 1/4 sec f/22 @ ISO 1250

If you haven’t tried motion blur in your images, here are some tips. In general, shooting 1/15th second or slower makes for pretty good motion blur, although you really need to experiment based on the lighting, the framing and the subject matter. Even the amount of colour (the red taxis) can dictate how dramatic the blur can make the image, and if it contributes or distracts from the image. Another good rule is to make sure you compose the image well. A badly composed image that’s also blurry just looks like an accident. This also goes for a well exposed image. Make sure there’s interesting light, or at least the image is properly exposed. Then either decrease the aperture (if you’re in aperture priority) as the camera compensates by lowering the shutter speed, or drop the shutter speed to below 1/15th or below and allow the camera to choose the appropriate aperture, or control both aperture and shutter speed, but make sure the exposure is correct. The rest is pretty much experimentation. Try panning moving subjects, or stay still and allow the subject to blur themselves. Perhaps the subject is moving towards or away from you, or they’re doing something with their arms that makes for an interesting blurred motion capture. Perhaps you and the subject are moving at the same time. There is no exact process to blurring your images, but the unpredictability of it all makes it all the more enjoyable. Experiment, have fun, and happy blurry shooting!

Fujifilm X-T2 with XF 10-24mm @ 13mm. 1/25th sec f/4 @ ISO 1600.

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