out of focus photography

by Justine Knight

out of focus photography photo

We spend so long striving for shots that have tack sharp focus – it is one of the cornerstones in our quest for a perfect photograph. But whenever I am in a creative rut, I switch my camera to manual focus and play with taking shots out of focus! Does it always give me beautiful, creative shots? Most of the time no, but it is has been a great technique in helping train my eye to see in different ways. As with all photography, I believe these images still require a point of view or a story to be told through the image. Just because it is out of focus, does not mean that these fundamentals go away. In fact, the underlying narrative may become even more important to the viewer. My hope is that by playing with the focus I can add a level of interest or mystery to a shot that may have been relatively uninspiring if taken in sharp focus.

out of focus photography photo

It’s a balancing act – too out of focus and the point of view is lost to the viewer yet too sharp and the blur starts to look unintentional and is simply distracting. Additionally, while the photographer will see the reality behind the image, if the photograph is overly abstract the viewer can easily become lost in the shapes and colors and miss the viewpoint of what the photographer intended to convey.

out of focus photography photo

If you decide to give this a try, and I hope you do, here are a few things I have discovered whilst playing with my out of focus shots:

  • Your camera settings will be the same whether the shot is in focus or out of focus. Your aperture, shutter speed and ISO should be set prior to playing with the focus.
  • Keep in mind that when people are in the photograph, a significant change in focus can elongate heads, necks and limbs to a point where people become alien-like. Probably not a look to aim for!
  • Use your eyes to determine the level of focus. The LCD screen is not a good indicator for how a shot will ultimately look.
  • A complimentary tonal palate and strong contrasting colors can add strength to the shot, so keep an eye out for both.
  • Finally, this is an exercise in creativity. Just have fun with it and you may be surprised with how much you like the results!

Need some more inspiration?  I have created a pinterest board that highlights the out of focus work of some fellow CM members as well as other creative photographers  – be inspired!

out of focus photography photo

out of focus photography photoJustin Knight, New York
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Justine Knight is a passionate Australian living in New York with her husband and two gorgeous girls. She loves to photograph both her girls and the city in which she lives. Justine shoots with a Nikon D90 and loves her collection of prime lenses.


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25 Responses to “out of focus photography”

  1. Jan 10 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    I think some of my best shots have been out of focus, LOL!!! :)

    Thanks for sharing your lovely images :)

    Have a lovely day, cheers, T. :)

  2. Jan 10 2013 at 12:52 pm #

    Justine!! What a great post on OOF! Your tips are very helpful! I so love the creative process!

  3. Jan 10 2013 at 12:53 pm #

    Love these images, Justine! Wonderful perspective and thank you for sharing your creative tips.

  4. Jan 10 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    I love this, Justine! Awesome article! and you know I love some good blur <3 Beautiful work!

  5. Jan 10 2013 at 1:19 pm #

    Justine, These make me so happy! I need to try this!

  6. Julie
    Jan 10 2013 at 1:19 pm #

    Justine, I love these images and great article.

  7. Jan 10 2013 at 1:38 pm #

    Very inspiring! I love how different all these images are. All gorgeous! Thank you for this. :)

  8. Jan 10 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this post Justine! This is a fun and creative way to dig out of a winter rut. I especially love your points about color palette – since every blurs together a bit more- that is definitely something that should be considered!

  9. Jan 10 2013 at 7:01 pm #

    Beautiful! Very excited to try this!

  10. Stacy Pederson
    Jan 10 2013 at 7:29 pm #

    I love this Justine!

  11. Jan 10 2013 at 9:05 pm #

    Excellent article and great tips. I love capturing a good oof shot, but I admit its a lot of trial and error. These are great tips for a more consistent approach to an unconventional style of photography.

  12. Randa
    Jan 10 2013 at 11:25 pm #

    Was just thinking of this topic today! Great tips :)

  13. Jan 10 2013 at 11:57 pm #

    After purchasing my lensbaby, I’ve been loving taking out of focus shots, especially with that lens. It’s just so dreamy!

  14. Jan 11 2013 at 7:57 am #

    I have a couple photographs that I like that are out of focus. They tend to be more personal photographs than those of clients just because I’m not sure how they’ll go for it, but I guess I’ll
    See based on their response. Thanks for sharing!

  15. rebecca caban
    Jan 11 2013 at 8:43 am #

    A beautiful collection of work and an inspiring tutorial- well done! xo

  16. Joanna
    Jan 11 2013 at 10:30 am #

    Thanks for this post Justine! It is true that some of my best shots have been oof! Sometimes it s hard to break out of the sharp as a tack mind set, but I think its fun to break the rules so to speak.

  17. Erica
    Jan 11 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    Justine, you know how much I love your work! For me, the soft blur is such a s great contrast to what sometimes feels like the harshness of city life (said as a fellow NY-er :) ) … or a complement to a “soft” subject like your little girl. And I love the way it emphasizes the iconic nature of your subject (like the Radio City Music Hall shot on your Pinterest).

    I appreciate the tips — now I’m inspired to go out and try it!!

  18. Jan 11 2013 at 7:44 pm #

    Wonderful article with fabulous photographs, Justine! I love your work <3

  19. Jan 11 2013 at 8:52 pm #

    So good to see your images here on the blog too! I instantly recognize your work when you post in the daily, it’s inspiring to see your OOF shots because they really do tell such a strong story the way you capture them and I love that a lot of your work is street!! Thank you for sharing Justine!!

  20. Cheryl
    Jan 12 2013 at 9:25 am #

    Great article Justine! I love your OOF perspective on the city.

  21. Jan 12 2013 at 11:19 pm #

    Great shots, thank you for the inspiration!

  22. Jan 14 2013 at 1:22 pm #

    Love this justine!

  23. Adele Humphries
    Jan 14 2013 at 2:25 pm #

    Great article Justine!! I really must give this a go. I love your OOF shots!


  1. Photo 52: Playing with Light [Natural Indoor Light] » K. Rox Photography | Photography by Kelly R Patton | Brooklyn NY Child and Family Portrait Photographer - Jan 14 2013

    […] by my friend Justine Knight, who recently wrote a terrific article on out-of-focus photography, I have been playing lately with creating out-of-focus images. It’s a lot of hit-or-miss, but […]

  2. under the beltway | CMpro Daily Project - Feb 24 2013

    […] and fellow CM Pros, Justine Knight and Stacey Vukelj. Justine’s article on OOF photography is here and Stacey’s Street Photography Breakout session will be on sale March 5th. Click here to […]

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