How To Apply Soft Focus Effects

Adding a soft focus effect gives your portraits a romantic feel.

Soft-focus is an effect used widely in television and in the movies, as well as in many commercial and advertising photographs, for producing a dreamy romantic look. It’s also a big favourite with wedding photographers. In traditional photography the effect is achieved with a special filter fitted over the camera lens.

Many digital cameras now include soft-focus as a digital effect, but we can produce the same results in Photoshop with ease using Gaussian blur and layer transparency.

Step 1 – The first step is to turn the picture into two identical layers. To do this, go to the Layer menu, and select Duplicate Layer. Don’t worry about naming this layer, it’s the only one we’re going to make.

Step 2 – Next, go to the Filter menu, move down to Blur, and select Lens Blur. This is a special type of blurring that can be adjusted to produce certain effects.

Step 3 – We don’t need very much blurring to produce the soft-focus effect, so for this example portrait shot, a radius of 25 pixels was enough. You may need a smaller radius for smaller images, but keep it subtle.

Step 4 – In the Layers palette, set the transparency of the blurred layer to around 65 percent. This lets the still-sharp lower layer to show through, mitigating the effects of the Gaussian blur.

Step 5 – We can further enhance the romantic look of the picture by adding an elliptical vignette of further blurring around the subject. This is a technique that portrait photographers have been using almost since the invention of photography. First, select the Elliptical Marquee tool.

Step 6 – Drag an elliptical marquee selection around the portrait subject. This may take a few tries to get right, so use Cmd+D to de-select if you get it wrong. When you’re happy with it, go to the Select menu and click on Feather. Set a radius of about 15-20 pixels.

soft focus technique 2

Step 7 – Next, select Inverse from the Select menu to change the selection so that everything outside the ellipse is selected.

Step 8 – Now add a Lens blur filter to the selection, giving it a much bigger radius than before; around 50-80 pixels should do the job.

Step 9 – One final option is to use a soft eraser and erase areas of the blurred layer around your subject’s face to keep it sharp if you prefer.

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Mark Frost

Mark started work as a commercial artist during the good old days of Letraset, spray mount and having to process your photos at a local chemist. Having discovered his passion for photography, Photoshop and the wonders of digital image manipulation, he has not looked back. He is well on his way to owning more cameras than he’s had hot dinners.

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