out of focus photography

  • learn tips for taking out of focus photographs by Justine Knight

out of focus photography

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 tutorial by Justine Knight

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.

how to take out of focus photographs by Justine Knight

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!

learn tips for taking out of focus photographs by Justine Knight

About the Author:

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. Visit Justine Knight online.
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25 Comments

  1. T. Jan 10 2013 at 12:30 pm - Reply

    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. Linda Hooper Jan 10 2013 at 12:52 pm - Reply

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

  3. Stacey V. Jan 10 2013 at 12:53 pm - Reply

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

  4. Lynne Rigby Jan 10 2013 at 12:56 pm - Reply

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

  5. Caroline Jensen Jan 10 2013 at 1:19 pm - Reply

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

  6. Julie Jan 10 2013 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    Justine, I love these images and great article.

  7. Kami Jan 10 2013 at 1:38 pm - Reply

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

  8. Melissa Stottmann Jan 10 2013 at 2:41 pm - Reply

    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. Reagan Jan 10 2013 at 7:01 pm - Reply

    Beautiful! Very excited to try this!

  10. Stacy Pederson Jan 10 2013 at 7:29 pm - Reply

    I love this Justine!

  11. Kelly Jan 10 2013 at 9:05 pm - Reply

    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 - Reply

    Was just thinking of this topic today! Great tips 🙂

  13. Cristin Jan 10 2013 at 11:57 pm - Reply

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

  14. rebecca caban Jan 11 2013 at 8:43 am - Reply

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

  15. Joanna Jan 11 2013 at 10:30 am - Reply

    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.

  16. Erica Jan 11 2013 at 12:25 pm - Reply

    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!!

  17. Megan Dill Jan 11 2013 at 7:44 pm - Reply

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

  18. celeste pavlik Jan 11 2013 at 8:52 pm - Reply

    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!!

  19. Cheryl Jan 12 2013 at 9:25 am - Reply

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

  20. Miss B. Jan 12 2013 at 11:19 pm - Reply

    Great shots, thank you for the inspiration!

  21. Kelly Jan 14 2013 at 1:22 pm - Reply

    Love this justine!

  22. Adele Humphries Jan 14 2013 at 2:25 pm - Reply

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

  23. Stephen Bethune Jun 27 2015 at 3:56 am - Reply

    Thanks for sharing.

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