129. Create a Soft Focus Effect
Before You Begin
91 About Layers and the Layers Palette
97 Erase Part of a Layer
151 Blur a Background to Create Depth of Field
63 Change Color Mode
To apply a soft, romantic look to an image, you can use the Gaussian Blur filter. This filter applies a soft blur to the entire layer or selection and is easy to use. The filter has only one optionthe radius, which controls the amount of blur. The larger the radius, the greater number of pixels blurred together, and the more detail you lose. I like to control the effect somewhat by using it on a duplicate layer and then softly sharpening important features such as a person's eyes, nostrils, and mouth. In this task, you'll learn how to perform this same trick.
Open the image in the Editor in Standard Edit mode and save it in Photoshop (*.psd) format. If the image isn't using grayscale or RGB color mode already, convert it by selecting that option from the Image, Mode menu.
If the image has more than one layer, select the layer you want to soften from the Layers palette. Then drag the layer you want to blur onto the Create a new layer button on the Layers palette (to create a copy of it), or select Layer, Duplicate Layer. Name the new layer Blurred.
Select Gaussian Blur Filter
With the Blurred layer selected, select Filter, Blur, Gaussian Blur from the main menu or double-click the Gaussian Blur icon on the Filters list of the Styles and Effects palette. The Gaussian Blur dialog box appears.
The Editor comes with a Soft Focus effect you can try if you like, but the result is very, very subtle and produces a very soft overall blurring of the current layer.
Adjust Radius and Click OK
Adjust the Radius setting to a value that blurs the image enough to soften it, typically somewhere between 4 and 9. You can type a value in the Radius text box or drag the slider. Keep an eye on the preview window to see how the Radius setting is affecting the image. To preview your changes in the real image, enable the Preview check box. Click OK to apply those settings.
You'll be unblurring any areas you want to remain sharp (such as your subject's features) in step 4, so don't worry about getting the image too blurry in step 3.
The Gaussian Blur filter blurs everything on the current layer, including the features of your subject's face. This causes the image to lose impact because the viewer's eye depends on sharp features to distinguish a person. Select the Eraser tool from the Toolbox. On the Options bar, select a soft, small brush from the Brushes drop-down list. Lightly brush over the eyes, nostrils, and mouth areas of your subject. This action reveals the original, sharp layer underneath, bringing those features back into focus.
You can further lessen the effect of the blur by lowering the Opacity of the Blurred layer on the Layers palette or by lowering the Opacity of the Eraser as you work.
After you're satisfied with the image, save the result in the PSD file. Then merge the two layers together by selecting Layer, Flatten Image and resave the image in JPEG or TIFF format, leaving your PSD image unflattened so that you can return at a later time and make different adjustments if you want.
Another way to create a soft glow in a photograph is to apply the Diffuse Glow filter (choose Filter, Distort, Diffuse Glow). This filter uses the current background color, so be sure to reset it to white or a very light color before beginning. Set the Graininess value to 0, Clear Amount to 10 or more (to control the amount of the background color that shows through the glow), and Glow Amount to 2 or so. If you want to combine the Diffuse Glow filter with the technique discussed here, apply it to the Background layer before copying it. The result of applying both filters is shown in the second example. Look for this image in the Color Gallery.
View the Result
I've always loved this photo of my daughter, lying contentedly in her Daddy's arms on the day she was born. But I thought a bit of soft focus might improve the image. So, I applied a Gaussian blur using a radius of 6.1 to blur the image. Then I sharpened her features just a bit, placing the focus clearly on her peaceful face. I also sharpened her hand because I considered it an intimate part of the photograph. Having just her hand in sharp focus made her father's hand look strange because it was blurred. But I didn't want to sharpen it because I didn't want her father's hand to dominate the photo which it could have because his hand was so much larger than she was at that time. So, I sharpened along the edges of two fingers only, using the Eraser set to half opacity. Look for this photo in the Color Gallery.