Unfocus for Composition

When setting up for shooting a scene, evaluating your composition can be tricky with all the elements of the scene popping out at you. Try “unfocusing“. I do not mean to un-focus your camera. This has nothing to do with your camera at this point. I mean “unfocus” your view – through your eyes.

“What?” I can almost hear you saying that right now. O.k., here’s what I mean. I know it sounds kind of crazy, but bear with me.

When I look at a scene or area where I want to take a photo, I tend to look at all of the details of what is in front of me. For example, picture a shoreline shot with rocks along the shore and the coast sweeping out to the right. To the left is a stand of trees and maybe a lighthouse out on a point.

When I get to this place and get ready to shoot, I look at all of these items individually:

  • “Those rocks look cool in the foreground.”
  • “How can I make them look bigger in the scene?”
  • “I want to get that lighthouse in the photo but the trees are moving a lot so I should use a fast shutter speed.”

Can’t you just hear these things (and many more) going on in your head? They are in mine.

I’ve had to learn to just stop thinking this stuff for a moment, and focus on the composition. After all, if the composition of the photo is not correct, then nothing else is going to matter. It won’t matter if the rocks are sharp and clear if the lighthouse is cut in half in the final photo. So, to focus on just the composition of the scene, I have to unfocus my eyes to just see the general shapes. Try it. If you unfocus your vision so that everything becomes blurry, you will see only the basic shapes and outlines of things. Come on, try it. You have to artificially focus on something that is too close to you. If you can’t do it, try putting your finger out in front of you and focus on that. The background will become blurry.

With this blurriness and being able now to see just the basic shapes, I can see where the lines and shapes of the composition are located and I can position my camera to take the shot with the composition in mind. I don’t walk around with blurry vision and unfocused sight all of the time, but instead I use this technique initially to get an idea of the shapes in my composition. After they are visible using this technique, I know where they are and can carry on as usual.

It doesn’t just work when out shooting either. It can work at the computer when cropping or re-framing shots on the screen. I use it when editing all of the time.

I’ll agree with you that this technique sounds weird, but it really helps me see the composition elements more clearly without all of the distractions. Try it.

Thank you for reading what I wrote — I hope you enjoyed it.