Embrace the Blur
This is a continuation of a previous post about getting "unfocused" with your DSLR.
We all work hard to get pictures that are sharp and have perfect focus. Maybe we're missing the forest for the trees. Think about mood, color, ideas—in other words, not your gear.
There are lots of ways to make great fuzzy pictures. It's a lot easier to accomplish with a camera that has manual settings so that you can slow the shutter speed down. And use manual focus—but it's not imperative. There are so many options for blur.
Option one is jerking the camera. If you're shooting something that is mostly vertical, jerk the camera up and down. You know how you throw a Frisbee? How it's all in the wrist? Same thing, but you do it either vertically or horizontally. The image of the trees below is a vertical jerk.
The image of the beach below is a horizontal jerk. You can exaggerate the composition and draw attention to it at the same time.
Another option is de-focusing. In the image below—the children on a lawn—I was shooting from above, conscious of the expanse of lawn and how it would look out of focus, along with how the forms of the children would show up. I set the lens to manual focus and rotated back and forth until I got the image and look I wanted.
In the image of the train from the raindrop-covered window, the two layers of the image work together to create a mood.
Option three—rotate! Find a focal point, center it, and practice rotating the camera at different speeds. Imagine that the center focal point is the axis, or that the object you want in focus is the center of a bicycle wheel. To keep it in focus, control the rotation (and try over and over!). The nice thing about this technique is that if the background is not as cool as the subject, it will turn into a smooth, silky blur. In the case of the image below, the rotated image blurred out the busy background, but still wasn't very interesting.
This one is all blur and more abstract. All about the movement of the water, but still a camera rotation combined with a slow shutter speed (1/30).
Tried but true: plain old slow shutter speed. Slowing the shutter can show motion, as in the shot below of the wood chipper and the truck. Easy to pull off. You focus on a stationary element in the image (the truck, in this case) and slow the shutter down (1/10th for this example) and put the camera on a tripod. Okay... this was handheld, but it was a very lightweight lens and I held my breath, holding it against my head to brace the camera.
The image below of the koi fish was a bit tougher, but the same technique. It took a few tries to get an image of the fish where I wanted them; the reflections were a bonus.
One of my favorite options is to put something between the lens and the subject. In the intersection image below, the rain on the windshield adds an element of blur that is subtle.
In the images of the woman below, I used a simple clear glass plate in front of the lens to distort the subject. I also used glass from an 8x10 picture frame, applying a small circle's worth of glass frosting spray (found in a hobby shop) on top.
In the image of the fruit platter on a side table, I shot into a mercury vapor mirror, a reflection of the subject rather than the subject itself.
Using a cloudy mirror and angling it produced an interesting effect, as did holding the plastic margarita glass in front of the lens when shooting the bass player below.
Finally, the pan. This takes so much practice. Or so much luck. (I think the latter, for myself.) The camera can follow focus, so theoretically, you focus on an object and move the camera line with it, with a slowish shutter speed. I shot the mugging pedicab driver in Manhattan at 1/25th at f9, with a fixed 50mm lens. It just takes luck... I mean practice. It also works much better with a subject that passes in front of the lens than with one approaching or receding from the lens.
Now, go out and blur!