I'm in the air today, flying from beautiful upstate New York (I'm unsure as to whether "upstate" should be capitalized—any copyeditors out there?) to Detroit, and from Detroit across Lake Michigan to Milwaukee.
After thinking about my first "weekend exercise" and the "teacherish" post that followed, The Digital One Year project, it occurred to me that recommending extensive projects, while possibly life-changing for some readers as well as, perhaps, myself, doesn't really have much of a future. The "exercises" I have in mind suggesting from time to time are more like finger exercises for pianists—ways for everyone from beginners to even experienced, practiced photographers to hone their chops. Because we're all continually re-acquainting ourselves with photography; there are always ways you can get better; there are always new things to learn.
Hence "three-hour exercises" as opposed to "weekend exercises." There's nothing sacrosanct about timing or duration; try it for an hour or a week, to help you get out of the house with the camera or as a way to relax and break the monotony during a catalog shoot.
This one's very simple: Make ten unsharp photographs, at least three of them good.
Here's one example—the plane I was on being de-iced in Detroit on my outbound journey ten days ago. This was after the outside of the window got sprayed—a child a few rows away said, "look, it's raining!"
There are of course many ways to explore unsharpness. The two major kinds of blur, subject motion and camera shake (in school, my classmate Jay Townshend photographed a project with camera shake and would deliberately aim the camera moving it quickly in a circular pattern—I can still see him doing it in my mind's eye), or the aristocratic form of blur, panning; and the lesser, camera-magazine trick, zooming blur (not sure I've ever seen a good zooming blur picture). You can photograph through things, from soft-focus filters to bathroom windows; you can photograph in the near-darkness doing your best to hold short shutter-speeds still.
Defocus is of course another kind of blur, sometimes with a sharp accent.
There are many other ways to make unsharp photographs, and some of them can be pleasing.
You could make any combination of types of shots. Ten pictures, all using different kinds of unsharpness; or ten pictures, all using the same kind of unsharpness; that's all up to you.
I wish I could find one that Zander made when he was a little boy...he was waiting for me in a store, and started amusing himself by making pictures with my camera while twirling around on a swivel chair as fast as he could make it go. As often happens when kids make lots of pictures freely and experimentally, one of them was really nice, and I know I kept it at least for awhile.
What this exercise hopes to lead you to do is to put more emphasis on looking at the files open-mindedly—if you take five, or fifty, shots in which nothing's in focus, which one of them "works"? It gets you into your visual intelligence in a way that more rigid ways of making the usual good/not-good judgement often don't.
The usual disclaimer: I'm not your teacher and this isn't an assignment, so don't think I'm telling you what to do. Suggestion only.
Wish me a good flight. I don't think today qualifies as winter travel...the forecast for today here in the Finger Lakes says it'll be 67°F/19.5°C today! I'll post comments tonight, from Wisconsin.
P.S. If you want to share an unsharp image in the comments, the code is
...Where the URL inside the quotation marks in an image on the Web. Word o' warning: because the TypePad interface we use isn't set up for illustrations in the comments, your original image must not be wider than 470 pixels or it will be cut off.
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Featured Comments from:
Michael T.: "I believe this is an under-appreciated and unloved genre of photography. Many believe it is either a mistake or a lack or experience; or on the other end of the spectrum people believe all the photographer does is wave the camera around or defocus their camera to achieve the image. Like all genres of photography getting an authentic image the photographer likes enough to put forth into the world for feedback takes a lot of time and work! And certainly goes way beyond just technique. I think that street photographers have an easier (not easy) time with 'unsharp' imagery. And landscape photographers (like myself) perhaps the hardest. I have come to use 'unsharp' methods (ICM, long exposure, pin-hole to name a few) to produce a body of work (at www.michaeltrupiano.com) that I hope conveys, in some small way, the feelings I have towards the landscape—both grand and intimate."
Travis Ennis: "I've taken quite an interest in your recent photo exercises/assignments and this one came at an opportune time. Winter brings short days and less time to shoot in good light. Instead of fighting it, I've been shooting at night and either experimenting with flash or just seeing what I get with longer exposures. Not sure I've made a good photo yet doing this, but it is fun to see what you end up with."