New Year’s Resolution: Avoiding Photographic Crutches

by | Jan 5, 2021

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

“Everything in the street today seems soft focus.”― Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting

For a long time after I purchased Canon’s (now discontinued) EF 135mm f/2.8 Soft Focus lens I shot almost all of my portrait and glamour images in soft focus. I thought I was going to be another Julia Margaret Cameron or maybe her long-lost brother Joseph Myrick Cameron.

But I quickly found out that I was being short sighted and over time wished that some of my outdoor glamour photographs, like the one shown at right, were in slightly sharper focus. Now I believe that soft focus and diffusion effects are best added after you’ve captured the image but I liked this subject’s pose and wanted to share my experience of photographing her with you today as well as my change of heart regarding how I view soft focus.

How I made these shots: In the first shot I made of Maria Elena (below) at a group model shoot in Phoenix several years ago, I used the wall to anchor her body but asked her to move slightly away from it and arch her back, which is always a good idea when shooting a subject from the side. She looked off to her left, flipped her right arm up and I made the shot.

Then I made a few additional exposures with the model looking at the camera (above) of which that may be the best of the series but I still prefer the shot (at left)  where she’s not looking at the camera because I think that there’s more drama in that photograph.To me, the image with her looking at the camera seems a bit forced and her head seems to be at an odd angle. But hey, here are two versions and I’m showing both so that you can think about shooting variations during a model shoot. I call this approach, shooting through a pose.

Exposure was the same for both images: 1/160 sec at f/3.2 and ISO 200 with a plus two-thirds stop exposure compensation. The camera was a Canon EOS 50D with that self-same EF 135mm f/2.8 SF lens set at its #2 soft focus setting. This combination of aperture and lens setting unfortunately maximized the soft focus effect. Shooting it at f/8 would have created a better, slightly sharper but still soft focus shot.

Soft focus or not, the EF 135mm f/2.8 SF is still an eminently usable lens because it has a “zero’—no soft focus—setting and acts just like a normal 135mm lens. And every now and then I still like to shoot some soft focus images using it. You can read about that here.

PS: For a look at a funny or not so funny story about my original EF 135mm f/2.8 Soft Focus lens (my current lens is a replacement) you might want to check out this post when you have time.

Want to learn about avoiding crutches and cliches when photographing glamour models with available light? My book Available Light Glamour Photography is available new on for only $20.94 with used copies starting at $10.39, as I write this. Kindle version is $28.45 for those preferring a digital format.