The intentionally out of focus (OOF) image is one of those that people either love to death, or love to hate. It’s not for everyone, that’s for sure. As for myself, I enjoy a good OOF image and believe that when done right, it lends itself to a broader audience filled with the wonderings of what exactly is happening in the image. Sometimes it’s actually quite clear what is happening, despite the lack of focus, but the softness adds a light, dreamy feel. Other times, it’s a mystery as to who or what exactly is in the picture, and the viewer is left with a rather haunting feeling. These are just some of the reasons I love OOF photographs. I love the mystery and dream-like quality that is often found in them. I love when an image makes people stop and think – it’s something you should always strive to do when taking photos. Make photographs that make others feel something, think something, remember something from the past.
Attaining a good OOF image isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do, though. When you’re taking a normal image of your child, for instance, you have their features in crystal clear focus. Their eyes big and bright, make it hard not to love the image. It’s apparent what the focus of the image is and most anyone who sees it is going to appreciate the simple beauty of the photo. When the image doesn’t have anything in focus though, how do you make it appealing to others, or to yourself even? Well, there are ways to do this, and things to look for. Below, I’m sharing some of the things I look for and use in my own OOF images. I hope you find them helpful!
The light, but more importantly how you use the light, is crucial to a successful OOF photo. Finding and using light well will add heaps of visual interest to your photo. Shooting into the light as it’s rising or setting is an easy and simple way to create something beautiful. Let the light outline your subject, putting the focus on them without actually having anything in focus in the traditional sense of the word. Of course, you don’t have to have bright sunlight in order to create a visually pleasing OOF image, the black + white image below was taken on a cloudy day. Pulling the blinds mostly closed, concentrates what light there is, making it feel brighter in the light spots, and more dramatic overall.
Composition becomes an even more important part in creating a pleasing image for the viewer, when you’re working with an OOF image. Use strong compositional elements in your image to give it nice balance. When the image is not in focus, composition becomes one of the most apparent features of the photograph. You want to include objects that lead the viewer around the image, even if nothing is in focus. Things that will keep them interested, rather than just confused. In the image below, the window is placed to the right, with a ladder next to the bed to balance the image out just enough that it doesn’t feel too heavy on the right side.
Various shapes and patterns are a great way to add something interesting to your image. The image above has shapes everywhere you look, the string of lights, the blinds, the banner, the pillows, each one leading the viewer around the image – so shapes play a huge part in getting a strong composition in an image that is intentionally out of focus. In the image below, on an evening filled with hoards of tiny bugs and loads of beautiful light, I freelensed the image and those bugs + light turned into hundreds of different sized circles (bokeh), creating a magical OOF image.
Incorporating movement into your OOF image brings it to life and gives the viewer more information to work with as they work their way through the picture, deciphering its elements.. In an already dream-like image, movement just adds to the magic. Dancing, jumping, hair or clothing blowing in the wind – whatever it is the subject is doing is instantly going to bring more life to the out of focus scene.
Use color to make your OOF image feel like a painting. In this image, her bright hair and the blue and pink in her sweater dress pop against the neutral winter palette. The soft tones with just a little pop of color, the fact that she is facing away from the camera, are why this image works. A snowy landscape with simple, natural tones is perfect for creating a soft, painterly-like OOF image. Taking advantage of a brightly colored scene, such as the one above, for your OOF images is perfect too. Bright colors always demand attention, no matter what the technical focus is like.
And a few more favorites as examples…