Blurring the Line

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During my brief career as an art student (I ended up with a degree in Information Technology. Go Figure.) I remember being given an assignment to use blur in a series of photographs. I’m afraid I don’t remember much of what I created for that class – but I do remember feeling as though I hadn’t really accomplished what I set out to do. I didn’t feel that my images were compelling – and I suspect that my instructor didn’t find them particularly interesting either. Over the years, I’ve thought about that assignment again and again. And as time passes, I find that I am more capable of using blur effectively. So, here’s a little of what I’ve learned over the years.

Colorado, USA

There’s something about autumn foliage that makes me want to swing my camera around. 🙂 For this shot, I didn’t really do that – actually, I moved the camera in a slow, smooth downward line. That motion produced the vertical blur that gives this abstract shot it’s watercolor feel. If you have repeating lines to work with, motion blur in the same direction can create a pleasing patterned effect.

Through the Rain - Varina Patel

Rain on a window produces a really beautiful blur. For this dreamy photo, I shot through the windshield of a parked car. I used a wide aperture for a narrow depth of field, and set my focus somewhere between the windshield and the trees… so nothing is in focus. This is a fun technique for really rainy days when you might not pull out your camera otherwise!


I love using an incredibly narrow depth of field to blur backgrounds and secondary details. For this macro shot, I got in very close, and let the frozen droplet and the near edge of the leaf remain in focus. Everything else in the frame is very soft. This technique helps pull your viewers eye right to where you want it – while eliminating distracting details.

Standing Guard

For this shot, I used a very long shutter speed (30 second!) to completely blur the pounding waves. The sea stacks in the distance really stand out against the blurred background. In this case, I wanted to create a very moody shot. A long shutter speed works well for blurring water, clouds, and anything else that is moving.

To the Sea - Varina Patel

If you want something a little less extreme, a shutter speed of a few seconds is enough to blur the movement of the waves on a beach. A wide angle lens creates a sense of depth, and the blurred lines add to that.

Spring Snowflake

It’s a lot of fun to play with blur in photography. If you’re interested, give yourself an assignment. Spend the next week looking for ways to create blur in your photographs. Or take it further, and start a project. Over the next year or so, build a collection of images in which you use blur, and see what you come up with! I think you’ll be surprised at the variety you can produce! I’d love to see some of your blur examples, too. Feel free to share links, tips, or ideas!


About Author Varina Patel

There is nothing more remarkable to me than the power of nature. It is both cataclysmic and subtle. Slow and continuous erosion by water and wind can create landscapes every bit as astonishing as those shaped by catastrophic events – and minuscule details can be as breathtaking as grand vistas that stretch from one horizon to the other. Nature is incredibly diverse. Burning desert sands and mossy riverbanks… Brilliant sunbeams and fading alpenglow… Silent snowfall and raging summer storms… Each offers a unique opportunity. I am irresistibly drawn to the challenge of finding my next photograph, and mastering the skills required to capture it effectively.