Differences Between Blur & Soft Focus

Let me tell you a secret: You don’t always need tack sharp images. Sometimes a soft focus image is just what the doctor—or photographer—ordered and blur or selective blur can add a film noir touch to an otherwise ordinary photograph. The distinction between soft focus and creative blur are often confused, so let’s look at the differences.


When all or part of a photograph lacks sharpness, it’s blurry. Blur can be caused by camera or subject motion and can be accidentally or deliberately created by an object moving while the camera’s shutter is open, by you moving the camera, or both. Digital blurring is typically accomplished through software averaging of pixel values to soften edge detail but there are other ways, such as using Photoshop’s Motion Blur, to produce streaks.

A lens that isn’t corrected for spherical aberrations produces soft focus and creates a diffused look by bending light away from the subject so parts of the photograph are defocused while the rest remains in focus. Highlights are dispersed onto adjacent areas and the image still looks focused but some of its components are just enough out-of-focus so they’re softened. In addition, sharp lines and edges are slightly fuzzy and small details disappear.

While many photographers traditionally use soft focus techniques for portraiture, I also use if for vintage automobiles to add to that “old car” look as in this photograph of a classic Chevrolet that was made at San Diego’s Automotive Museum. So I use Glamour Glow filter, that’s part of Color Efex Pro. Don’t be bound by “rules.”

If you’re interested in photographing cars, visit my car photography blog, join me on car show PhotoWalks this summer, or pick up a copy of my book “How I Photograph Cars.”

Author: Joe Farace

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