Digital Innovations
Blurring The Lines; Software Solutions For Soft Effects Page 2

The Norphos Blur Set by Norbert Esser can be downloaded for free from Adobe Studio Exchange ( Esser explains it this way: "This set of three different kinds of blur will help you to have a photo look instead of the `normal' CG blur look." The set contains three Photoshop Actions: Hamilton Blur is based on the dreamy photographic stylings of David Hamilton; Loop Blur is a mixture of "bloom" blurring techniques that can be applied ("looped") many times until you get the desired effect; Overbloom is designed to mimic the kind of blur created by overexposure and overdevelopment of film images. Esser tested the Action set on a German version of Photoshop CS but I found that it performed equally well on Photoshop CS2.

Brenda from North Platte, Nebraska, is a beautiful and vivacious model who I photographed last Halloween in a most sincere pumpkin patch. The original image was captured with a Canon EOS 5D with an EF 135mm f/2.8 SF lens that was set for sharp focus. The soft focus effects were added with Norbert Esser's free Norphos Blur Set, specifically the Hamilton Blur Action.

Control Panel Secrets
There are no rules of thumb about how much blur or soft focus to apply to any image. My best advice, as Emeril says, is to "season to taste," but that doesn't mean you can't have a few Photoshop tricks up your sleeve.

First of all, don't be afraid to yank those control panel sliders to the extreme ends to see what effect this produces. Even after you apply a filter, there's always the UNDO command waiting in the wings and I promise you that no pixels will be harmed while performing this maneuver.

Mary is not a professional model but she has a sparkling personality that comes through when she's photographed. This portrait was softened by creating a duplicate layer (Layer>Duplicate Layer) then applying B+W's ( Soft Focus filter to that duplicate layer, then Fading it (Edit>Fade Soft Focus) to keep it from getting too soft. I used the Eraser tool (Press E: Mac or Win) and erased the areas around her eyes, allowing them to be sharp (on the background layer) while keeping the rest of the image in soft focus.

Second, don't forget the FADE option. After applying any filter, you can reduce its effect by applying the Fade command (Edit>Fade...) that becomes available only at that time. Use the slider to apply the filter at anywhere from 1 percent to 99 percent to create the desired soft focus or blurry effect.

Lastly, if all else fails, use a blur/soft focus layer. Start the process by making sure your image file is as good as it can be, then add a duplicate layer (Layer>Duplicate Layer). Apply a filter to the duplicate layer, not the background image below. Then lower that layer's Opacity setting to allow part of the bottom layer to show through. For even more control you can erase part of the duplicate layer to let 100 percent of the original file show through. Use the Eraser tool to erase the blur/soft focus (on the duplicate layer) around the subject's eyes to allow the sharpness of the background layer to show through. This is an especially good trick for portraits because the sharpness of the subject's eyes is critical in getting the viewer's attention, so this technique gives the impression of sharpness while maintaining overall soft focus.