How to Create Intentional Blur in Photography

When creating abstract-looking images, an essential factor is the camera setting — specifically, the shutter speed and how to slow a shutter speed to begin with.

When you intentionally blur a subject, you need enough time to move the camera to capture the scene. If your shutter speed is too fast, you won't have enough time to scan from top to bottom. It's too slow, and you'll have time left after completing your movement.

The process can take a bit of figuring out in the beginning, especially considering most of the time, you're aiming for non-blurry photos. Instead of holding the camera steady, you'll be moving it the whole time. 

If you pause during the capture, jump in too quickly, or end too slowly, you'll lose the flow of colour and end up with more detail. The slower the camera movement the greater the detail capture, compared to a faster motion for increased blur.

The number 4.5 represents how much light is being admitted through the lens; f/4.5 in this example.

The Subject - Photo #1 Camera Setting: aperture f/9, shutter speed 1/125 of a second, ISO 250, focal length 30mm.

Photo #3 Camera Setting: aperture f/22, shutter speed 1/5 of a second, ISO 250, focal length 58mm.

Photo #2 Camera Setting: aperture f/22, shutter speed 1/5 of a second, ISO 250, focal length 58mm.

Photo #4 Camera Setting: aperture f/22, shutter speed 1/5 of a second, ISO 250, focal length 52mm.

Photo Tips for How to Create Intentional Blur

  1. Adjust the aperture to reduce the light and allow for a slower shutter speed, such as f/16 or f/22.
  2. When using the manual camera mode, you will need to adjust the aperture to balance the exposure for you; after you choose the shutter speed,  you will need to change the aperture to balance the exposure.
  3. If you choose the aperture priority mode and your aperture, the camera will adjust the shutter speed for the exposure.
  4. Choose the shutter speed priority mode, dial in your desired speed, and the camera will adjust the aperture if it can balance the exposure within the equipment's limitations. For example - if your shutter speed is slow enough that you need an aperture beyond, say, f/22, and that's as far as your lens is capable, you may end up with an overexposed (too bright) photo.
  5. You will require a slow enough shutter speed to allow time for camera movement, such as 1/15th of a second for a starting point.
  6. Take a photo to check that you're happy with the exposure.

How to Take the Picture

This is where you'll coordinate your movement to obtain the amount of intentional blur you desire.

After choosing your subject, you can begin at the bottom or top of the scene - experimenting with both ways.

The intent is to have a nice fluid camera motion from the top of the scene in a smooth downward movement to the bottom. It will take experimenting as you discover the optimum speed for camera movement and desired capture.

The starting shutter speed may be faster than needed or too slow. You can experiment with different speeds until you're happy with the results.

Check your ISO setting if necessary. If you have a challenge with the correct exposure and are in the manual camera mode, decrease the ISO if your photos are too bright or increase it if they're not quite bright enough - if you don't want to change the aperture or ISO.

If you discovered creating intentional blur in photography is fun, look out for opportunities to practice and grow your skills. Be reassured if things don't go as well as you'd envisioned, as it may feel awkward initially.