October 16, 2011

Soft Focus and Blur

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Post & Photo by Joe Farace – Follow Joe on Twitter

You don’t always need or want tack sharp photographs. Blur and selective blur, when applied to an otherwise ordinary photograph, can create a mood or look that fits an impression of the image more than the reality of it. Sometimes the distinction between creative blur and soft focus get confused, so let’s take a look at their differences.

When all or part of a photograph lacks sharpness, it’s blurry. Blur can be caused by camera or subject motion and can be accidentally or deliberately created by an object moving while the camera’s shutter is open or simply by the photographer moving the camera. The classical in-camera zoom blur effect is created by setting the shutter speed as slow as possible (small apertures help) and zooming the lens during exposure. Digital blurring is accomplished through software averaging of pixel values to soften edge detail and the effect can be produced digitally using Photoshop’s different blur commands, such as Radial Blur.

A lens that’s not corrected for spherical aberrations produces soft focus and creates a diffused look by bending light away from the subject so parts of the photograph are defocused while the rest remains in focus. Highlights are dispersed onto adjacent areas and the image still looks focused but some of its components are just enough out-of-focus so they’re softened. In addition, sharp lines and edges are slightly fuzzy and small details seem to disappear. It’s possible to capture soft focus effects by using dedicated soft focus lenses, such as Canon’s EF 135 f/2.8 SF, a camera lens filter or by using digital techniques.

Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 4 suite of filters, for example, contains a Classical Soft Focus filter that mimics various kinds of soft focus camera filters used in traditional film photography. This in-post filter can add diffusion to an image while preserving detail much like the Zeiss Softar camera filter. Just like a Softar, Classical Soft Focus creates a soft focus image but not a blurry one and sometimes the only way that you can tell it was used is compare it against the sharper original which is why wedding clients will love this effect that doesn’t look like an effect. The control panel’s Soft Focus Method pop-up menu lets you select the type of effect from a subtle soft focus effect to more pronounced diffusion. The Diffused Detail slider controls the amount of random detail to maintain the appearance of some sharpness and prevent banding.

Joe Farace is the author of “Studio Lighting Anywhere” the second book in a trilogy or glamour and portrait photography from Amherst Media. It’s available on Amazon.com.

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