#918. Blurred photographs challenge results

By pascaljappy | How-To

Oct 21

You hear blurred photograph, you think fluffed photograph. Everybody goes for sharpness. Unless, that is, bokeh is involved. Except that’s not true. Not only can you blur on purpose without relying on a fast lens, but you can also do so in a bewildering number of manners.


The photograph above was the inspiration for this challenge. A sharply focused (almost) background blurred by motion as the camera is panned to keep the unfocused subject in place. Two types of blur in one shot and, to me, a great feeling of movement and depth.

My goal, for this challenge, was to see how many types of blurs we, as a group, could come up with. Yes, shallow depth of field can yield lovely results. But, with the increasing number of fast lenses rapidly flooding the market, I have the feeling it’s all we’re going to be seeing, very soon.

Nice but not naughty

So, what else can we come up with to make some of the frame lose its information content while creating a mood or an effect that traditional bokeh cannot ?

Results exceeded my hopes! Here’s a list of effects I counted, probably missing others along the way:

  • Subject motion blur
  • Photographer motion blur (shake, pan, rotate …)
  • Lens imperfections and camera limitations
  • Scanning imperfections
  • Atmospheric effects
  • Reflections on various mediums
  • Viewing through imperfect mediums
  • Sharp step bokeh
  • Very thin DoF combined with reflections/lighting effects
  • Defocusing altogether
  • Post processing
  • An actual purpose-built blur rig
Naughty? I want naughty!

So, thank you all very much for your contributions and the variety of effects you have obtained !! I did not expect as many different results and processes 🙂 🙂 🙂 But enough babbling from me. On with the pictures.


Paul Barclay


Paul adds: “For this image, my girlfriend and I were at our favorite Irish location for their “Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day” celebration in September. The location is a local destination hotel that celebrates the history of the building, and most anything worthy of celebrating. They usually have a local band in the courtyard for their special celebration events, and this evening was a very good folk band playing classic folk music and rock and roll. My favorite song of the evening was Sweet Emotion by Aerosmith, played as folk music. It was great! We were sitting in the courtyard next to the outdoor fireplace listening to the music. I had gotten up to photograph the band and some people on the other side of the courtyard. And while I was returning to my table, the couple at the next table got up to dance. I did a quick lens change, moved to a better location, and made two images of them. This is the first.”


My 2 cents: the photograph above is the exact opposite of my top b&w image. The background is slightly out of focus but immobile and the subject is in focus but has motion blur. Cool.

Street Art 1 – Looking South
Street Art 2 – Looking North

Paul adds: “[The two images were made] using my M9 and 50mm Summilux V1 lens at maximum aperture or stopped down only one stop. I titled the project “Embracing Imperfection” because this lens was not well regarded when it was introduced, and it does not perform the way I expect a Leica lens to perform unless it is stopped down to f4 or more.”


My 2 cents: I love that lens imperfections are used to add flavour to a photograph rather than be considered inadequacies.


Philippe Berend

Laowa 100mm f:2.8, uncropped, shot at slightly larger than 1:1
Laowa 10mm f:2.8
Zeiss Loxia 25mm f:2.4

My 2 cents: blur can change the sense of scale (it’s the principle behind the “miniature effect”) and that beer cap, close up, looks a bit like Captain America’s shield. Also, a very peaceful scene at bottom, with the one boat on terra firma not swayed by the waters. There must be a Zen message in there somewhere 😉


Philippe adds: “Blur is the storyteller’s (thus my) friend. It can hide, as well as reveal. It can explain, or leave to the imagination. It can simplify or create mystery. And, as the zen master would say, “in the last picture, it is not the boats that are gently rocked by the swell, it is your mind that is rocking…”


Pascal Jappy


There was a time when I couldn’ stop shooting long exposures while walking. Most of the results proved very uninsteresting. But others stood out and still appeal to me today. If you time the exposure length properly, it’s still possible to see the original scene behind the abstract, which I find very cool.


Although they don’t really blur, I find that shiny reflections have a similar effect by disturbing our vision and appreciation of detail.


Mundane objects can be abstracted through blur-by-wobbly-glass.


Jean Claude Louis

Berlin Skyline – 2000
Alexanderplatz – 2002
Bernauer Strasse – 2002
Roof of Reichstag – 1998
Jewish Museum – 2002

Jean Claude adds: “These images intend to convey the emotions I have experienced during several visits to Berlin between 1998 and 2002 – a feeling of melancholy, a sense of displacement caused by the frenetic new constructions of the reunified metropolis and the blurring of its troubled history. After a few largely unsuccessful attempts to capture my vision with traditional cameras, I decided to build my own device, by jury-rigging the front element of a loupe to bellows connected to an antique medium format camera with a focal plane shutter. While the photographs were, sometimes, sharp in the center, their edges were out of focus and subject to uncontrollable and unpredictable aberrations.”


My 2 cents: The consistency of mood is great but what’s even more interesting to me is how the (psychological) focus of most photographs is placed on something that isn’t really sharp. It’s undeniably the center of interest but we are refused the details. This is particularly striking with the statue with a cross on the roof of the Reichstag. Is that a man? What’s happening there? Very unsettling and cleverly done! Unrelated but the two opposites in the Jewish Museum dyptich work so well together!!


Alan MacKenzie


Reflection in a summer pond. Scanned from a slide. I just like it, detail be damned.

Winnipeg, MB/ Canada – Winter 1979 : Prairie snow scene with telephone poles in dull whiteout. B&W.

The prairies on a bitterly cold and flat day with a nice bit of Tri-X grain. My whole world was a big, flat, frozen blur. Keeping cameras and fingers from freezing was a priority didn’t leave time for fussing about.

A bright red bush on a very cold semi-overcast day. Taken with an old cell phone it captures the scene as I remember it. Too cold for a regular camera but this worked for me.


Alan adds: “None of the blurring was “intentional” insofar as I didn’t carefully calculate shutter speeds, f stops and film stock to arrive at a result but just banged away and recognized things that I liked. I know it when I see it!”


My 2 cents: So interesting that sharp images produce blur-like results.


Sean O’Brien


My 2 cents: Sean sent me a complete set of photographs from Kata Tjuta (next to Uluru) to pick from for this challenge. I arbitrarily picked some that had a strong separation between sharp foreground and blurred background, to make a consistent series. The final skyscape was also picked because all of the photograph is in sharp but the fuzzy clouds give an impression of bblur.


Paul Perton

Cloudy morning on the beach at Kleinmond

My 2 cents: more gems by Paul. The matter of the glass seems to evaporate into photons the further away we get from the plane of sharpness. From watering hole to black hole? 😉 As for the second, is this Jupiter?


Sateen Prion


Sateen adds: “Identity protection laws stop us taking photographs of people engaged in their everyday lifes. I wonder whether this protects them more than it hides their humanity. I use blurred photographs, among other techniques, to sit at the border between legal and illegal, between creating meaningful photographs and prying, particularly to question the validity of our societal choices, and those that are made for us.”


My 2 cents: I love how finely judged the blur is. We can almost make out the faces but anonymity is still maintained. Unrelated but I love the colour work here! Wow.


Pascal Ravach


My 2 cents: Here, the focus blur seems to join forces with some sort of “light blur”. The light seems unsure where to fall on those leaves. Interesting effect.


Nancee Rostad

FlameTree: this image is from my “blur period” (eight years ago!) when I frequently experimented with panning for a painterly effect. I like how it appears to be a stroke or two from a paint brush, rather than a photograph.
Forest: also from my “blur period” – I like how it makes the Maine autumn forest look soft and inviting. The panning technique requires many photographs to be taken to find just the right one.
Maine: this image of a reflection of lobster cages stacked on a dock is a particular favorite of mine. I am not blurring the image, the water is. It seems mysterious and complex, and I think it makes the viewer stop and look as they try to figure out just what it is.
Kyoto: this image was the result of photographer “shimmy” – but I really like how the tree looks rather surreal and graphic and almost as if it came from an alien forest, all at the same time.

My 2 cents: What can I say? Gorgeous. 4 photographs, 3 types of blur. And complementary colours. Also interesting is that combining what seems to be like shallow DoF with user motion (voluntary or not) creates a really interesting effect (Kyoto). A completely focused image with small motion blur could have appeared unwanted. This feels totally done on purpose. Nothing wrong with a lucky break when you experiment, right 😉 The result is lovely.


Lad Sessions


Lad adds: “One early morning walk over the hill from where we live, I walked in gentle mist.  I liked the sinuosity of the fence, but also the background blur, and in post I accented the fog to help convey the magical spirit of the moment.


My 2 cents: A lovely atmospheric shot. As far as blur is concerned, it’s really interesting how different the blur from fog is to blur from shallow depth of field from fast lenses. It’s more alive and more natural.


John Wilson

The Red Dust Cloud. This is from a series titled Genesis created using my computer monitor and combining three kinds of camera motion – zooming, rotation and moving the camera inward.  
I See You!
Using three kinds of camera motion (similar to The Red Dust Cloud) on a mural and lots of Photoshop.
Above The Waterfall. 
Rainy day entertainment photographed on my desk with a macro lens and some Photoshop chicanery.
Ghost Town.
From a series titled “Between The Ticks of Time”. A sharp and a blurred image combined with some added Photoshop lunacy.

My 2 cents: Fascinating. To me, the third photograph (Above the waterfall) “inverts” the concept of rainbow photography. Instead of a hazy multicolour curve over a sharply defined landscape, we have the exact opposite here. The first (Red dust cloud) is what reminded me of my own blurs! So I’m greatful for that pic as I had no idea what to post 😉 😉 And what a shot. It reminds me of a planetary nebula. Really cool.


In conclusion (and a new challenge)

Many intentional effects and purposes. Some unintential photographs recognized as interesting. And, most interestingly, a heave reliance on what would be considered deficiencies (in scanning, in optical quality, in shooting technique, in sensor tech …) to produce creative results. I particularly like that. It’s an act of resistance in a hobby/profession obsessed with sharpness and technical measurement and so often utterly dead inside.


Lad Sessions recently suggested to me that we make a challenge out of the simple idea of square format photography. Thank you for the great idea. Let’s do that. Rules are simple: anything goes if the frame is square. But it’s not just about cropping any old 3:2 to make it square. Let’s have a bit of square composition 😉 How can you use the square formally, creatively, against the grain …? Can’t wait to see your results 🙂


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  • Sean says:

    Yeowzers! Well, to me, there’s not one favourite image. They all hold their own, and so, all are of equal status. There’s such a range of images presented here, even though it’s given all these images have a focus on blur. In appreciating the diversity of images, it’s clear that amongst other things, there can be a real or illusionary blur of a still subject, both contained and seen in its bathing light. By contrast, at the other end of this, there’s to be seen an apparent trippy and engaging LSD component projected as part of some images. It’s quite apparent blur in an image has many a genesis, but a common goal.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    OMG – best of luck to whoever judges this competition! – I’m going to hide behind the sofa till it’s all over – I can’t find what’s better than who, or who’s better than what, they are all too good to pick a clear winner!

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thankfully, no one has to judge 😉 The idea was to find as many ideas for a blur as possible. A collaborative project more than a competition. Competitions are so 2010, right ? 😀 😀 😀

  • Alan says:

    Since when (or where) do ‘privacy laws’ forbid photographs (or non-commercial publication) of people in public spaces?

    • pascaljappy says:

      No idea of the exact rules, to be honest, as they vary by country. In France, there is a “right to your own image” that’s not just about publishing but even about taking photographs of people. Not sure what the rule is elsewhere. Cheers.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        Similar laws exist in various countries, Pascal. I’ve come across a number of articles drawing attention to the danger these laws create for snap-happy tourists, and warning people to make sure they check this out before blazing away with their cameras. Penalties vary – but apparently they can be quite savage in some parts of the world.

      • Alan says:

        Hmmmm…. You’re telling me that Cartier-Bresson would get in trouble for photographing picnickers on the Seine? Sounds Draconian. Are we confusing commercial and artistic/editorial usage rules?

        • pascaljappy says:

          He would today, I think. Even photographs made for private use can be a problem. I’m no specialist but think that it’s only in public displays (festivals, carnivals, protests) or when the subject is a celebrity acting in public that it’s OK to photograph a person. But that’s France, not sure about other countries. Also, it’s the law, it doesn’t mean everyone will try to enforce it. Most people simply don’t care that you photograph them or not.

          • John W says:

            We seem to be a bit more relaxed in Canada. Here there is “no expectation of privacy in a public place”. As long as you are in a public place and the image is not derogatory or defamatory you are free to snap away. I get hassled about once a year; strangely not by the people being photographed but by some bystander.

          • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

            It’s still a good idea to ask. And then if it’s not a good idea, you’ll be on notice that you shouldn’t do it. It does detract from the spontaneity of “street”. But really, it’s just good manners – reinforced by the law, in some countries, because people simply got fed up with photographers.
            Years ago, I was confronted with the choice – there was an image which still haunts me, decades later, of an elderly lady eating her meal at a nearby table in a restaurant. She had a timeless elegance in – and of! – her old age, and I would have loved to have captured the image. But it would also have been DIS-respectful to do it without asking, and that would have resulted in the very image I was admiring disappearing in a puff of smoke, as a result of the question. So I don’t have the photo – I can’t share the image – I can only treasure it, in my mind.

  • Alan says:

    I looked a bit further and came up with these Wikipedia articles. Other than Greece, there don’t seem to be any blanket prohibitions. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personality_rights
    This is a subject that deserves clarity as travel photography is more than landscapes, buildings and objects.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Indeed. Maybe we can write a separate post about the topic. And maybe Sateen can help if that’s a subject that fuels her work? Cheers

      • Sean says:

        If you’re in OZ, then this resource may be of help regarding a street photographer’s rights. It’s an informative published by Arts Law Centre Australia. Essentially it’s about photography in public places, buildings, sites and people – think ‘street photography’.
        Street photographer’s rights
        It is generally permissible to photograph in a public place without asking permission. Permission extends to taking photographs of buildings, sites and people.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      One thing to watch out for is the background. Photographing people is only part of it. There are countries where you’d go straight into the slammer, if the background had some “security” connotation. And how can anyone possibly know? – MI6 in London is unlikely to have a sign above the door! And in other countries, the consequences of tripping on this one can be dire!

  • John W says:

    Another stellar selection of images.

    A few years ago I tried the walking time lapse blur similar to Pascal’s. Completely forgot about them till I saw Pascal’s. Nice reminder to try it again.

    Jean Claude – your collection is stunning!!! Do you still have/use that camera? I’d love to play with something like that for a lifetime or two. Very reminiscent of the early photographers like Atget.

    Congratulations to all. Well Done!!

    • Thanks for the kind words. I still have the camera and its components. I, however, have retired it after my Berlin project; it felt like a gimmick to apply the same effects to another body of work. I can email you the details. I may also describe the process and project in a post here.

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Well done, everyone! The variety of “blur” among these images in truly amazing. I found sometime to like in everyone’s contribution. To mention just a few of my favorites: Philippe B’s bottle cap which glows like a halo in a Renaissance painting. Pascal J’s #2 & #7 – so painterly in an abstract sense, plus I’m totally drawn to the color palettes. Jean Claude’s Berlin series is super evocative and lushly dark. Lad’s image of the fence & the mist feels like a photo until about the 4th or 5th fence post in, when suddenly, the viewer has stepped into a painting – lovely. And John’s “Ghost Town” was jarring (in a good way) and full of energy and color – nice!

  • What a remarkable collection of images !! There are amazing photos in each one of the submissions.
    Nancy: exquisite motion blur effects
    John W, Pascal J, Paul P: your images transport me to a different universe, one in which the mind flows freely.

    • John W says:

      Thank You for the kind words J-C. I’m convinced “my mind” never grew up. It’s still an unruly, demented child that gets into all kinds of naughtyness and trouble that I occasionally get to photograph.

  • Brian Nicol says:

    A great set of fascinating images.
    I love doing street photography so I have removed France from my bucket list…I will savour my images from the 70s!
    What is deadline for square images?

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