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Thread: Blurry / soft photos...what makes them work?

  1. #1
    djg05478's Avatar
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    Blurry / soft photos...what makes them work?

    Hey all

    I've recently found this photographer online and I've spent hours studying his photos, I'm in awe (and I've learned about 'medium format' photography...who knew!)

    Anyway, I love the last (auto in front of water) and third from last (couple on rocky area) photos from the link that I posted above.

    My question....what makes them work? Are they 'blurry'? Are they 'soft'? What are the qualities that make this pleasing to the eye...how do I do it?

    I know if I tried, I would just have a blurry photo and people would tell me to stop drinking when I shoot. But these photos work, I think. Why?

    And if this very subject has been discussed in another post, please point me in the right direction or directions on a search term and I can do my own homework. Typing in "blur" or "blurry" or "soft" in the search box just doesnt' get me anywhere.

    Thanks Debbie

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    Cantab's Avatar
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    Re: Blurry / soft photos...what makes them work?

    You pose a very good question. I have no idea what the answer is but look forward to reading answers more helpful than mine. The auto photo doesn't do a lot for me but the third from last certainly works.

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    Re: Blurry / soft photos...what makes them work?

    Its blurry but supposedly intentional. His photo of the couple is also blurry, perhaps to signify fading memories.

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    Re: Blurry / soft photos...what makes them work?

    It's a matter of taste. And suitable subjects.

    For me, a few of those shots work very well but the majority don't. There is a difference between soft focus and out of focus.

    With regard to the ones you specifically mentioned. All I can say is that I have ditched a great many better photos. But that is just the way I see a scene; other people think differently.

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: Blurry / soft photos...what makes them work?

    Debbie

    A good place to start is by looking at the EXIF data if it's available ....... and it is.

    On that third last one it is:-
    Camera Model: NIKON D700
    Lens: 24.0 mm f/1.4
    Focal Length: 24.0mm (35mm equivalent: 24mm)
    Focus Distance: 4294967295.00m
    Aperture: f/2.0
    Exposure Time: 0.033 s (1/30)
    ISO equiv: 400
    Metering Mode: Spot
    Exposure Mode: Manual

    On the last one it is:
    Camera Model: NIKON D700
    Lens: 70.0-200.0 mm f/2.8
    Focal Length: 200.0mm (35mm equivalent: 200mm)
    Aperture: f/3.3
    Exposure Time: 0.0040 s (1/250)
    ISO equiv: 320
    Metering Mode: Spot
    Exposure Mode: Manual

    What does that tell us?

    It confirms that in the third last one, the photographer focused at infinity; i.e. on the clouds in the sky. He/she also used an aperture of f2, assuring him/herself of a very narrow depth of field. So everything from right in front of the camera up to and including the people were shot out-of-focus.

    In the last one we can see that the aperture, at a focal length of 200mm, was f3.3 . Again that was always going to produce a very narrow depth of field. In this one the Exif data doesn't tell us what the focusing distance was. But we can see that everything, including the background, except the bush at the bottom right, is out-of-focus. I have to confess, I am wondering if the photographer has also introduced a bit of blur into this one in post-processing. I may be doing him/her an injustice and, if so, I apologise to them. But, as you can see, there is good separation of distance between the car, the bush and the background, all allowing for that narrow depth-of-field to be exploited in this way.

    So, something to start you thinking. I'm sure others will come in with other comments.

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    Re: Blurry / soft photos...what makes them work?

    I dismiss them as contemporary wedding photography where bad photography is mistaken for creativity by photographer and I guess the public who spend on it ... or else they have no choice, short of sueing for non performance, becuase they paid up front. The photography confidence game as ever.
    When I shot weddings I was paid a small fee up front to ensure I had enough cash for the tram ride to the venue and was paid commission on sales. One tended to take good photographs that people wanted rather than the rubbish that goes out these days.

    I used MF and LF at times.
    Last edited by jcuknz; 3rd October 2012 at 07:50 PM.

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    Re: Blurry / soft photos...what makes them work?

    This proves that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Although I do really like several of the shots in the photographer's portfolio, the two you mention are the ones that I like the least...

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    djg05478's Avatar
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    Re: Blurry / soft photos...what makes them work?

    Thanks Donald - That's helpful

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    Re: Blurry / soft photos...what makes them work?

    Quote Originally Posted by rpcrowe View Post
    This proves that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
    Indeed

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    Re: Blurry / soft photos...what makes them work?

    This proves that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
    I agree. I don't find the out of focus shots interesting at all, particularly the last. But there is no arguing over taste. An interesting exercise is to look at the work of some of the top photographers as the pictorialist era was ending. The best I know for this is Edward Weston, who started with pictorialist work (not crisply focused, imitating certain styles of painting) and ended up in the f/64 group, along with Ansel Adams, using deep depth of field and very crisp detail. Adams had a similar transition, but I have seen less of his early work. Weston was clearly one of the all-time greats, and I love the majority of his work, but I have never found the early pictorialist work appealing. Some people have the opposite reaction, or like both styles. To each her own.


    Donald gave a good explanation of ways to keep the photo mostly out of focus. I too wondered about whether the photographer added blur in post, because of the weird pattern on the edges of the windshield.

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    Re: Blurry / soft photos...what makes them work?

    What was that focal distance ? 4294967295.00m = 4,294,967 km, that's what I call infinity (28 times the distance to the sun!)

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    Re: Blurry / soft photos...what makes them work?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken MT View Post
    What was that focal distance ? 4294967295.00m = 4,294,967 km, that's what I call infinity (28 times the distance to the sun!)
    Indeed

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    Re: Blurry / soft photos...what makes them work?

    I'm with Donald on it's being a matter of the depth of field. I've been doing similar things lately for wildflowers. I find that my recent wildflower pictures are hugely better because everything in the background is out of focus and, as a result, the flower that's the object of my interest is the only "distinguishable" thing in the picture.

    What I did when I first was working this out for myself was to get a coffee mug and try to have only the image on the side of the mug in focus which, photographically speaking, requires more fiddling than some kind of flat surface which is exactly the problem with wildflowers. This is because the mug is curved slightly so the image is "deep", in some sense. BTW - The best mug I worked with on this issue is one I got at Crate Lake that has its image going completely around the mug. So, I was able to work with several different DoFs so I could get used to getting what I really wanted to be in focus. Boring, but it absolutely has paid off!

    The photographer whose pictures you admire has clearly sat down and worked out what he likes to give his clients. As a consequence all his (wedding) photography has a style that represents that preference. And, I'll wager that because he has such a distinctive style, he probably gets hoards of clients and very rarely, if ever, gets bitchy brides or bitchy brides' moms!

    JMHO....

    virginia

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    Re: Blurry / soft photos...what makes them work?

    Quote Originally Posted by DanK View Post
    Donald gave a good explanation of ways to keep the photo mostly out of focus. I too wondered about whether the photographer added blur in post, because of the weird pattern on the edges of the windshield.
    There's also the one which has the effect of a double exposure. And, as a variant of what DanK says, "To each his own."

    ;~)

    virginia

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    Re: Blurry / soft photos...what makes them work?

    Keep in mind that EXIF data sometimes doesn't reveal everything about the equipment being used and how it is being used. As an example, though it might reveal that a tilt-shift lens is being used, it won't reveal the plane of focus. Similarly, if a Lens Baby is being used, it won't reveal how it was adjusted to throw parts or all of the image out of focus.

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    Re: Blurry / soft photos...what makes them work?

    Quote Originally Posted by jcuknz View Post
    ......... One tended to take good photographs that people wanted rather than the rubbish that goes out these days.............
    Aahhh, how the markets have changed.
    First marriage was photo'd using film. We had around 40 pics from that, mainly the core set of pics expected (such as all the various group pics as well as the main parts documenting the wedding). Quite a few people bought these boring old style pics (by my assessment).
    Last (so-called) wedding I got 1400 pics from guests and pro combined. I used one shot from the pro (only cos nobody else wanted to step on his toes and do the formal group shot, otherwise I wouldn't have used any of his). His were pretty much the same as the photographer as at the first wedding.

    From the first wedding the main ones people wanted were the ones with them in the picture (boring group pics mainly) and a pic of B&G. Very much record shots rather than artistic shots.
    Some of my favourite shots from the last event are the smaller details shots. Of course, the likilhood of several people wanting that same shot are pretty low, so if the photographer was wishing to capitalise on sales (i.e. shots that 'people wanted') is less likely to spend time taking such shots and more on the 'money shots' (many of which can be considered artistically poor to say the least, but as long it is in focus and decently exposed it's acceptable).
    This is more of a category that seems to be passed by in your assessment.
    And yes, there is a lot of rubbish out there, but also the opportunity to try a risker shot that may or may not work.
    Unless you are referring to a planned shot which you categorise as rubbish - in which case that is your personal opinion.
    If the photographer has been chosen based on their work/creative vision, then the B&G are getting what THEY want, which is apparently not the same as your own vision. I am sure there are people out there who would hire you based on your work and others that would categorise your vison the same way as you have work that goes out these days.
    I love the fact that there is a wide range of options out there, and increasing as time goes by.
    Vive la difference.

    There does seem to be a fashion lately (at least in the popular press and online) for flare and 'gimmicks'. Some will last, some will fade away.
    I remember a question on the difference between fashion and style. Merely the length of time it stays around for.
    Graham

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    Moderator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: Blurry / soft photos...what makes them work?

    There are trends or fashions in photography and videography. Some of these seem to come and go, while others stick around a bit longer. Photographers are always looking to get an edge so that people turn to them for business, so you tend to see some stylistic elements that people are trying/

    I personally don't like the out of focus shots. They really look like the photographer doesn't know what he or she is doing and the shots should have gone into the blown images bin. I remember seeing some examples some time ago where all of the images looked underexposed, I assume to give the dreamy, high-key look. Another set of wedding pictures I saw had Dutch tilting in virtually every shot. I guess that the clients of these photographers are not other photographers who would call them out on their composition techniques.

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    djg05478's Avatar
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    Re: Blurry / soft photos...what makes them work?

    Quote Originally Posted by GrahamH View Post
    This is more of a category that seems to be passed by in your assessment.
    And yes, there is a lot of rubbish out there, but also the opportunity to try a risker shot that may or may not work.
    Unless you are referring to a planned shot which you categorise as rubbish - in which case that is your personal opinion.
    If the photographer has been chosen based on their work/creative vision, then the B&G are getting what THEY want, which is apparently not the same as your own vision. I am sure there are people out there who would hire you based on your work and others that would categorise your vison the same way as you have work that goes out these days.
    I love the fact that there is a wide range of options out there, and increasing as time goes by.
    Vive la difference.

    There does seem to be a fashion lately (at least in the popular press and online) for flare and 'gimmicks'. Some will last, some will fade away.
    I remember a question on the difference between fashion and style. Merely the length of time it stays around for.
    Graham
    Thanks Graham, I appreciate your thoughts. Vive la difference!

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    djg05478's Avatar
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    Re: Blurry / soft photos...what makes them work?

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyDiver View Post

    I personally don't like the out of focus shots. They really look like the photographer doesn't know what he or she is doing and the shots should have gone into the blown images bin.
    I agree, I've seen very few out of focus shots that I thought were pleasing, most of them give me headaches because my eyes are trying to get them in focus. These were the exception for me.

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    Moderator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: Blurry / soft photos...what makes them work?

    Quote Originally Posted by djg05478 View Post
    I agree, I've seen very few out of focus shots that I thought were pleasing, most of them give me headaches because my eyes are trying to get them in focus. These were the exception for me.
    You have a higher tolerance for pain than I do; in general, I do not like most of this photographer's images and the out of focus ones definitely give me a headache. The double exposures don't do much for me, nor to the low constrast ones or the ones with the tacky special effects (the ribbons of blue or white colours). I find that the introduction of "effects" do not compensate for poor composition and exposure.

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