In-camera Blurs

In-camera blur of sunrise on Knik Arm in Alaska.

Is your photography in a rut? Are you looking for ways to reinvigorate your creativity? One option is to make blurry photos. No, not the ones that happen by accident, but the ones that you intentionally create. Done correctly, landscapes become impressions, like impressionistic paintings, rather than literal interpretations.  Intentional blurs are a great way to make an often photographed location uniquely yours.

First, a short primer on intentional blurs. There are many ways to create them, but this one is accomplished by movement of the camera rather than in post-processing. That is why it is often referred to as in-camera blurs.  In this landscape the camera was panned left to right with a slow shutter speed of 1/6 sec. The aspect ratio of the subject matter determines whether you pan horizontally or vertically. For example, trees are good subjects for vertical panning.

The shutter speed and speed at which your lens moves determines the degree of blurring. Fast movement relative to the shutter speed causes the subject to blur more and be less recognizable. The image becomes more abstract. Smoothness of panning also affects the quality of the blur.

Intentional blurs need the same attention to composition and exposure as static photos. In my experience, successful blurs require good tonal or color contrast. That is, you want the various components of the image to stand out. Otherwise the resulting blur will appear monochromatic.

Knik Arm is a waterway stretching from the outlet of the glacially fed Knik River to Anchorage, Alaska. This photo was taken during sunrise in early winter. The foreground is a mosaic of woodlands, snow covered lakes, marshes, and tidal flats of the Eagle River delta. The prominent orange streak are the bluffs across the inlet illuminated by the first rays of the rising sun. Beyond that lies interior Alaska.

The various shades of grey, blue, yellow, magenta, and orange pastels provide color contrast. Similarly, layers of cool/warm and dark/light tones compete with each other for attention. The synergies result in an image which is a more dynamic representation of the landscape than a traditional, static shot. Lines from camera movement look more like the long, gentle strokes from a painter’s brush than pixels from a digital camera.

As you can imagine, coming up with a pleasing composition where all the elements of technique and framing come together is a trial-and-error process. I shot nearly 100 frames during this outing to come up with my favorite. Intentional blurs are a fun technique because the outcome will surprise and delight you. Is that not why we pursue photography in the first place?  

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