Equipment Posts

Lensbaby: All That Blur

There’s more to taking a sweet spot photo than picking what’s going to be sharp. When using an optic with a sweet spot you’ve got all sorts of blur surrounding the sharp area in your image. These out of focus areas, whether softly blurred or dramatically streaked, are also key parts of your image. Pay attention to the color, tone and directionality of the blur to appreciate how those elements contribute to the image as a whole. Also watch out for anything in the blur that’s a distraction you need to eliminate.

Have fun playing with the blur. Pushing the sweet spot far to one side causes the blurring of the opposite side to be stretched out, creating a streaking appearance. The effect can be even more pronounced if the area that’s blurred is close to you and the sharp area is further away. The streaking look can also give a feeling of motion to the image. Experimentation is essential for discovering what you can do with the blur.

Flower Boxes
In the “Flower Boxes” photo the blur is in the background, but don’t let that make you think it’s insignificant. The blur still plays an important role in the image. The background blur adds to the composition by supporting the colors and shapes in the foreground. It’s an application of repetition. Even if we can hardly make out the shape of the second flower box, we still know it’s a flower box because of its similar shape and color to the sharp flower box in the foreground. Even the splash of yellow in the top right corner is beneficial because it continues the pattern of yellow from the flower boxes. Keep an eye on the background blur when you’re shooting to see how it can help enhance the overall image.

Flower Boxes - Lensbaby Composer, Sweet 35 Optic

Pink House
In contrast to “Flower Boxes,” the blur in the “Pink House” photo is in the foreground. This completely changes the role of the blur in the composition. Instead of being an area that the eye moves to after the sharp area, the blur leads the eye to the pink house. While the blur is a guiding element in the composition, there are other pieces of the composition that help lead the eye to the house. The lines in the driveway and the line of the fence have strong directionality. There are also framing elements at work: the side of the house on the left and the white pillar on the right frame the scene, keeping the viewer’s attention focused on the house.

When processing the image I made selective tonal adjustments to build on the visual design created by the blur. I applied a graduated darkening to the foreground. The selective darkening prevents the eye from lingering too long in the foreground, which helps the pink house draw the viewer’s eye into the image. This transition from dark to light mirrors the transition from blurred to sharp. The house dominates the photograph not only because it’s the sharpest element but also because it’s the most vibrant as well. All the elements are working together to make the pink house jump out and grab your attention.

Pink House - Lensbaby Composer, Sweet 35 Optic

Garden Path
The view down the garden path illustrates how important blur can be to the feeling of an image. The blur across the top of the image creates a canopy of color for the path below. The mixture of colors high in the branches adds excitement and energy to the image. They make the scene feel very lively. If I only look at the lower third of the image, which is all green and brown, it reminds me of an average garden scene but when my eye moves up through the rest of the image, the mix of green, white and reddish-brown makes up for the lackluster bottom section. The blur has a noticeable streaking because what’s being blurred in the top left is much closer to me than where I placed the sweet spot down the path. In addition to the path guiding the eye into the scene, the tree trunk along the right edge provides a little framing that helps to guide the eye down the path. The dark tones of the tree trunk push the eye away and the viewer’s attention is drawn to the lighter tones further into the image. Overall, both the light and dark tones influence the mood of the image and how the eye moves through the scene.

Garden Path - Lensbaby Composer, Double Glass Optic

Through the Crowd
The sweet spot of the Double Glass Optic easily cuts through the crowd to put all the attention on the child. However, that’s not the only reason your attention is drawn to the subject. Tonality plays an important role in this image as well. Notice the people on the left and right sides of the image are wearing dark clothes. The combination of being out of focus and having a dark tone causes the sides of the image to be largely ignored, pushing attention further into the image and ultimately to the child. Imagine if some of people in the foreground had been wearing light-colored clothing like the child. It would have made the image much busier and the child would not have stood out as dramatically from the crowd. Being aware of the mixture of tones surrounding your subject can help you create more successful images.

Through the Crowd - Lensbaby Composer, Double Glass Optic

Excerpt from Lensbaby, 2e by Corey Hilz © 2012 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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