Visual Friction: In Praise of Unclear Photos

To make your photos more artistic, make them more unclear:

Unclear forces the viewer to engage with the photograph

If you have ‘visual friction’ in your photos, it forces the viewer to use their imagination to interact and engage with your photo. Also this is the irony (learned from Nassim Taleb): as a public speaker, often speaking quieter and having some mumbling is good– when you are unclear as a speaker, people lean in closer to actually pay attention to what you’re saying. If you speak too clearly and coherently, people are more likely to ignore you (you sound like a clear-cut advertisement, which we ignore easily).

This is why I like unclear, blurry, and out of focus photos. It forces us to use more of our imagination to see, interact, and interpret the photo.

For example this photo I shot of Cindy, when I left the air conditioning, the humidity fogged up my lens, which created this effect:

Then using Photoshop to analyze the photo — note the little bit of highlight on the silhouette of her face and the scenery makes the photo (somewhat) comprehensible:

Now with the whole face shape:

Then the background in yellow:

With linear burn:



One of the most interesting functions in Photoshop is the ‘extrude’ function, which creates a three-dimensional map/image of how the light shines out from your image.

If we look at the photograph of Cindy we can witness the brightest part of the frame is in the center, extruding outwards. This works well because the bright spot in the middle of the frame is a good contrast and ‘figure to ground‘ between Cindy’s silhouette and the background.

Using this as a starting point for more analysis:

Other experiments

More photoshop effects to analyze the image: