Blurry or Out Of Focus: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace
Blurry or Out Of Focus: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace

One of the most common mistakes that beginning photographers make, is that you confuse blurry with out of focus, and in this episode we’re going to discover why it’s so important to know the difference between the two, because if you don’t know what the problem is, you can’t fix your mistakes. Hi everybody.. welcome to another episode of Exploring Photography right here on Adorama TV. I’m Mark Wallace joined by Nadia Boulif. You probably recognize her from some videos that we did recently, right here on AdoramaTV. Well a couple of things have happened that have made me want to make this video, specifically I made a video about shooting high contrast grunge portraits, with a wide open aperture with my friend Paulo. People have been trying that and having issues getting those images to work with their cameras. The other thing that happened recently was that the holiday season just ended, so a lot of people were shooting photos inside at night of their family at Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s etc… And I got a lot of emails from people saying hey what is wrong? My images are blurry? And so they’re trying to fix things, and when I looked at the images that people sent, both of the shots that they try to make of grunge portraits, and indoor shots of holiday season. One of the things stood out really clearly was… that they were using lenses that have really wide apertures. f/1.4, f/1.2, and they were confusing images that were blurry. They’re saying hey my images are blurry .. but they were actually out-of-focus. They’re confusing these two things. It’s important to distinguish if your image, is blurry or out of focus, because if you don’t know which one is the problem, you don’t know what to fix, and so we’re going to break things down, and compare blurry with out of focus, and then we’re gonna talk about how to fix each one of those issues separately. Well let’s begin by talking about the difference between blur and out-of-focus. First let’s talk about focus remember when you’re focusing your camera. You’re focusing at a specific distance from the camera to the subject. If that changes, at all, you’re gonna be out of focus. And so let me just show you a real quick example of this. I have my camera on a tripod intentionally here. So I’m going to be shooting at f/1.4, a really wide open aperture. So take another half step forward for me, even.. a little bit more, a little closer. There you go. Okay, so I have this focused right
on Nadia. Click, and I’ve got a beautiful image, but I’m not gonna change anything. The focus is locked, so Nadia just lean forward just a little bit. Yeah, there you go just like that. So she’s just moved slightly, I’ll take an image, another shot and you can see just by her moving just a tiny little bit, our focus is thrown off. The same thing can happen and this is what is commonly happening if you’re shooting handheld. So if you’re shooting at a f/1.4, f/1.8, really wide open aperture. So I’ll shoot this first shot here, and it looks great, and then oops… I don’t refocus, I lean forward just a little bit.. just that tiny bit of motion makes my distance between my camera, and my subject change. Throws off my focus, and people are confusing that with blur. That’s not what blur is, let’s talk about what blur is. Blur is when something moves, while this shutter is open. So let’s demonstrate that really, really
quickly. So I’m gonna put my camera again on a tripod.. why? Because blur can happen if the subject moves. So if Nadia is moving around, or if the camera moves. Either one can cause blur, so to eliminate that, put your camera on a tripod for slower shutter speeds. So let’s check to take a look at blur. So I’m going to close down my aperture. We’re gonna shoot it a really slow shutter speed, of a fifteenth of a second. I just want you to move just a little bit, maybe move your head around.. Something like that… yeah, there you go! Yeah, okay, so I just moved the camera, Nadia moved, and you can see in these images, that we have blur all right. Well now that we know the difference, blur is caused by motion. Focus is caused by the distance between the camera and the subject changing. How do we fix those two things? Well let’s start with focus. All right, well now that we know about blur and out-of-focus, we’re gonna go and talk about focus specifically. Our lights changed here, so we had to move locations, but as far as focus goes, I just want to note that I’ve made a video a few years ago, that goes in-depth about auto focus modes, out of focus points, drive modes, everything you want to know about focus. So we’re not going to go into that in this video. I’ve included a link to that video in the description of this video. In fact, we’re gonna put up a little link here on the video. So you can click on that, and check that out. It goes really in depth into all the autofocus modes, but I do want to give you a couple pointers for shooting with a wide open aperture of f/1.4, and that is this very simply use a tripod, because when you use a tripod, that’s going to keep you from moving in and out, away from your subject, that’s going to keep your focus from falling out of focus, and so that will eliminate that problem, or use continuous focus mode, and that might work, but the best thing is use a tripod. Just to keep your camera from moving around. Right check that video… use a tripod next.. Let’s talk about how to solve blurry images. Alright now that we know about focus, let’s talk about the thing I really want to talk about, and that is making sure you don’t have any blur in your image. Now to fix motion blur, there are a few things that you can do, and then the most common things are either. 1. Stabilize the camera using a tripod, or a really nice stand. Number 2. You can increase your shutter speed to freeze the motion or, Number 3. You can use a flash to freeze the motion. Now we’re not going to talk about flash today we don’t have enough time. But I’ve made a bunch of videos about freezing motion with flash, and it is a blast. You can check those videos out, by clicking on the links. I’ve included the links to those videos in the description of this video, so make sure you check that out. Cuz it’s a really fun thing to do. So let’s talk about freezing motion, a using a tripod. So we’re going to assume we’re shooting things like indoors, outdoors things in low-light, and so we have a slower shutter speed. So I am going to take a picture right now on a tripod, with a shutter speed of about 1/24th of a second. So to do that I’m shooting at f/11. So I’m gonna focus here on Nadia, we’ve got this picture, so Nadia, try to hold really still. So at a 1/15th of a second on the tripod. That looks okay, I’m gonna take this off the tripod. The same thing 1/15th of a second, we’re gonna come in here. Let’s see how I do, and well I’m a little bit shaky because I’ve had a little bit of coffee, and so you can see the difference. When you have your camera on a tripod. It’s gonna be a little bit better than off a tripod. But at those speeds you’re gonna have issues. So really what we need to do is, go to the second thing, which is increasing our shutter speed to make sure that it’s fast enough to freeze the motion, and we’re gonna assume that you’re shooting handheld. Alright we’re gonna assume that you’re shooting at a party, at an event, at a holiday….something. So how fast does your shutter have to be to shoot handheld? Well there’s a rule of thumb that says your shutter speed needs to be at least as fast as the length of your lens. So what does that mean? So right now I have a 50mm lens, that means that my shutter speed should be at least 1/50th of a second or faster. Well there is no 1/50th of a second, so we’re go to the next fastest shutter speed. That’s 1/60th of a second, if our focal length is longer, so let’s say we have a 100mm lens, well our shutter speed should be at least 1/100th of a second, or faster, and the longer your lens the faster your shutter speed should be. So first, shooting at a 200mm lens, our shutter, shutter speed, should be at least 200th of a second, but probably even faster, probably closer to 1/500th of a second. So the longer lens, the more you need to compensate for that. The other thing that you can do is, to make sure that you hold your camera in the right way. So the worst thing that you can possibly do, if you’re shooting with a slower shutter speed is, use the LCD screen on the back, because you’re out here like this.. Your camera’s going to be moving around, there’s no way you’re going to be holding your camera steady. What you need to do is get your camera in close, tight, use the viewfinder, take a shot and that is going to be perfect. Well there’s an exercise that you can do to figure out how good you are at holding your camera, and how fast you can get away. Because with practice, you can shoot handheld at slower and slower shutter speeds. because you can hold your camera steadier and steadier. So let me show you a little exercise that you can do to figure out just how good you are at holding your camera still. This little exercise is a lot of fun. All you need to do is get a camera that has video built-in. So most DSLR’s have this, and then take your camera, make sure you have a zoom lens so I’ve got a little Lumix here. It zooms in and out, and start at the widest setting on your camera. So if you have a 24-70mm lens start at 24 mm. If you have a 70-200mm lens start at 70, and and all you have to do is start at the widest area. Put your camera to your face, and just hold it, and then start recording video, and then see if you can hold that for about ten seconds, and then you can watch the video, and see how you did, and then zoom to the next part of your lens. So I’m going to zoom to a 100mm here, and I’m gonna try the same thing. I’m going to try to hold this for about 10 seconds. I’m holding, and you can see that I’m not doing so well, and the longer that it.. your lens is.. so I’m going to zoom all the way out here to 300mm. I’ll step back and I’ll try to hold this. So go back just a little bit.. Nadia okay? Good, I’m gonna see if I can hold this steady, and you can see as I’m holding this, that things are jumping all over the screen, and so you can see by doing this. Just hold your camera, turn on the video hold it for about 10 seconds and then go and look and see how you did at different focal lengths, and you can see that the longer your lens is. The harder it is going to be for you to hold that steady. The other thing you can do is if you have an image stabilization. Turn that on.. and try this again, and see exactly how that works, and you can see the difference between image stabilization and image stabilization off. It’s just a little technique for you to look and see how exactly you’re doing, holding your camera. Maybe try different things, hold it out, hold it in, hold it up to your eye etc.. and see which works best. It’s a really good exercise to figure this out. Thanks so much Nadia, that was a lot of fun. I hope you learned some things about blurry and out of focus, and how you can shoot handheld and keep your camera nice and steady. Make sure you check out Nadia on instagram. Nadia Boulif…here is her Instagram feed right there, also check me out on Instagram J Mark Wallace because we’ve got a lots of behind the scenes stuff, and it’s really awesome. Also don’t forget to check out the videos that I talked about earlier in this video. There’s a ton of information that you don’t want to miss out on as far as autofocus and zones and all kinds of things, and freezing motion with flash is awesome. I lost a tooth making that video, that’s why we stopped throwing water balloons at my face. Make sure you check it out. It’s really a lot of fun, thanks again for joining us and I will see you again next time.

50 thoughts on “Blurry or Out Of Focus: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace”

  1. Anoop Kumar says:

    Use stabilised lens in handheld shots…!

  2. Theresa Rice says:

    I'm shaky so my slowest shutter for handheld is about 1/160th. Thanks!

  3. Cochise Hart says:

    Great video
    Mark rules!

  4. Jack of Blades says:

    Oh! Hi Mark.

  5. ArumesYT says:

    So Mark Wallace thinks "blur" is always caused by motion. Why do they call that particular kind MOTION blur then? The truth is "blur" is any kind of unsharpness. Out of focus blur, motion blur, soft focus blur, it's all blur.

  6. Eric Weissenborn says:

    Thank you for that great demo. It was very helpful.

  7. Rafi khan says:

    one of the best presenter.

  8. Richard Bradley says:





    To make or become unclear or less distinct. So both are technically "Blurred" images but one through missed focus, and the other due to motion in either the subject or camera. The name blur would apply to both, but have different causes. I think you should say motion blur so not to confuse people. But great video anyway ive finished being picky !

  9. Milan Pintar says:

    when someone says blury i’m pretty sure they mean out of focus

  10. Luis Tunon, Jr. says:

    Mark: Great as usual ! My only regrets are that there is no jamon iberico left in Spain and second that you didn't include soft focus in the equation. Wish you had. I believe that sometimes we want soft focus with the picture (eyes above all) in focus. I do realize that in this days we use photoshop for that purpose but I come from the era where a handheld bluring lens was placed in front of your camera lens (do you too?). I still, someplace, have a couple of those….

  11. cosmo ianiro says:

    hi off topic Mark Wallace sorry but why does your and Nadia Boulif Instagram account start with a @ ? thanks

  12. Southern Charity says:

    That was painful. No one that would watch a photography video would be struggling this much… I mean the added hot tip at the end about turning on image stabilization … Lol really?

  13. nimmira says:

    Why all these "tips" videos by photographers nowadays are filled with noisy music? It's OK to speak without a music in the background, I swear.

  14. Mr Dev says:

    I have a question about the rule about shutter speed being at least equal to lens length. Does the rule still apply if you are using a crop frame sensor with a lens that is really for full frame?
    For example: 24-70 lens on DX body, if the lens is at 70 mm should I think in (shutter speed) terms of 112 mm ?
    cheers 👍👍

  15. Blackmind says:

    .. when i use the AF-c, the moving is not important…

  16. Chijioke Ezeh says:

    You are the best and it is help me so much ,Thank man ..

  17. Al Beklik says:

    What a gorgeous model you have

  18. Okiepita50 T-town says:

    You forgot to say focus on the eyes.

  19. Babas013 says:

    That's a good exercise to try out. Thanks for this great video

  20. David Romano says:

    Move just a little bit? A couple of those times you or her moved at least 4 inches. When shooting at 1.4, continuous AF is almost required. You might have an inch of DOF at most, easy to accidentally lose it unless you have tripod and model is a statue.

  21. Gee Willickers says:

    This isnt teaching. This is pedantic word policing. So what if lay people use the word "blurry" to describe OOF images? You know what they mean.

  22. Michelle Dumont says:

    Nadia must be Marks favorite model and for obvious reasons…

  23. Jacob Christian Glover says:

    Happy New Year and thanks for the tutorial and useful tips!

  24. Aziz Mehdi says:

    I have a Sony RX100M5 compact camera with a 8.8 to 25.7mm lens (Equiv. 24 to 70 mm). The shutter speed rule applies to the actual focal length or the equivalent? That is if I am shooting at 8.8 mm(24 mm equivalent), the shutter speed should be at least 1/8.8 or 1/24 sec?

  25. nevadaxtube says:

    I don't remember Mark Wallace being so hyperactive, twitchy and highly caffeinated. Wow, that was disturbing. All the waving and pointing was distracting too.

  26. Harald Harnang says:

    Well, Wallace, a few people around the world does not hava Leica, totally manual. Quite a few has modern cameras with autofocus and image stabilisation. That helps. Think you should have mentioned that.

  27. Roy Bixby says:

    Only a newbee photographer would extend the tripod centre column that far – very unstable idea…

  28. Paolo Cristofoli says:

    a little bit confusing and not very precise. completely lacks the information about how to set shutter speed to freeze the subject if it's moving.
    also missing is focus recompose technique and its out of focus downsides.

  29. Timothy Roper says:

    "Sharpness is a bourgeois concept." HCB

  30. Pierangelo Lanfranchi says:

    Mark what tripod are using please?

  31. Robert Holloway says:

    I'm sorry, but who is this aimed at? I don't know anyone shooting manual focus f1.4 lenses who needs this very basic guidance. "Use a tripod" Seriously? "Use Continuous focus", wow!

  32. Sami khan says:

    Sir may I use nikon lence in canon body.

  33. Veek Das says:

    Wow awesome thank you sir Mark Wallace, i had this same problem this year while I was shooting on 1st Jan, and I couldn't fixed the problem, but now I'm so thankful to you..

  34. Rodrigo P.C. says:

    You are both great. I love the video. Greetings from Brazil.

  35. El Mono says:

    That camera is so small, that it looks funny 🙂

  36. Jugal Parmar says:

    3:47 Nadia moved, so did background? I think camera moved

  37. Lyndon Smith says:

    I think these are great reminders Mark, regardless of one's level of experience. I have shot extensively with image-stabilized micro four thirds cameras for about 6 years. Previously I had used DSLRs and SLRs with no stabilization. For me, the excellent IBIS on the Olympus and Panasonic cameras made me a bit lazy on hand holding technique: I could hand hold super long shutter speeds with little or no blur.

    More recently I bought a Fuji X-T2 and also have been putting some film through my SLRs. It's a bit of a rude awakening, and has forced me to once again pay more attention to shutter speed and proper hand holding techniques.

  38. Collin Courtois says:

    Happy new year and thank you.

  39. Richard Crowe says:

    Sony mirrorless with continuous eye auto focus and IBIS does a lot to prevent either motion blur due to camera movement or OOF due to slightly chaging the distance between camera and subject, It will not stabilize a moving subject but a higher ISO will allow a faster shutter speed to take care of hat…

  40. Dennis Bater says:

    Mark, when did you get back from your around the world motorcycle ride? Glad you have returned!

  41. Andrew says:

    thanks Mark for the helpful tips.

  42. Minotaurus007 says:

    So true: even focus and framing (e.g. 20°) may shift the model out of the focus plane at f 1.4!

  43. Chris Mags says:

    Mark, I can’t tell you how much you’ve helped me with my photography. You’re an excellent teacher and your videos always have an efficient pace. Thanks man!

  44. Dr. Virus Hanoosh says:

    I owe so much of what I know about photography to you, Mark. I love your videos and I really appreciate you.

  45. Jesús Peraita says:

    Isn't this El Retiro Park in Madrid? I'd swear it is, between the Paseo de Coches and the Casa de Cristal…

  46. Lord Aizen says:

    Thanks for your beautiful model….lol

  47. Marcel says:

    Please don't own a 1.4 or 1.2 lens and not know the difference between blurry and out-of-focus.
    Please…..just don't do that!

  48. Bartosz Chojnowski says:

    Is the length of your video – 11min 11sec – made purposely? 😉

  49. Luigi Seguro says:

    Honestly you are the best mentor ever. You explain things so easy. Thank you so much.

  50. Nashon Tado says:

    informative, though in semantics out of focus image will still be blurry

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