digital photography tips with Digital Photo Mentor Darlene Hildebrandt

Get Inspired · Find Creativity · Seek Adventure

Create an Abstract Image Using Intentional Blur – Photo Challenge

All too often I see new photographers get hung up on taking the perfect image. Making sure it's 100% sharp, perfectly exposed, technically – perfect. But what sometimes suffers is the creative aspect of photography. This month's challenge is to push you outside that technical realm into the creative one and do something different.


New photography challenge – create an abstract image using intentional blur

There are a few ways you can create an abstract image using intentional blur including:

Do a long exposure on a busy street

You may need a Neutral Density filter to cut the light if you try this in the daytime – setup on a tripod and use a low ISO like 100 or 200. Set your shutter speed to be fairly slow (try between 1/8th – 2 seconds). You may find if you go too long all the people and cars disappear completely. Try different shutter speed times to experiment.

Photo by Wendy

Zoom your lens during a long exposure

See Three Special Effects for Night Photography (scroll to the bottom) to see how to do this one. Basically, setup on a tripod again and set your shutter speed to at least one second or longer. Your aperture will likely have to be small like f/22 and your ISO low, like 100 or 200. Zoom in and focus on your subject (neon lights and light up signs at night work great for this technique) then turn off autofocus. Press your shutter button (or remote if you have one) and using your fingers gently zoom your lens out. It may take some practice to get it smooth and how fast you zoom, how long you pause at the beginning versus the end, and the timing will all give you very different results. Try it!

ISO 200, f/5.6 for 1.6 seconds zoom of the Brooklyn Bridge in NYC
ISO 100, f/22 for 3.2 seconds zoom of Planet Hollywood sign in Las Vegas
Hand held zoom (notice it gets a little bumpy this way) ISO 800, f/14 for 1 second from viewing deck of the Empire State Building in NYC

Swivel your camera or tripod during the exposure

This is the same concept as zooming, but instead you just move your camera or tripod during a long exposure (move it up and down, side to side, or even rotate). Use the appropriate movement for your subject. For example, as in the image of the poplar trees below, it is a tall vertical subject – so moving the camera the same direction will make the trees look elongated like so:

ISO 250, f/9 for 1/2 second hand held
For this image the tripod head was rotated during the exposure.
For this image the tripod head was rotated during the exposure. ISO 320, f/13, 4 seconds
Subject before movement added – ISO 100, f/11, 3.2 seconds
Side to side movement added during the exposure – same settings as last shot.

Move the camera around randomly during a long exposure

This one is purely about having fun and experimenting. Hand hold your camera, set a long exposure, press the button and just start moving it around. You can do this during the day but make sure you set your ISO low and set it on Shutter Priority or you may end up with a blank white image if you make the exposure too long. If it comes out white try again with a slower one, or add a polarizer or neutral density filter to cut down on the light entering the lens.

Same subject as above, done with random movement – all shot at: ISO 100, f/11 for 2.5 seconds



Shoot car light trails

See: Guide to Photographing Light Trails at Night for an in-depth tutorial on how to shoot car light trails. Same concept as most of the others. Use a long exposure to capture the car lights.

ISO 500, f/10 for one second
ISO 200 f/9 for 1.6 seconds – this is a combination of a few images stacked together to get more light trails in the image.

This technique also works on anything moving that has lights, like this merry-go-round we found in Seattle.

ISO 800, f/14 for 1/4 second (I used the higher ISO to get a shorter exposure time so as not to get as much blur)
ISO 800, f/14 for 1/4 second (I used the higher ISO to get a shorter exposure time so as not to get as much blur and it was very dark inside this place)
ISO 400, f/20 for 1 second – to get more blur and a more abstract image as a result
Using my Rokinon 8m fisheye lens I was about 1/2 inch from the brass posts on either side of the shot. ISO 400 1/2 second (not sure aperture, the Rokinon doesn't register on my Fuji – probably around f/16)

You can also combine a long exposure for light trails AND zooming for even more fun! Look how the lights seems to jump out at you and appear to be coming towards you. Almost reminds me of a music staff (lines musicians write the notes on) – can you hear the carnival music now?

ISO 400, f/20 for 1 second - zoomed during the exposure
ISO 400, f/20 for 1 second – zoomed during the exposure

Shoot completely out of focus – on purpose

Now I'm just talking crazy right?

But why not try give this a try?

Abstract art is about color, shapes, light and dark. Turn your lens way out of focus and see how the world looks. Want bokeh? Use a large aperture (f/1.8 on your nifty 50 if you have one) and focus as close as the lens will go.

In focus – meh!
Completely out of focus – hmm! Interesting colors and abstract shape. Almost like a heat map.
Bokeh of the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens

Winner of the last challenge

Selected randomly from everyone who completed the last challenge – Street Corner Exercise, as well as shared your images and what you learned – the winner is:

Crystal Bloom: who watched fisherman on a pier for over two hours and learned,  “If I would have not stopped to watch for over 2 hours and just took photos like I always do, I would have missed this moment.”

Congratulations Crystal you've won a set of our Lightroom Presets. We'll be in touch by email to get those to you.

Tips for this challenge

  1. Don't over think it
  2. Try one of the techniques above
  3. Try them all
  4. Play
  5. Experiment
  6. Have fun!

This Month’s Challenge, Contest and Prize:

So you can't do this challenge wrong. All you have to do is actually do it. Try something you haven't done before and see what you can come up with. Find some other ways to do abstract blurs I haven't mentioned here – show me something new!

This time of year you may find lots of cool things that will work as a great subject: Christmas tree lights, decorations, lights out on the street, etc.

Here are the requirements to be eligible for the prize:

  1. Take a photo with intentional blur to make an abstract photo.
  2. Upload your photo in the comments section below.
  3. Please tell us how you created it (technique used) and the exposure info (ISO, shutter speed and aperture).

Deadline for entry is: January 13, 2016, 10pm MST (-6 UTC) that gives you six weeks.
Contest is now closed and a winner has been chosen. See the next photography challenge for details.

Banner: 4 weeks to better photography bThe Prize:

This month’s winner (selected randomly from all eligible entries) will receive our 4 Weeks to Better Photography course (retail value: $49 USD).


Digital Photo Mentor is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

lightroom alternative photo editing software

Next Post:

Previous Post:

Featured Photography Special

4 Weeks to Better Photography

An online photography class for beginners, with new lower pricing for 2018 and Downloadable Videos.

Join the Photo Community

10 Photography Challenges

Participate in monthly photography challenges. Join our very interactive community, participate in challenges each month that help you stretch and grow. Learn new skills and make your photos "pop".

More Articles Here

All my past photography articles here.

We publish regularly, so if you'd like to posts sent directly to your inbox, just put your name and email into the big orange box at the top of this page.

Adobe Training

Learn how to use Lightroom
Learn how to use Photoshop