Soft Focus is a much sought out effect in photography. You can find it used commonly in glamour shots and to some extent in wedding photography as well. There are special lenses you can use to create the soft focus effect using your cameras. Some modern cameras come with a settings that let you create soft focus effects as well. In any case if any of the above options are unavailable you can easily create soft focus effect in Photoshop (or GIMP for that matter).
First off you need an image. The effect looks good on a wide variety of photos. It can be used just as well in close up shots as in landscape shots. It looks especially great and surreal if you have a good amount of white in your photo in front of a colorful background, but that is just a personal favorite. You can experiment with most photos although an overall dark photo would not be a good candidate unless it is a close up shot done with studio lights.
Open up the photo in Photoshop. Go ahead and duplicate the layer (Ctrl + J). Select the newly created layer. I will be working with the following image from stock xchange.
Choose Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and play along with the radius slider. The actual amount that is good will vary from photo to photo. What you are looking for here is a blur that is evident but doesn’t take away the details from the photo. You can pretty much ignore faces and close up objects while making this decision, because we are going to take care of them in the coming steps.
With the blurred layer active, its time to play with the opacity slider. Again there is no hard and fast rule or a magic value that will do the trick, you have to experiment and go with what pleases the eye. However the general range would be around 50-85ish percent opacity. If you find yourself dropping below 50, you need to reconsider either the photo or the effect you are going for.
So far so good. Things are already looking nice and everything seems set. However, there are a couple of small things you need to look at before you send the master piece for print. First we need to bring back some details. In this case we will be working mainly on the faces, if you are working on a close up shot you might want to concentrate on eyes and lips. In other words if there is anything that you think should not be blurred this is how you would do it:
With the blurred layer active, add a layer mask by clicking on the “Add layer mask” button in the layers palette. Now grab the brush tool (B), choose a round brush, make sure you take the hardness slider all the way down to zero. Now make sure the layer mask is selected (indicated by a rectangle around the mask) and with black as the foreground color, start painting over the faces (eyes or other objects you want to be in focus) in the photo. You will notice details appearing from the layer underneath. (You can also choose different opacity settings for the brush to make this more subtle).
We are almost done here. As a final touch you can bump up the saturation a bit. Hit Ctrl + U to bring up the Hue/Saturation dialog box. Move the saturation slider to the right to make the colors pop. A nice subtle change is what we are looking for. With that done, the photo is now ready. And here are the results:
While I can only show you one of the applications of the soft focus effect it can be used with equally good results to reduce artifacts due to JPEG compression or high ISO setting and better still to hide those wrinkles!
Do you have something to add to reproducing soft focus effect Photoshop. Please list your ideas and tips in comments!