Westminster fountain at sunset

by Jorge Córdoba

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Focus and blur have a reason in a picture when they come together. Blur alone is just a loss of an important element in the photography art, unless it has a reason, like obscuring nudity or creating an additional value... but what is the value of an entirely blurred picture?

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I don't want to be 'that guy' but sometimes when my camera's auto WB just isn't doing it and I don't have big enough a white object to get a good meter photograph, I take whatever white thing I have, lay it out on the floor, focus the lens to where it is as blurry as possible then set the frame over the object so that as much of the frame is white as possible. I then use that picture as my white balance meter. Ghetto, but functional. –  enthdegree Dec 16 '11 at 0:33

3 Answers 3

Shooting blurred photos can be considered opposite of black and white photography - while black and white is about hiding colors to bring out shapes and shadows, blurring helps to reveal colors by hiding shapes and shadows. An interesting subcategory is a combination of the opposites - black and white blurs - where distractions by both details and colors are hidden away to bring out larger shapes or patterns.

Blurred images could be used for several purposes, like

  • to hide boring shapes that have interesting colors;
  • to hide unwanted details on interesting shapes;
  • to give feeling of mind-boggling motion;
  • to evoke memories - colors/shapes alone can trigger some memories stronger than same image with details - because only the colors/shapes match memories of other people, not the details;
  • to initiate curiosity - a blurred image and a catchy title might induce a person into taking some action, like reading accompanying article;
  • to differ from the ubiquitous super-sharp photography;
  • to suggest a hurried "caught moment";
  • to suggest that someone is leaving (walked out of focus);
  • to create some new shapes with light sources leaving stripes in the frame.

As an example, Michael Orton is a photographer who has taken lots of great blurred images. The roots of creating blurry images are, however, much older, starting with (pre-)impressionist painters like Joseph Mallord William Turner (aka "the painter of light") and Claude Monet.

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Thanks dear Michael for you detailed reply. I am sure many of your points are valid...but is total blur a new trend, and what does it represent in the photography world...? –  mohamad machnouk Nov 29 '11 at 11:29
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Oh, I'm not Michael, just a fan of his work :) But no, it's not a new trend, impressionists like Claude Monet and J.M.W. Turner are still the classics of blurry art. –  Imre Nov 29 '11 at 11:49
    
Wow, the Michael Orton images are great. Thanks for sharing the link @Imre. –  Jakub Dec 2 '11 at 2:04

I'll add another possibility to @Imre's excellent list: full-image blur can give impressions of disconnectedness, loneliness, mental haze, etc. All of these are potential emotions that you wish to convey.

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One more suggestion: if the picture is meant to be a background for something else (like a computer desktop, a printed page or a work of art), then the "something else" forms the foreground of the resulting work, and the picture in the background should not excessively distract the viewer from it. Thus, a completely blurred or defocused picture may be exactly what the overall composition needs.

It's also worth noting that not all blur is the same: for example, motion blur only loses detail along the direction of motion, but retains variations orthogonal to it. Besides, blurring can also add detail. For example, a defocused photo can show the camera's bokeh, while motion blur adds information about the movement of the subject (and/or the camera). An extreme example would be star trail photography, where the motion blur is provided by the Earth's rotation. Obviously, these images are blurred by definition — but that blur is precisely the subject of the image.

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This would have been my answer; a blurred image as part of a larger work can be very useful. –  Flimzy Nov 29 '11 at 21:13

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