Not All Blur is Bad

As of last weekend, the Efcubed blog has been going for an entire year.  Thanks to all who have read and commented here over the last year.  Please continue to send us topic requests and comments.  You can also find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/efcubed. Everyone likes a sharp, crisp photo, but sometimes conveying motion requires a little blurring.  A blurred background on a relatively sharp subject brings that feeling of motion to your viewer.

While we were goofing around in Fairbanks, Alaska, my son asked me to take some photos of him and his buddy jumping their ATVs.  The fact that it was after 11 p.m. really wasn't a problem for us, since the sun didn't set until well after midnight that day. and it never got dark.  (Have I said enough that I love Alaska?)

The best way to shoot these kinds of photos is panning, or moving your camera in conjunction with your subject.  This allows you to keep the subject in good focus and blurs the background.  Set your camera to shutter priority and practice several shots until you find the amount of blur you prefer.  You can leave it there, but I prefer to use that setting as the starting point for my session and move the camera into manual mode.  Depending on the location's background, you may have differences in the light.  If your camera is set to shutter priority, the camera will try to adjust the aperture setting as you move through the background.  Manual mode puts an end to that and gives you a constant exposure setting that you can tweak as you look at the LCD to review your shots.  The boys (OK, they're Army officers, but they were boys that night) were happy to repeat the jumps, so I had no worries of getting everything right on the first capture.  They liked the dust hanging in the air to make the photos look grittier.  My wife even joined in on the fun.

You should use a tripod with a ball-head to steady the camera.  Just loosen the ball-head enough to keep your panning smooth.  You can do this hand-held, too, but my tripod kept the background and the panning consistent, eliminating one more movement factor in the composition.  You should try it both ways.   

If you want the background to be in focus and capture movement within a scene, you can set your exposure to properly capture the background, with your shutter speed low enough to allow the blur of the subject.  In this example, the carnival ride (at a fest in Augsburg, Germany) is moving fast enough to blur the riders, but the colorful evening sky and lights are properly exposed and in focus.  This was back in the film days, so I didn't know I was successful until a few days after the shot.  The "good old days" weren't always perfect.  Give me today's digital technology and instant feedback on my LCD.

There are certain photographs where the subject's movement occurs in only a small portion of the photo.  In this shot, Josh Willingham, of the Washington Nationals, hits a ball foul.  The shutter speed is high enough to freeze him in action, but the bat and the ball are blurred.  I believe the Nats even won that night. 

So don't be worried about a little blur in your photos, now and then - especially if you plan it.  Think about the amount of movement you want in your image before you push the shutter release; verify that you have the appropriate settings; and capture something dynamic.  Have fun.