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Mark Laurie - The Soft Focus Solution - part 1 of 1 2

by Mark Laurie Published

Specializing in female portraiture, the soft focus filter was always a well-used tool. When we shifted to digital we began looking for ways to replicate the effect digitally. We had quickly found that a sharp digital image gave us a wider range of creative choices once in the computer.

I'll go through a couple of approaches with you.

The first we call our Playboy effect. In addition to using it when working on the final images, I have created an action for applying the filter to images during my viewing presentations. On the low rez presentation images it gives my clients a quick sense of what the retouching will do, often being the difference between a sale or a discard.

Select your image to enhance. Do all of your prep work; cropping, color balance, sizing and so on. My brave model Marla, has her unretouched image for us to work on, Fig1. The close up in Fig 2 shows the smile lines with skin texture that a sharp lens picks up. Great for that old jazz musician character face, not so popular with my female clients. The sharp eyes show a lot of sparkling life.

A quick reminder on file size/resolution, always keep in mind the impact of file size. The larger the file size the greater your settings will have to be to match the effect on a smaller file. If you follow these steps but get a disappointing result, either increase the settings or run the filter through a few times.

To begin, make two copies of the background layer (Crtl/Option J or drag the layer to the palette bottom to the layer copy icon.) Activate the top layer.


Go to Filter>Render>Lighting Effects. Fig 3. Adjust the spotlight circle in the preview window so it just touches the edge of your image. You can grab the square handles for sizing. Adjust the intensity up or down until the hotspots of your image are starting to blow out. At the bottom of palette change the channel to Red. Move the slider below that towards mountainous. The further over it goes the stronger the effect. I usually set it around the 90 point.

This creates an ugly image (Fig4) that will be the basis for the blur mask.

Crtl/command A to select all, then crtl/command C to copy. Go to the channels palettes; create a new channel. Crtl/command V to paste the lighting effect into it. Select the RGB channel. Return to the layers palette. Delete the lighting effect layer.

Now load your channel into the image with Select>Load Selection. Change the channel to the one you pasted your lighting effects into; usually this should be Alpha 1. Fig 5.

Press crtl/command H to hide the selection markers. Go to Filters>Blur>Gaussian Blur. Adjust the soft focus effect to your likening. You can turn the preview on and off to see what the difference is. This will work better if you have your magnification set to 75% or higher. Deselect your selection. (crtl/command D). You should have two layers up now, the top being the blurred image and the lower being the original.

Now we have the image softened, with the strongest effect being on the reddest areas. We want to bring back some sharpness in selected areas like the eyes. Create a quick mask, the icon at the bottom of the layers palette, 2nd in.

Press D to set your foreground color to black. Press B to activate your brush. Select a soft brush about the size of the subject's iris. You might find it hand to magnify your selection so you can be more exact with the masking. Set your brushes opacity to somewhere between 20% and 60%. Brush over the areas you want to be sharp, if you go over the same area a second time it removes more of the mask until the mask is completely gone.


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