How to Take Good Blurry Photographs

Photographers spend most of their time trying to take sharp photos. They set their camera on a tripod and ensure a fast enough shutter speed. They’ll sit around for hours waiting for the wind to die down before they trigger the camera. And when they do trip the shutter, it’s usually with a remote switch so they don’t have to touch the camera and shake it.

I’ll admit, I typically do the same. There’s nothing worse than taking a shot that you think will look amazing when printed, only to discover there was a slight shake in the camera and now the picture just looks bad.

Lately, however, I’ve been experimenting with the practice of intentionally blurring photographs (known as ICM or Intentional Camera Movement). I got into it by accident. I was out taking photographs one day when, for whatever reason, I moved the camera significantly while triggering the shutter. The lines and color combining that resulted were amazing. They almost looked like paint brush strokes. So I decided to try doing it on purpose. I would paint with my camera.

There’s a big difference between a blurry photo and an intentionally blurred photo. Blurry photos look like you were trying to get a clear, sharp image but you didn’t know what you were doing. An intentional or artistically blurred photo should remind you of something in a fine art gallery. If you’re going to try it, keep in mind that you still have to adjust for the optimum shutter speed, ISO and aperture.

When I shoot blurs I’m out in the early morning or late evening for the best light. I’ll set my ISO at 100 and open up my aperture fairly wide to an f/16 or f/22. There’s no need to blur your background with a short depth of field since the whole image will be soft. The shutter speed should be slow enough to allow your movement to matter. However, you don’t want it too slow or there will be no distinction at all.

The point is, you still have to pay attention to everything you normally would when shooting any type of photography. With the wrong light, subject, composition or exposure, your blur photography will still look bad.

Below is one of my favorite blurs. I was staying at an Airbnb in western Colorado farm country. While I was taking a walk one early morning I looked off in some bare trees in the middle of a field. I couldn’t believe it when I saw a muster of peacocks perched on the branches. There were eight or ten of them.

I didn’t have my camera at the time so I came back the next morning with it and tried to capture a few images. It was pretty early (read low light) and I was hand holding the camera. I knew I wasn’t going to get perfect pictures so after taking a few to prove to myself that I was actually seeing apparently wild peacocks in the middle of Colorado, I tried taking some blurs of them while they were flying down from the trees. The result was an oil painting like image.

Since then, I’ve blurred many subjects. It adds a whole new aspect to my photography and gives some variation to what I produce. It’s also artistically freeing during those times when I know I can’t capture perfectly sharp pictures. You can use any situation to your advantage, even when the situation seems to be giving you a disadvantage.

Going the Extra Mile

It seems like it’s been a nonstop week with work, family in town, shuttling kids to events as well as all the regularly scheduled programming of life. One thing I’ve done a lot more of this week is to hike. Hiking is something I’ve always considered fun but unnecessary. I usually only go a few times a year locally. Sometimes I make an extra effort to get out on a trail when I’m visiting a different place.

This week I’ve hiked twice and have loved both times. I was out with family which made it even more enjoyable. I had at least one of my sons on each hike and each one said it was a lot of fun and we should do it more often. That’s enough to motivate me to get out with them again. And in the place we live, there is never the excuse of not having enough hiking destinations. We could probably choose a different trail within 30 minutes from our house each day for a year without repeating.

I felt really good after the hikes too. I go for walks every day and that’s wonderful. But there’s something different about a dirt trail. Sidewalks are great but I love uneven terrain more. It gives you a better workout and hits different stabilizing muscles. Everything feels good after a few hours of trail walking. I think it’s even easier to go further on a hike than walking on the street. That’s because there’s scenery when you hike so you don’t get bored. On the street you just see people’s front lawns and those aren’t usually awe inspiring. I can’t stand waking on a treadmill because it feels like you’re exercising. Walking and hiking give you a sense of accomplishment beyond just step counts or time put in.

When I hike I always feel inspired. There are always new photographs to take, interesting people to meet and beautiful places to see. Living in the west is a special thing. We have some absolutely amazing terrain and outdoor spaces.  I don’t want to waste the time that I’m living here.

I’m determined to make hiking a regular part of my weekly exercise regimen. Unfortunately, this means I have to push myself to literally go the extra mile of getting to a trailhead. I’m up for the challenge though.