Blurring The Lines

“When life gets blurry, adjust your focus.”—Internet meme

Blur, soft focus…take your choice. I received an e-mail from reader Carol Baker. As a movie buff you gotta know that name got my attention. Carol told me she likes “the effect that blur and selective blur can have” and feels “blur and selective blur can add mystery and depth to an otherwise ordinary photograph.”


As far as I know, there is no rule about how much blur or soft focus you can apply to an 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, don’t be afraid to yank plug-in 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 performing this maneuver, especially when working with a copy of that original file.
  • Second, don’t forget the FADE (Edit > Fade…) option that appears when most filters are applied. You can use the slider to apply the Filter at anywhere from 1% to 99% to create the desired soft or blurry effect.
  • Third, apply blur/soft focus to a separate layer. With the effect on a duplicate layer you can lower the layer’s opacity allowing part of the bottom layer to show through, giving you the ability to control how much blur is applied.
  • For more control you can erase part of the duplicate layer allowing parts of the original file to show through. You can change Eraser tool’s opacity so it doesn’t erase everything and gently erase the blur/soft focus layer on a subject’s eyes to allow sharpness to show through. This is an especially good trick for portraits because the sharpness of the subject’s eyes are critical in getting the viewer’s attention.

The above image was shot using Rorolight LED lights with a Pansonic Lumix GH4 with Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens with an exposure of 1/80 sec at f/3.5 and ISO 1250.

Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 9.13.43 AM

If you’re interested in shooting portraits and how I use cameras, lenses and lighting in my in-home studio, please pick up a copy of Studio Lighting Anywhere” which is available from with new copies selling $17.50, just a few bucks more than used ($15.34.)

Author: Joe Farace

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