Friday, June 1, 2012

What Good are Blurred Photos

As I walked along the edge of the woods, a Whip-poor-will flushed from the base of a tree and landed on the horizontal stub of a dead cedar branch.  As soon as it hit the branch I pulled my camera from its belt pouch and pushed the power button.  In the few seconds it took for the camera to power up, I scanned the base of the tree for signs of a nest.  No nest.  By the time the camera was ready to go, I had the subject centered in the view screen.  I took the shot before the bird could fly.  My primary rule with a subject capable of escaping my view is to get any kind of shot as quickly as I can.  If the subject sticks around, then I try for a better quality image.  Over the years, I’ve managed to amass a huge collection of poor quality images.  The question is whether or not these images have any value.  For me, I believe they do.

My computer files indicate that I have taken approximately 15,000 photos in the past 12 months.  Their value has to be measured based on my intent.  Many years ago, I purchased a small point and shoot digital camera so that I could document some of the things I was seeing at Blue Jay Barrens.  My ability to do pencil sketches is pathetic.  My descriptive narratives invariably fail to capture the one important characteristic of the subject.  Digital photos have provided an ideal accompaniment to my field notes.  Many times, even a blurred photo offers more details than I could capture with my bare eyes.

When I point my camera, I’m not expecting material for magazine cover shots, gallery shows or framed prints.  I’m hoping for something that I can look at and say “That’s what I saw.”  My camera gives me that, despite the aggravations of all functions being automatic.  This was my first encounter with a Whip-poor-will since I began carrying the camera.  I could clearly see the bird, but how did I tell the camera that I wanted to focus on that tiny brown blob instead of the larger brown blobs all around?  As happens many times with bird photos, the auto focus couldn’t find the bird.  I’ve gotten pretty good at finding a larger object at about the same distance and light levels to set the auto focus and then swinging the camera back to shoot the bird.

The problem is compounded when the camera is fully zoomed in on the subject and it decides more light is needed.  Flash brightens the eye, but does little else to produce a higher quality photo.  I could probably put together a nice portfolio of possessed woodland creatures.

I just keep moving in on the subject and hope for better shots.  This may not be a quality shot, but it can be positively identified and it is immeasurably more satisfying than having no shot at all.  This could easily serve as evidence that there was indeed a Whip-poor-will at Blue Jay Barrens.  There are even enough tree and landscape images that, with a little effort, anyone doubting my honesty or integrity could locate the site.  If I ever become a photographer, I may find dissatisfaction with images such as this.  For now, I’m happy with all of the blurry documentary photos in my files.  Value comes from the ability to serve the intended function and my framed blurs serve admirably, even when there are 30 shots of the same blurry bird.


  1. You have captured a moment to remember where and when you saw the bird. I would say that's worth a lot. It's much better than the crystal clear pictures they used to get by killing the bird first to get it to hold still!

  2. Thanks for sharing this. My family can't understand why I keep some of the photos (most of mine) that are not publishing quality. I agree that they still have value, even for letting me know what time of year I saw that particular thing last.

    Now I need to find a way to organize and store them better :-)

  3. Agreed - it doesn't have to be magazine quality to prove the sighting. Since my blog is more a photo-art blog, I want to have clear, sharp photos. But I must have about twenty blurred shot for every good one.

  4. Hi Becky. I agree that a blurry bird on a branch is preferable to a clear post mortem pose.

    Hi Roberta. It scares me to think about organizing my photos. I’ve got about 60,000 digital images, plus the boxes of prints and slides from my pre-digital days. That’s not something I can sort through on a quiet afternoon.

    Hi Pat. Sometimes the blurred shots make the clear images look even better. It’s a wonderful feeling to come across a clear image after running through a long string of blurs.