Photography has always been a balance of science and art. There are those who are more interested in the equipment than getting out and photographing and those who could care less about the gear and only want to create art. I believe the magic happens when one is familiar enough with their equipment that they can use it in a creative way, in any moment, to help expand their creative vision.
One of the most powerful compositional techniques is to minimize the elements in the frame. Just because the sky exists in a landscape, doesn’t mean it needs to be included. When photographing a tree, don’t always assume that the whole tree has to be in included. Less is more, and a minimalist composition often creates significantly stronger images.
It’s important to constantly push your creative limits. When you’ve hit the proverbial brick wall, try a technique that you think can’t possibly work. The in-camera blurring technique is nothing new to the art of photography, but I first stumbled across the technique when I was cruising around backcountry roads in the winter. The light was a beautiful bright overcast, and I was planning on photographing some snowy landscapes. All of a sudden the weather changed and I was presented with a whiteout. Surely it was time to go home, or was it? The decision to stay and keep photographing was a day that helped shape my photographic vision and style. Unsure of what the outcome was going to be, I set the camera to a slow shutter speed, looked for a nice set of trees and moved the camera up/down as I pressed the shutter. The result blew me away, and to this day I truly enjoy using this technique.
Since this “day of the blur”, I have applied the technique to many different types of subjects including grasses, reeds, bushes and marshes/swamps. The results can be spectacular. However, there is an art to the blur technique, and it doesn’t just include waving your camera around (although that might produce some other fantastic result). The following is a list of tips to help you begin your blurring adventures:
1) You’ll need to use an appropriately slow shutter speed. The speed will depend on the scene, subject, how much light there is, how fast you move the camera and how large an area you need to cover. A good starting point is about 1/20 to 1/4 second. If you are using a mirrorless camera that has an electronic shutter, you will be able to see, in real-time, how blurred the image will be.
2) Make sure you have focus! As bizarre as this sounds, if the subject that you’re blurring isn’t in focus, your result will just look like a blurred, out of focus image. Take some shots with the subject out of focus to see what I mean.
3) The composition also matters. You want to include as much of the subject but not too much that the image becomes weak. You can use a long or short lens to frame as many trees as will work in your composition. Your camera orientation (horizontal or vertical) will depend on the lens you use and how large the area you want to blur is.
4) Typically you will move the camera in an up or down motion but sometimes both up and down or even a random pattern works!
5) When you blur a subject, you will end up blending the colour of the different portions of the subject as well. For example, if you are blurring a tree with grass around it, you’ll find that some of the green grass will start blending with the brown or white tree trunk and the leaf colours (if any). Note which colour you want most dominant, and begin your blurring accordingly. If you slow down over a particular area, that colour will become more prominent.
6) The scene you are blurring doesn’t always have to be pretty. Look for bold lines and shapes that will create visual interest. Dead trees and hardly any colour can make for excellent images.
7) Most of the time you’ll need to do some basic post processing to the blur images. The reason being that the highlights and shadows mix and become averaged out, causing the image to look flat. Therefore, you’ll want to ensure that your black and white points are set to taste. You’ll probably also need to add some vibrance or saturation. Keep in mind that your image post processing doesn’t need to be technically correct. This is just a guideline as it’s ultimately the art we are after.
There are other techniques to create surreal and dreamlike images which I will write about in future articles. The bottom line is that photography is an art just like any other medium. Nobody should dictate how we use our tools. Leaving the viewer to use their imagination to interpret your images can be a more immersive experience for them and create a longer-lasting connection with your art.