Travel Photography: The 7 Rules to Take Good Blurred Pictures
Taken on occasion of a Nomad PhotoXpedition Workshop in Varanasi, at 5 a.m., this photograph manages to reflect the magical moment of bathing on the banks of the Ganges. Being obsessed with definition and light might have spoiled such an extraordinary shot. Beyond aesthetics and composition, common to every photographic activity, technique plays an important role in this kind of pictures.
Rule # 1: There Are No Rules
Creativity rules, actually. There are photographers such as Antoine D’Agata who turn blurry photographs into a form of expression, almost the author’s signature.
Others like Mc Curry use it only in specific situations to signal movement. The appropriate speed doesn’t actually exist, unless you can repeat exactly the same conditions
Rule # 2: Blurring Is a Creative Argument
Motion for the mere reason of motion is, just the same as a circus act, a useless effect. A blur in photography makes sense when it fulfils a function in the message the photographer wants to convey and within the language itself.
Rule # 3: Think About What You Want to Express
Sometimes a happy accident may achieve good results. The truth is that you have a much better chance if you think about what you’re doing before doing it. A “blur” is a creative resource that should be reasonably controlled and always planned. Do you want to reflect speed? Mystery? Movement? Each result requires different planning. See it in your mind before planning the photo.
Rule # 4: In Photography, Continuous Movement Means Chaos.
Not everything should be blurred. Photography is an art made up of contrasts: light/darkness, crispness/fuzziness, nearness/farness. The best result in a “blurry” or poorly defined photo is usually obtained when only part of the picture is undefined. The clearer the stable part the higher the contrast and it is precisely this difference, this contrast, which causes the feeling of movement in the observer.
Rule # 5: Make Mistakes!
Take several test shots with different speeds, being aware that you are only preparing for the future and final photo. Observe the results and take particular care of exposure. We have already said that a blurred picture requires planning. So … take your time! Digital photography allows you to use trial and error much more due to being able to view the photo immediately. Get into the best situation according to your image design and set the camera controls according to what you intend to do. Calmly.
Rule # 6: Choose the Best Speed
And which exactly is it? It depends.
The motion of a racing cyclist is not the same as that of somebody strolling about in a gallery or the faithful bathing in Varanasi. Furthermore, the degree of motion that you want to reflect is a defining factor. In the case of the photograph of the bathers in Varanasi, I only intended to create an aura of mystery. An almost imperceptible movement, something like what is seen in dreams. But with the Bodhnath pilgrims, I wanted to convey the dynamism of the people around the stupa.
For still photos, when subjects are sitting or standing -almost motionless- exposure can be as slow as 1/4 second. If, in addition, the subjects remain still, it may happen that despite the slow exposure, motion is almost imperceptible. On the street, with people walking, it can be 1/8 second or 1/15.
If you want to produce a mass denoting movement, for example, people strolling about at an exhibition, you sometimes have to use open exposures, allowing people to “tarnish” the image with their motion, making a contrast with what stays static.
Rule # 7: Luck Needs a Bit of Help
If there is something that needs luck, it’s photographing motion…
When you are looking for the aesthetics of the unpredictable, of motion or of blurriness, you should contribute something on your part to get luck to help you. I usually put myself in place at the chosen site, shooting photo after photo at different speeds. Sometimes I look at my watch and I notice that I’ve spent 30 minutes at the same place, with one eye on the camera and the other one on my surroundings, waiting for luck to come by, with patience and dedication.