Leading the Eye with Focus and Blur

I took this pretty shot early on a rainy morning in a meadow. Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge is overflowing with flowers in Spring, so it’s a perfect time to pull out your macro lens and play with the possibilities.

When a single element in an image is in sharp focus and the rest of the image is blurred, the eye tends to settle on the sharp element. The blurred areas lack detail, so the eye shifts away from them. That doesn’t mean they aren’t in integral part of the image – not at all. But a soft blur allows me to soften the effect of the pink flowers in this photograph. The sharp grasses and water droplets draw the eye.

I took this shot with a 180mm macro lens. Although the pink flowers were beautiful, it was the water droplets that caught my eye. So, rather than trying to capture the entire scene in sharp focus, I chose to bring the droplets and grasses into focus and allow the pink flowers to go soft. I use this technique to point the viewer toward the object I want them to notice. In this case, I chose those two blades of grass covered in droplets as my “point of interest”. So, my goal is to minimize distractions in other areas of the image. The pink flowers provide a sense of place and a beautiful counterpoint to the main subject – but the eye migrates towards the water droplets rather than wandering around through the image.

Post-production is just as important as in-camera work. In this case, I made sure the white balance was just right – I wanted a nice, clean pink, and a very natural range of greens and yellows. If I’m trying to keep your eye on those little water droplets, the last thing I want is for you to be distracted by weird colors. The same goes for distracting spots. I used Photoshop’s Patch Tool and my Wacom tablet and stylus to remove them quickly. They might have been bugs, but were so blurred that they were unrecognizable – and they certainly didn’t add anything to the image. And for printing or web display, I used my tablet to draw a quick selection around the droplets, created a mask, and sharpened just that small area. I left the rest of the image alone for a very soft look.

The finished product is very simple. I created a clear point of interest with a narrow depth of field. I kept my colors clean to avoid distracting my viewer. I removed any distracting spots that might grab your attention. And I avoided sharpening areas that were meant to remain soft. What do you think?

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.