When selecting photos for my magazine recently, I needed one of a sea bird. Having taken several of shearwaters, I though this picture would have been amazing, had it been in focus. Or is it fine the way it is and can I call it ‘art’?
There have been several entries, for example, to the creative visions category in the Veolia Environnment Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition that look just that – shots that should have been in focus but are not. And even the photographers have admitted that they were on the verge of deleting them.
So what is it that makes those out of focus shots better than just blurry?
Runner-up in 2008, this ‘ghost of a march hare’ is difficult to appreciate as being artistically blurry because there’s no frame of reference that is in focus.
© Michael Roggo Photography
This image was shortlisted for the final images in the 2011 competition. This one does seem to have a background in focus, but it’s not a very strong one – it’s just a wall. He’s cleverly called it ‘graffiti fox’ but I struggle to see it.
© Ian Wade photography
I think this image really works because you have the focus on the water, the whale being a far off ‘shape’ and they key (I would say) is the break in the water’s surface at the top where the whale has just gone down from.
© Mark McCormack photography
Runner-up in 2011, this is a very difficult skill to perfect because you have to use a slow shutter speed whilst keeping the bird perfectly in focus, which he’s managed to do. It can create a nice feel of movement, and the colours from the surroundings are equally important.
© Ole Jørgen Liodden
This image has the ant in very good focus yet the very shallow depth of field make it look like it is hiding behind a textured piece of glass that throws everything out of focus.
© Edwin Giesbers photography
There may not be much that is lit in this image but that’s why it works – you can imagine the 3 brushstokes of a yellow brush on a black canvas.
© Miguel Lasa photography
Of course, playing with out of focus settings can be very fun, especially if you’re trying to get a cool bokeh effect. You can purchase filters to turn lights into all sorts of shapes! here’s a cool post with examples on the photoble website, and here’s a DIY guide to creating your own filters out of black paper.
Here’s a cool bokeh effect with a heart filter
For those who can’t wait for this year’s Veolia Environnment Wildlife Photographer of the Year winners, the Guardian released a sneak preview of several of this year’s commended photographs.