Experimenting with focus for more creative photographs

For the most part, clean, crisply focused shots are what we all strive for, but in some cases, creative focus can add a new dynamic to your photo. Here are a few ways that you can experiment with different types of focus.

Complete Background Blur

One of the easiest focus techniques to master is the blurred, or “bokeh” background. This can be done quite easily be using a wide aperture, such as f/1.8, and focusing your camera on the subject. This will make your subject pop from the background, and create the dreamy, swirly background that everyone seems to love. 

Slight Background Blur 

In some cases, especially if you are shooting a cityscape or landscape, your inclination may be to get the entire scene, plus your subjects, in focus. Try setting your aperture between f/3.5-f/5.6 so that the background is slightly blurred, but the focus is still on your subject. This will give the viewer a sense of place, without taking the focus off your subject, or making the photo seem too busy. 

Selective Focus 

Putting the main focus on an object with your subject out of focus can also be a highly effective way of engaging your viewer, and also adding mood. This technique tells a story, and is also a great “warm-up” shot if your subject is not 100% comfortable in front of the camera. By letting them know that they are slightly out of focus and the object/prop is the main focus, they will feel a lot less pressure in front of your lens. 

Motion Blur

When it comes to motion blur, the possibilities are endless. While this is a popular technique among street photographers, it can be applied to any style of photography. You will need your subject to be as still as possible, as you will be using a slow shutter speed (somewhere around 1/20, depending on the light, and the speed of what you want to be blurred).

Photo by Thomas Leuthard 

Like I mentioned, there are many ways this technique can be used, so think of how you can apply it to your style of photography. If you shoot weddings, use motion blur for the bouquet toss. Children – capture motion blur when they’re on the playground. 

Total Blur

Finally, if you want to experiment with something really drastic in terms of focus, try having the entire scene out of focus! While this may seem easy, and may not appeal to everyone, completely out of focus photographs are an art-form in their own way. The best way to achieve this look is to set your lens to Manual Focus, and then twist the focusing ring until the scene is blurred to your liking. You may want to go extremely out of focus, like the example below, to create a painterly, impressionistic look. Or, you may want to just go slightly out of focus, so that your viewer can still have a sense of the scene. 

Photo by Peter Tandlund 

These are just a few examples of what you can do with focus, so pick up your camera, and have fun experimenting!