Blurring the Lines

by | Jul 25, 2018

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

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 that 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 firm rule about how much blur or soft focus you can apply to a portrait. My best advice, as Emeril always 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 placed on a duplicate layer you can lower that layer’s opacity allowing part of the bottom layer to show through, giving you the ability to control how much blur is applied.

Tip: For more control you can erase part of the duplicate layer allowing parts of the original file to show through. You can also change the Eraser tool’s opacity so it doesn’t erase everything and gently erase the blur/soft focus layer over 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 lighting for the above image was Speedotron’s DM402 2 CC Head Kit. Background, what you can see of it, was from Silverlake Photo. Portrait of Alice Ivers was shot with Canon EOS 5D Mark I and EF28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens (at 95mm) with an exposure of 1/125 sec at f/13 and ISO 100. Soft focus and diffusion effects added include Classical Soft Focus and Glamour Glow from Color Efex Pro



If you’re interested in learning how I shoot portraits and how I use cameras, lenses and lighting in my in-home studio and on location, please pick up a copy of Studio Lighting Anywhere which is available new from for $23.34 or used for the giveaway price of $2.23, as I write this. If you would like some hands-on training, check out my one-on-one workshops.