New Year’s Resolution: Avoiding Photographic Crutches

by | Jan 2, 2020

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 all of my portrait and glamour images in soft focus. I thought I was going to be another Julia Margaret Cameron or at least her long-lost brother James 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 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 soft focus.

How I made these shots: In the first shot I made of Maria Elena (below) at a group 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 is 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: A Canon EOS 50D with that self-same EF 135mm f/2.8 SF lens set at #2 soft focus at 1/200 sec f/3.5 and ISO 200. This 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.

If you’re interested in learning how to shoot better portraits and would like some hands-on training, check out my 2020 one-on-one workshops.

Want to learn about avoiding crutches and cliches when photographing glamour models with available light? Please pick up a copy of my book Available Light Glamour Photography. New copies are available on for only $3.91 with used copies starting at $4.48. Kindle version is $3.71 for those preferring a digital format.