When downloading my photos from a photo shoot, the first thing I check for is sharpness. I zoom in to inspect the details. If a photo is not sharp, it does not get a second chance. It is quickly discarded. There is no amount of sharpening that can save a blurry photo.

For landscape photography, when shooting at sunrise and sunset, to get those “tack sharp” photos a tripod becomes a critical element. It is also essential for shooting indoors where there is less light. Less light means a longer exposure and an increased chance for a blurry image. 

When we arrived at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Jeff set-up a shot towards the front altar. I did not want to capture the same shot (aka copy). Too often our photographs are all but identical.

Looking up and to the front inside Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. The ceiling is exquisite along with the blue stained glass. [Photo by Jeffrey Dannay] Note, he is shooting from the floor with his new BFF, the Platypod. 

Knowing Jeff would nail the shot, I decided to try something different. I had read about a photographer who had created a style through deliberate and controlled blur in his photographs.  Could I forego the “Tack Sharp” mantra and try something new?

A blurry image should be easy. All you have to do is move the camera when pressing the shutter. I gave it a try and easily got a blurry image and nothing more. I had to make some adjustments. First off, depth of field is not important (if the altar is a bit blurry, no one will know, the rest of the image is blurry) so I set the aperture fairly wide, at “5”. To avoid any grain in the photo, I set the ISO at 64. With this combination, and the low light level in the church, my exposure speed resulted in 2 seconds. Camera settings are now all set, onto shooting technique.

I didn’t want the motion of pushing the shutter button to cause any sideways motion, so I put the camera on a delay mode of 2 seconds. This means that that the camera will take the picture exactly 2 seconds after I press the shutter button. I positioned the camera where I wanted to start the photo and then gently pressed the shutter. After the 2 second delay, when I heard the shutter open, I knew I had 2 seconds to slowly move the camera. I chose to move the camera vertically upward. For me, working from the bottom up was more natural. Now, all I had to do was practice a smooth motion through the areas of the altar that I wanted to capture in the photo. 

After several tries, I had something interesting.

Using controlled motion, I worked to create an abstract of St. Patrick’s Church facing the altar (a 1.6 second exposure at F5)

As Jeff set up to capture the second mandated shot in a church, that of the organ, I also turned around.

Looking up and to the back inside Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Along with the ceiling and the blue stained glass is the magnificent organ. [Photo by Jeffrey Dannay]

Using the same technique I worked to capture a similar image of the organ. The light level was less in this direction so I had to lengthen my exposure time and change the rhythm of my motion. The motion had to be evenly paced and straight over a period of over 2 seconds. The time may sound quick, but it seemed like forever. I had to think about where I wanted to start the image and where I wanted to finish it.  For example, how do I want the lights to appear? Do I want the ceiling above the stain glass included in the photo?

Who would of thought a blurry image was so hard to capture?

Using controlled motion to create an abstract of St. Patrick’s Organ and rear of the church (2.5 seconds at f4)

So what do you think — should the blurry images be deleted? Or does the blur create and abstract image that can stand on its own? Either way, at least I have something different than what Jeff captured.

Remember, it’s all about the light and how you capture it.