The secrets of taking good pictures: Blur alert

Photography expert Tom Langford gives his advice on how to turn an average shot into the perfect photograph.

Blurred picture of two children (photo credit: Mike Mayer)
Blurred picture of two children
(photo credit: Mike Mayer)
Tom Langford is a commercial photographer, professional retoucher, and a website designer.
I feel very fortunate that I spent years making photographic prints the hard way in the darkroom. Although we could use special chemicals and papers to obtain different effects the focus of our efforts was always to bring out the quality of the picture we were working with.
When digital photography and computers became available the task of creating and enhancing a fine picture became much more convenient. Photographers naturally took to photoshop and heaved a sigh of relief,  but it wasn't entirely a match made in heaven.
The problem with most digital editing software is that they cram in too many features and special effects. It's difficult not to be seduced by clever filters that alter your picture in "creative" ways. Your aim must always be to enhance a picture and help it to tell its story more effectively.
Blur Alert
Here is a picture from Chandra Leigh of the USA. The center is sharp and the rest has been blurred - I imagine the intention was to create some drama or interest.
Our eye is drawn to the sharp  center but there is nothing there to engage our interest - so the picture has not been improved using this filter. A photograph needs to have a focal point, a strong element that forcefully attracts our attention. Many devices could  have been used: A person leaning out of the window, a bird perched on one of the branches, a dramatic sky, a rear view of a person looking up at the tower, etc.
The picture needs to have a focal point when it is taken and then afterwards you can use the computer to enhance the picture. Blur looks natural and is best introduced photographically by using a wider aperture to blur the foreground while carefully focusing on the subject.
Blur Alert 2
This picture was taken by Mike Mayer in Vietnam. In contrast to the first picture it has strong focal points and is quite an interesting portrait of the two children. It would have been much better without the blurred effect which does not add interest to the shot and Is distracting.
The picture does not really need anything else, but if Mike wished to make it fuller then perhaps an extra element, such as a figure in the shadowy interior would help. If I were to use blur in this picture I would have probably shot the blurred eggs of a person walking by.
I suppose the moral is to try and add extra interest at the time of shooting. Use the computer afterwards to enhance the picture by adjusting the color, contrast, sharpness, light and shade, etc.
Of course this is harder to do since people do not lean out of towers or birds perch on branches just when you need them to. Creating a great image is a challenge and that's what makes it worthwhile and interesting, thank goodness!
Constructive Feedback
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Tom Langford is an Event and Commercial photographer, website designer, and professional retoucher. He teaches photography courses for beginners and improvers. Details of his courses and field trips at: