Tips for Using a Soft Focus Filter

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Soft focus effects can be achieved fairly easily in post-processing software programs such as Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 or Adobe Photoshop CS6. However, I encourage you to practice achieving the look you want straight out of the camera. To that end, I recommend that you consider trying out a soft focus filter.

Soft focus filters come in a range of sizes to suit any lens, and are invariably inexpensive to buy. I purchased a Polaroid Optics 3 Piece Special Effect Lens Filter Kit which includes a soft focus filter, a warming filter, and a star filter, for under twenty dollars. Now, some people will protest that it doesn’t make sense to put a cheap filter on the end of expensive glass. I would agree in many instances. In the case of a soft focus filter, however, I would argue that since the whole point is to not achieve a tack-sharp photo, it doesn’t hurt to use a filter that does the job, even if it is inexpensive. I would also add that I have found these Polaroid filters to be surprisingly high quality despite their inexpensive price tag.

Soft focus filters are very easy to use, especially since “what you see is what you get.” With a soft focus filter affixed to your lens, what you see through the viewfinder is a true representation of the image you will get when you take the picture. Any time you put a filter on your lens, you will impact the amount of light that reaches the camera’s sensor. You may find that you have to use a slightly slower shutter speed, a wider aperture, or a higher ISO to compensate for this. The adjustment will be minor, though. For example, under normal circumstances I would use an ISO of 200 while shooting outdoors in bright light. On this day at the Renaissance Festival in Arizona, I chose to use an ISO of 400 to compensate for the soft focus filter.

It is also important that your diopter is in focus. When looking through a soft focus filter, you may not be able to clearly tell if your subject is truly in focus. I find this to be especially true the further away you are from your subject. I found that, in combination with my Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens and Canon EOS 7D, I was confidently able to rely upon my auto-focus, though sometimes I found the camera choosing the wrong focus point in full 19-point auto focus mode. I just switched to Single Point Auto Focus and moved the focus point around to compensate for this.

Finally, resist the urge in post-processing to over-sharpen the image. After all, the point of the soft focus filter is to achieve soft focus! Increasing contrast will help increase the depth of the image, especially if the photo was taken using a large, diffused light source (as in outside on an overcast day). I like to use the Lightroom general preset “punch”.

I’d love to see your results using a soft focus filter. Please share with everyone on our Facebook Page, our Flickr Group, or our Google+ Community.

Photos copyright Tiffany Joyce.

*The Author did NOT receive any products or compensation in exchange for mentioning the Provider’s products and/or services on this website. The Author purchased this product for personal use with personal funds. We will only endorse products or services that we believe, based on our expertise, are worthy of such endorsement. This is not an advertisement.

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  • clair estelle

    very helpful

  • Paul Johnson

    One of my favourite soft focus filters I used in film days was was te hoya softar and I use to sometimes use it on the enlarger as this gave a very beautiful effect. I do find digital is still lacking in the softening effects compared to some what can be done with filters on the camera or enlarger