A “blurred” shot is normally considered to be a technical due to camera movement or to an overly long exposure of a subject in motion.
Many photographers have chosen instead to use it as part of their artistic language with brilliant results; let’s have a look at how you can master this effect in smartphone photography and when to use it.
Blurring intuitively suggests speed and vitality, but it can also create very striking impressionistic or abstract effects.
The situations that best lend themselves to this effect are:
- Objects/people in rapid motion: shooting with long exposure times and a stationary smartphone, the background of the photo remains “normal” whilst the subject leaves a trail that traces his movements through space.
- Shots from a car or other vehicle in motion will give a subjective vision, as if the world rotated around the photographer.
- Photos taken at night or in low-light conditions, if taken with long exposure times, will create light trails behind luminous objects in motion (light painting).
- Flowing water (rivers, waterfalls, waves) creates unique effects in which the water seems “frozen”.
- You can follow the movement of a subject with a smartphone to obtain a “still” subject on a moving background (panning).
On a normal camera (reflex or compact), adjusting the exposure times is relatively easy, whilst on a smartphone the level of control is limited. Fortunately, there are specially designed apps to help us out.
My favourite is Slow Shutter Cam by Cogitap Software (be careful of imitations with similar names).
This app allows you to shoot in three operating modes:
- Motion Blur – this captures and accentuates movement, allowing you to adjust the intensity of the effect and to choose the exposure time (from ¼ second upwards).
- Light Trail – this accentuates the light trails typical of blurred night-time photos, allowing you to adjust the light sensitivity and the exposure time.
- Low Light – this allows you to take long exposure shots in low-light conditions (to be used with a tripod).
The settings I like to use best are Motion Blur, Blur Strength Medium, Shutter Speed 1 second; but I suggest you experiment to find you own ideal result. The use of a tripos depends on the effect you are looking for; you can also use your camera freehand (which I mostly do).
This photo was taken at night from a roller coaster and combines the light trail effect with that of the subjective motion.
The desired effect in this photo is an impressionist blur and it was taken on an almost motionless background with a subject moving slowly; the blurring also depends on the shot being taken freehand.
iPhone 5s with Slow Shutter Cam and then edited using Snapseed and Mextures.
Both the subject and the photographer were in motion on an escalator for this image with a futuristic flavour; taken with an iPhone 5s with Slow Shutter Cam and then edited using Decim8, Snapseed and Mextures.
Street photography can lend itself well to creative blur, such as in this shot. The strong blurring of the background is due to the fact that, as well as shooting freehand, I was also walking towards the subject; iPhone 5s with Slow Shutter Cam and then edited using Snapseed and Mextures.
Further tips for creative blurring
In conclusion, here are a few creative and practical tips:
- The subject and the background must be as distinct as possible to avoid the images getting mixed together and creating confusion.
- Uniform backgrounds are ideal for capturing subjects in motion.
- A blurred shot is, by definition, imperfect; for every successful image, there are a lot of discarded shots. Be prepared to shoot hundreds of photos to get a dozen decent ones, it’s all part of the process.
- Experiment with the Slow Shutter Cam settings until you find your own style.
- The result of your shot may require further editing to really make it the best it can be.
Davide Capponi is a manager-cum-mobile photographer and is passionate about post-editing. His work has been on display in Italy and abroad, and published in Italian newspapers and magazines. He is a founding member of New Era Museum http://neweramuseum.org/. You can contact David via his blog, http://davidecapponi.com/ on Instagram http://instagram.com/rubicorno/, on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/davidecapponi.iphoneography and on Twitter https://twitter.com/Rubicorno.