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.
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.
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!
Justin 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.