Lens-Artist Challenge: Why the Blur?

This week’s Lens-Artist Challenge is about “bokeh” – that blurring of certain portions of a photo that photographers can achieve with the right settings and point of focus. I have a basic understanding of what I need to do with the camera, but to compensate for my lack of confidence in knowing what I am doing, I frequently take several photos with different aperture settings and sometimes different focal lengths. Then I can chose which photos I think best achieve the goal of bringing out the beauty of my subject. I am a very humble, amateur, self-taught, late-blooming photographer – but I know what I like in the photographs I take and when a photograph can be sent to the thrash can.

I realized, as I was perusing files looking for photographs with blur that is pleasing, that I use blur for many reasons. This first photograph of a lily taken outside my Florida door has a plain wall as a background and I really like the very subtle blur of the bud and leaves behind the in-focus bloom. I wanted the eye of the viewer to explore the beauty of the blossom.

I was drawn to the next subject because of the suggestion of a story in the three blossoms and the beautiful colors in the center. My choice was to keep most of the immediate foliage and flowers in focus to give context to the flowers (instead of zooming in to only portray an individual flower), while blurring a very busy background.

I was taking a photograph of something beyond the little critter below when I noticed him peeking out from behind a leaf. I zoomed in close to him to shortened my depth of field so that he didn’t get lost in the very busy background – something that I image he was trying to do. My primary goal of this photograph, however, was to capture his silhouette through the leaf. The bokeh helped me accomplish my primary purpose instead of being the main purpose. I don’t think I ever make bokeh my primary goal.

The next photograph is one of my favorite tulip photos, taken outside the Boone Tavern Hotel in Berea, Kentucky. The settings I used created a blurring of background shrubs and railing to the extent that they create a sense of depth but also are recognizable so they provide a setting for the tulips – provide a bit of story. I also like the effect of the gradual and subtle blurring towards the back of this bed of tulips. No single tulip is focused, instead the story is all about the beautiful bed of tulips and the blending colors.

When I walk around the Naples Botanical Garden I am always looking for images that can tell a story. When I see beautiful blossoms I think about where they are blooming and wonder about their life-cycle. Because I visit two or three times a week, I make mental notes to check back on our next walk-about to check on changes taking place. I noticed the blooms in the tree below and wanted to record the characteristics of the tree along with the blossom. This time the subtle bokeh helped me retain the structure of the tree while maintaining the focus on the flower. On future visits I will watch for seed pods, to complete the story for a future post.

I think the following photograph is one of my all-time favorites. Maybe I love it because of the subtle tones, its gentleness at this time of pandemic and war. The gentle blur, the bokeh, allows our brain to comprehend the complexity of the clusters of small milkweed flowers while having our eyes drawn to the butterfly and the complexity of the individual blossoms. And of course the total blur of the background and its color creates a perfect ground for the flower.

My objective for the next photo was to blur the gentle movement of the ocean moving towards the shore. The gulf water is much warmer than the water of the Great Lakes. I am always surprised when I take my shoes off and wade in the surf. The blur of the photo, created with a very slow shutter speed, reminds me of the gentleness and warmth of the hour.

Sometimes bokeh blur happens by the simple luck of the shutter click. I’m not going to try to convince you that I planned how to catch that gentle blur of the butterfly’s wing.

18 thoughts on “Lens-Artist Challenge: Why the Blur?

  1. Your approach to photography is so much like my own… ! I loved you post, thank you so much for joining us and for showing us your process of getting this beautiful photos. I think the first one and the butterfly on the thistle are simply magical.

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  2. We are so much alike it’s uncanny. I’m a self-taught photographer — and not a great one at that! But I still love to try capturing life on film, so to speak. Your examples are excellent this week, so no apologies needed. Thanks for clear shots with blurry backgrounds. I love them!

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  3. I really enjoyed reading about your approach to photography (very similar to my own!) and your reasons for liking the results in these images. My own favourites are the lily at the top (I love the simplicity), the butterfly on the blossoms (gentle harmonious colours and great use of blurred/bokeh areas) and the sea (really evokes the movement of waves on the shore).

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    • We do have a similar approach and taste, Sarah. Those are my favorites, too, although I feel like a mother towards my photos – that I can’t say I have favorites. Although I never thought of throwing any of my children in the trash bin, saving only the best. LOL Okay, maybe when they were adolescents and could crawl their way out.

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  4. I like the silhouette of the lizard behind the red leaf (looks like it might a Florida variant of an anole?) and the moth atop the muted milkweed blossoms which do project a sort of gentleness. Bokeh is a new word for me, thanks!

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