blurry pictures

Photo Diary 45/365 • To focus or not ... that's the question

10:00 AM

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When I started submitting my photos on stock photography sites, the first thing I learned was how much focus matters. You see in stock photography photos usually follow the guidelines of a document. There are exceptions of course, but most of the times photos must be sharp and clear with the main subject in focus. So, when my images were out of focus, or much of their subject was out of focus, or the depth of field (DOF) was too shallow, or not justified, my images were rejected. 



And despite the fact that I really liked some of them and I thought they were really nice, the "focus" word haunted them in a way that my artistic exploration couldn't understand. Yet, even the "focus" etymology is closely connected with its current meaning. Since our fellow Latins were using the word "focus" to describe the "hearth - fireplace" and figuratively their home and family, the meaning of this word passed through centuries as the "point of convergence", a central point of attraction, attention and activity, like all homes should be. The term was also introduced in mathematics by Kepler, in optics at 1775 and after a century in photography. 




In photography, focus obtained a new, more specific meaning of adjustment; when we focus with our camera, we adjust the distance setting on a lens to define our subject sharply. In other words, we move the the front part of the lens towards or away from the rear part in order to alter its focal length. This meaning opens an endless chapter in photography; measuring and analysing data; experimenting different functions and techniques that could not be covered in a small blog post. Maybe every term of these would become a different page here in By JWP Photo Diary.



But, there is a very general way to divide photos in three large categories. The photos whose composition is sharp and mostly in focus; photos that are selectively focused and photos that are completely unfocused without this "drawback" to reduce their artistic value.



Sharp Photos

The main reason in 90% of photos that aren't sharp is because they are shaken. And, to eliminate shakiness there are two ways. The first and safer one is always to use a tripod. Tripod is essential especially when we are photo-shooting in lower shutter speeds. We have lower shutter speeds, when the shutter of our camera is open for a relatively longer time than the usual instant capture; this means more than one second or more.


But we can still take sharp photos, when we hold our camera on hands, if we stand steady and use faster shutter speeds in order to eliminate sensitivity. How fast our shutter speed should be is depending on the focal length of our lens and the focal length magnification factors. Generally, it must be at least one second divided by its focal length. So, if I use 55mm lens, shutter speed must be faster than 1/55 sec.

Selective Focus Basic Adjustments

To achieve the perfect selective focus in your photos with a blurry background, there are three simple guidelines:
• Just zoom in. Around the point you zoom, there is a blurred area.
• Use a low angle to photograph the subject.

• Set your camera to a smaller f-stop number, for example between F4 and F2.8. Smaller f-stop means larger aperture and can give more dramatic blur.

Blurry Pictures Basic Adjustments

For totally blurry pictures, just turn your camera on manual focus and focus on a point near you, in front of the subject you photograph. You can try points in different distances in order to find your ideal blur, which will create the 'right' dreamy atmosphere. 



Photograph Bright Rose by Papanikolaou Joanna on 500px
Bright Rose by Papanikolaou Joanna on 500px

The crucial question in every composition will always be where to focus and how much. The result changes completely and the same subject looks completely different in these three categories. I usually try at least the two first and sometimes all the three compositions. And, after deciding in what way my photo looks better, I retry it to achieve better effect. 

There are many interesting articles to inspire you breaking photography rules and take intriguing unfocused or selective focused photos. Here some of them I really liked:

Taking unfocused photos by Darren Rowse on Digital photography School

Blurry pictures: how to lose your focus on purpose for artistic effects by Jeff Meyer on Digital Camera World.

Selective focus by Russ Burden on Outdoor Photographer.

How to use selective focus in photos by Shelly Perry on The Photographer's Life.


One is sure about focus and it is so finely defined by George Lucas. "Focus determines your reality"! And, this wise outcome can be implied not only in photography, but in every aspect of our lives.




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