#160. Unsharp – No mask

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Oct 06

This is a new article by Paul Perton, who shares a love of fuzzy images with yours truly 😉


A couple of years ago, I (re)discovered manual lenses, after many years of using cameras with auto-everything.

In moments, my photography changed as I learned that a much more deliberate approach would be necessary for this kind of photography to succeed. My reward has been not only better compositions, but sharpness and clarity that seems only to be possible with a quality lens that has been carefully set up. Since then, I’ve shot thousands of images with all manner of manual lenses, different focal lengths, apertures and rendering styles. Occasionally, one of these lenses has delivered a photograph that has made me stop and marvel at previously unseen micro contrast, or an almost 3D quality that then seems to be a just reward for a lot of hard work (and investment).

And then, it’s easy to work out why we pay so much for quality.

But that’s for another article. This time, I want to explore the other end of the spectrum a bit.

I regard the technology of photography in much the same way as a child’s see-saw; one end goes down and the other goes up. In photography; increase aperture and the shutter speed needs to be shortened to maintain the equilibrium of the exposure.

Easy, but what happens when you’re out of shutter/aperture options and even changing ISO won’t deliver anything but digital noise?

Answer; you hand hold when you shouldn’t and hope like hell that at least you manage to get the focus right. Back in front of your computer, disappointment sets in; you’ve got blurry photographs from shaky hands, out of focus pictures or movement streaks. Instinctively you reach for the delete key.

Whoa! Not yet – take another look – there may be some gems in there after all. With a little bit of work, some cropping and (perhaps) a black and white conversion, you might be able to salvage more than you think.

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No matter how badly exposed and blurry this shot may be, the message it conveys is unmistakable. Shot in a night club at New Year, the moment is all that matters.

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An awkward angle, with all manner of obstructions and poor light. The exposure was just beyond my ability to hand hold, yet the woman’s look tells a far more powerful story than it might have done were I able to frame the image perfectly.

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Another moment critique – in poor light and a little soft. The image is made by the woman’s expression and suddenly, the slight lack of focus is forgotten.


Sufficient light falling on the staircase, but little on the visitors made it possible to get a very disjointed shot that conveys all manner of movement and urgency.


Another staircase, poor light and a simple story in a single frame.

Movement, some impression of speed and a blur. A man on a mission?


A wet, windy and dull Paris day outside, brought onto the Metro by these passengers, each wrapped up in their own private thoughts.


Hurry, hurry, hurry. The entrance to the New York subway on a very dull afternoon.

Your first few blurry images probably won’t impress anyone but you. Over time, your collection will grow and a dozen such pictures will form an interesting gallery, an ideal collection for a Web site – and through that, do no harm to the perception of your other work as well.

  • Fran Oldham says:

    Of all the Dear Susan collections I’ve seen (not very many, I’ve only been receiving them for a few months), this one is the only one that doesn’t say anything to me. No criticism is implied, I’m not qualified to criticize but all the other collections have had photos that I liked or admired. This one, no. I don’t doubt that it is my lack of perception or vision (or something else) but I feel like the many who said of the emperor “But he hasn’t any clothes on!”

  • […] Pascal Jappy has just posted a new article of mine. It deals with a subject close to many photographers’ hearts; blurry pictures. The link is: Dear Susan. […]

  • philberphoto says:

    At the expense of respectfully disaggreeing with the previous comment, I found this article both enjoyable and eye-opening. I have in my LightRoom colelctions a few shots that I should have deleted at “flawed”, but didn’t, as something in them just froze my trigger finger. Now, thanks to Paul, I know that I can publish them, too, rather than just be ashamed of them and berate myself.
    That said, not all failed shots are worthy, far from it, even more so when the failure is due to my incompetence rather than to impossible circumstances.

  • […] Unsharp – no mask was a bit out of left field for many photographers. The message I got from several readers was clear; we strive for well focussed images so what the hell was I thinking about talking-up blurry pictures? […]

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