Shoot Soft Focus Portraits — in Camera

The easiest ways to deal with any kind of visual flaws in your subject is to use make-up. Having a make-up artist available for your portrait subjects during a shoot makes the subject feel special and she’ll enter the session with a different attitude than she otherwise might. Having the best possible make-up will also make her confident and that confidence transfers into how she interacts with you during the portrait session. Another way to minimize retouching is to slightly—I’m not talking about blowing out any highlights here—overexpose the portrait making it just a little lighter and brighter than your flash meter or in-camera meter says is correct.

Next consider adding a touch of soft focus which can either be done in-camera or in postproduction. (That’s the subject of an upcoming poat.) Two ways of accomplishing this  in-camera is by using a soft focus filter or a soft focus lens. The classic and hands-down best soft focus filter is the Zeiss Softar that uses tiny lens-shaped structures to produce the soft focus effect. Despite softening the highlights, the basic focus remains sharp up to the edges, an advantage that makes focusing easier. And you’re going to have to focus manually through this filter because your AF will probably go crazy. B+W  offers the Softar in two strengths including I (mild) and II (stronger) and the degree of softening is not affected by the aperture selected.

Another approach is to use a soft focus lens such as Canon’s EF 135mm f/2.8 SF and that method has a few advantages over using filters. The lens can also produce razor-sharp images as well as soft focus shots that don’t look blurry. In addition to the zero setting (no soft focus) you have a choice of two softness settings and each one is affected by the selected aperture so a minimum but still noticeable effect will be achieved at the “1” setting and using a small aperture. Even for maximum soft focus shots at the “2” setting, focusing with your camera’s AF is quick and accurate.Using any of these techniques will greatly minimize  retouching challenges later on.

The above portrait was shot in my home studio with a Canon EOS 5D with EF 135mm f/2.8 SF lens and an exposure of 1/125 sec at f/16 and ISO 125. ©2011 Joe Farace

Author: Joe Farace

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