We’ve all snapped photos with our iPhones that were unintentionally blurry. But have you ever considered using blur as a creative effect to enhance your photos? It may seem illogical to add blur to a perfectly focused photo. But blurring your image is just one post-processing effect that can bring more attention to your subject and help tell your photographic story. In this tutorial you’ll discover seven ways to edit your iPhone photos with creative blur.
Why Use A Blur Effect?
Depending on how it’s used, blur can project a feeling of soft dreaminess or dynamic action. You can use blur to convey specific feelings such as excitement, melancholy and levity.
Sometimes, adding blur is the first step of the photo editing process. You may then turn to other apps for a more finished look. For example, if your goal is to create a painterly style, blurring your original photo may create a more polished final image.
Or, you might use blur to complete the editing process and give your photo a unique edge. I was almost satisfied with this black and white version of a street photography image. But it really came to life after adding a circular blur.
The blur also serves dual purposes. It blurs the subject’s face for anonymity and it makes a static image more dynamic.
Let’s take a look at seven different creative blur effects that you can apply to your iPhone photos. At the end of the article you’ll discover which apps you can use to achieve these effects.
1. Block Out Distractions
One of the most common ways to use blur is to block out distractions in the background around the subject.
In photography, when standing relatively close to the subject and using a camera lens with a large aperture, a shallow depth of field is created that produces a blurred background. This is helpful if you have a great shot, but the background is so busy it takes attention away from the subject.
The iPhone doesn’t have an aperture setting but there are apps that simulate a shallow depth of field. Almost any photo is a good candidate for this effect, especially street photography.
In this image, the cars that lined the street behind this vendor’s booth were a big distraction. To remedy this, I blurred everything but the booth and vendor, and overlayed a filter that captured the spirit of her unique merchandise.
2. Add Sparkle
The background blur created from a shallow depth of field appears as round circles of colored light reflections. These round circles of light are referred to as bokeh, which is Japanese for blur.
However, bokeh doesn’t refer to the actual blur or the amount of blur. It refers to the quality of the blur and the reflected points of light. A good bokeh should be pleasing to the eye with smooth round circles of light and no hard edges.
What makes a good bokeh photo? Any photo with background light sources, natural or otherwise. Traffic lights, sunlight peeking through trees and Christmas tree lights all make beautiful, bright bokeh.
3. Create Atmosphere
Gaussian blur is a soft, smooth blur that removes fine detail and reduces noise (grainy distortions). This makes it a great option for photos taken in low light, which tend to look grainy.
Apply a gaussian blur to the entire image for a dreamy or atmospheric quality. This is a great technique for landscapes, evocative portraits and for adding a fantasy quality to almost any photo.
4. Focus Attention
Gaussian blur may also be used to focus the viewer’s attention on your subject. This is particularly useful when there are other competing elements in the photo, making it difficult to determine what is the main subject of the photo.
Applying a deep gaussian blur to everything apart from the subject helps the viewer notice the most focused image first.
5. Frame With A Vignette
Another idea is to use gaussian blur to create a vignette around your photo. A vignette is a framing technique that typically darkens or whitens the edges of a photo to bring attention to the center.
However, instead of adding a typical vignette, add a deep blur to the outer edges of the photo for a similar but more subtle effect.
6. Convey Excitement
Radial blur creates a circular blur around a focal point. Zoom is one form of radial blur. It has a starburst shape where the center point is in focus and the rest of the image blurs in an outward direction toward the sides of the photo.
In this photo, the red motorcycle is the center point. The blurred area radiates outward from this point making it feel as though the landscape is whizzing by.
Zoom works well to emphasize action and convey excitement. It’s great for sports photography or to give any photo an abstract quality.
7. Exaggerate Movement
Motion blur is most often used to exaggerate motion. One way to increase a sense of movement is to keep the subject in sharp focus and apply blur to the surrounding scene.
This mimics the effect that would be achieved by panning the subject with a camera. Panning is moving your camera to follow a moving subject.
Use this blur when the background is colorful or has a strong pattern. With plain backgrounds, you will lose the impression of speed.
Motion blur is excellent for people, vehicles and pets in motion, but it can also be used to make inanimate objects appear to move.
Apps For Applying Creative Blur
Photo editing apps that specialize in creative blur include After Focus ($0.99), Big Lens ($0.99) and Focus In Motion ($0.99). These apps allows you to select a specific area of the photo to remain focused while the rest of the photo is blurred.
There are also a few apps that include blur as an editing feature. One of the best is iColorama ($2.99) which boasts 189 blur presets. The first 10 presets are the most basic and include gaussian, radial and motion blur.
PhotoToaster ($2.99) lets you frame your photos with a gaussian vignette, and includes an FxBrush to paint on different levels of blur.
There are many photo editing filters that will mimic natural bokeh, but in these cases random circles of light are simply layered over your photo.
For a more realistic bokeh, try Tadaa SLR ($4.99). It produces a shallow depth of field and allows you to mask or selectively focus your subject. You can also determine the amount and brightness of the bokeh.
Have fun editing with creative blur!