Level 3 : Working with Photographs

Tutorial 3-1 Introduction to Exposure
Tutorial 3-2 Correcting Image Exposure
Tutorial 3-3 The Basics of Color
Tutorial 3-4 Correcting Image Color
Tutorial 3-5 Increasing Sharpness
Tutorial 3-6 From Color to Black and White
Tutorial 3-7 Resizing and Cropping
Tutorial 3-8 Images for the Internet and Email
Tutorial 3-9 Correcting Lens Distortion
Tutorial 3-10 Adding a Soft Focus Effect
Tutorial 3-11 High Dynamic Range Images
Tutorial 3-12 Creating Panorama Compositions
Tutorial 3-13 Hand Coloring a B&W Photo

3-10 : Adding a Soft Focus Effect

It's very likely that you have seen a portrait where the subject looks soft and dreamy. It's done to soften the edges (and wrinkles) in a portrait to flatter the subject. 99% of the time the subject is female and you may have noticed old movies also use this effect. The Man will look sharp and chiseled, while the Woman looks soft and vulnerable.

In the day of film this was often achieved with a filter added to the lens which would create a softer halo on the negative. In the digital age, this can be done with Photoshop - and very easily as well. The advantage of doing this digitally is that you can preserve the original image and create another image with any degree of softness you like.

Soft Focus
In the image below, I have taken a public domain portrait off the internet to use as an example. If you move your mouse over the image, you'll see the before and after effect.

Soft Focus in Photoshop

See how the face, clothing and hair all seem softer. This effect is easy to add in Photoshop. Start with any portrait you have or download the sample.

There are several ways to achieve this look I'll show you one of them. First you need to make a duplicate layer. In your layers window, right-click on the image layer and choose "Duplicate Layer". Next navigate to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. You should see a dialog box like the one below.

Gaussian Blur

For this image I used a radius of about 10 pixels. This number will depend upon the size of your image as well. When you have the blur you want, press OK.

Now you have 2 layers, one is the original, the other is blurred. The blurred layer should be above the original and if it isn't, just click on it in the Layers palette and drag it up. Next you need to adjust the opacity of the blurred layer. This changes how much effect the top will have (combined with the amount of blur). Usually a setting of about 20-25 will do the trick.

Layer Opacity in CS4

That's all there is too it. I've seen other people use 2 or three other steps to achieve this look, but I find that this method is simple, quick and does a nice job. One option to try is to lighten the top image before or after blurring.

This effect has it's uses and is very easy to apply. Remember that when using it on portraits, women make the best the subjects (hope that's not too sexist). It also works well on plants and other still life images.

Soft Serve - one of my favorite deserts.


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