Finally, a digital soft focus filter like Zeiss’ Softar 2

I’ve been exploring Perfectly Clear 2.0 for proofing for a while now. It’s great for doing a quick pass on a set of portraits to reduce blemishes, soften skin and generally enhance a take so clients could select their “hero” for final retouching. It occurred to me that some of the settings Perfectly Clear has for skin smoothing could be combined with standard Photoshop retouching techniques to achieve the effect of an old filter not used since days of shooting film…

The Original

Here’s the original photograph I made of Vanessa in my studio. She’s been made up professionally by Kristin White. Great make up is important as I’ve written before here on Photofocus. It’s the foundation for everything done later in post.

 The original photograph of Vanessa opened as a Smart Object in Photoshop.
The original photograph of Vanessa opened as a Smart Object in Photoshop.

Blemish removal in Camera Raw

Clicking a blemish with Camera Raw's Spot Removal tool makes it go away. This can be done in Lightroom before choosing Edit In > Open as Smart Object in PhotoshopBefore working with Perfectly Clear, I double clicked the camera original Smart Object in Photoshop’s Layers panel to open it in Camera Raw. Then I used the Spot Removal tool (B) to quickly heal the very few distractions on her face.

Clicking a blemish with Camera Raw’s Spot Removal tool makes it go away. This can be done in Lightroom if you prefer before choosing Edit In > Open as Smart Object in Photoshop. In order to use Perfectly Clear as a skin smoothing filter the file has to be opened this way.

The favored method for skin smoothing digitally last millennium was to select the face then blur the heck out of it. The result was super plastic skin that looked truly fake. The long sought after result is the effect of a soft focus filter like Hasselblad’s Softar 2 did on film. The skin glowed with that filter, yet there was a hint of detail in the texture of the skin. This photograph of Jennifer Harve shows the creamy skin created by the Softar. Notice that her hair isn’t as sharp as we are used to in digital capture. This style of softening was global. It affected the entire frame.

Perfectly ClearPC2-KevinAmes-004

Perfectly Clear is an amazing plug-in. It analyzes every pixel in an image then applies the result selectively based on the subject matter. It does one thing for landscapes and something else entirely for face. It comes with well constructed presets that can be tweaked for individual photographs. Best of all, it’s easy to create custom presets. After seeing how well the Perfectly Smooth, Skin Tone and Light Diffusion got applied based on Perfectly Clear’s analysis, I made a preset to feature these settings. New presets are made by clicking the Create button below the adjustments. A dialog opens asking for a name and a description. Name the preset, add a description which is optional then click OK. Modify allows the current preset to be updated. Remove deletes it.

Multiple applications of Perfectly Clear

I really liked the effect of the initial Perfectly Clear skin smoothing preset I’d made. I wanted more smoothing so I applied the filter three more times. The added sharpening, blemish removal and teeth whitening made it look truly odd. I toned it down with a layer mask. It still didn’t look right. I went back to the Smart Object. I clicked on the second from the bottom Perfectly Clear. When it opened, I unchecked three of the settings: Teeth Whitening, Blemish Removal and Sharpening. This left Perfectly Smooth,Skin Tone and Light Diffusion active. I did this for the two other layers above that. That was the result I wanted.

Filters on Smart Objects are stacked with the last one applied on top. The first one is at the bottom. It has all of the effects shown in the preset. The top three have only Perfectly Smooth, Skin Tone and Light Diffusion applied. Click on one of the photos to see what a difference this technique makes.


Perfectly Clear’s smoothing trifecta, Perfectly Smooth, Skin Tone and Light Diffusion applied over the base skin smoothing preset achieves the Softar glowing, creamy skin and sets up the photograph for the final retouching. I removed the lines under Vanessa’s eyes, darkened her pupils, brightened her irises and teeth just a bit. Needless to say, I’ve saved hours of working on individual pores with the healing brush to get the smooth look I love. On top of all that, somehow, someway, Perfectly clear does not darken smoothed areas as other softening filters do. Look at her neck in the original then at the third version. The shadows open up instead of becoming darker. That initial pixel by pixel analysis really works. Great job Perfectly Clear!2192-PSW LV lightingKevin is a commercial photographer from Atlanta. He works for fashion, architectural, manufacturing and corporate clients. When he’s not shooting, he contributes to Photoshop User magazine & writes for