A Site for Photographers by Photographers

Community > Forums > Lighting Equipment and Techniques > Portrait lighting > softening effect for portrait...

softening effect for portrait headshots

James Tamai , Nov 03, 2006; 02:04 a.m.

how does one achieve the softening effects for portraits? is it from use of filters and if so what type? is it from using a wide open aperture like f/1.4? please inform and help.


Dan K , Nov 03, 2006; 02:51 a.m.

Well, you could use a "soft focus" lens, I *think* it's called a diffusion filter, or my favorite, black pantyhose stretched over the front of the lens.


Anthony Stubbs , Nov 03, 2006; 04:43 a.m.

A thousand answers James. Have a browse.


Paul D , Nov 03, 2006; 09:02 a.m.

I think post processing in Photoshop plays a part and of course lighting.There are lots of free Photoshop Actions available on the web.

Michael Axel , Nov 03, 2006; 01:36 p.m.

Now days I would use Photoshop. In the old days, I used to take a UV filter I didn't care about, put a dime as close to the center as I could get it, and spray aerosol hairspray on it. Let it dry and you have a pretty good filter with a bit more sharpness in the middle. Other solutions include the Rodenstock Imagon where you can adjust the sharpness using disks, and a similar sort of device you can use under an enlarging lens for darkroom work.

Michael Axel , Nov 03, 2006; 01:44 p.m.

Oh, I meant to mention the Hasselblad soft focus filters (depends on what format you're using). They're superb. And here's a shot with a short depth of field (Nikon 85mm f/1.8 wide open). The focus is just on her eyes. A small aperture is not really the same effect as how portraits are usually done though.

Nikon D200, 85mm f/1.8 at f/1.8.

Nadine Ohara - SF Bay Area/CA , Nov 04, 2006; 03:15 p.m.

There are several ways to do this. First, you can add softening in Photoshop or post processing. Many, many ways of doing this. Second, you can use a soft focus filter on the lens at the time of shooting. The best one is a Zeiss Softar, which is very expensive. There are other brands, with Hoya producing one that is similar to the Zeiss, but not exactly the same. Some types of soft focus filters are affected by aperture--the wider the aperture, the more soft focus effect, but the Zeiss is not one of these, although you usually don't use these filters at small apertures anyway, which brings us to your question about wide open aperture. Usually, on portraits, you use a wide open aperture to throw the background way out of focus to keep the attention on the subject, but this in itself does not add any soft focus effect to the subject.

Bob Bernardo - LA area disabled , Nov 06, 2006; 12:36 a.m.

Are the portraits for modeling? If so don't use soft filters. If it is for every other type of photography soft filters sure save time from Photoshop. I agree that the Hasselblad Softar 1 is probably the best filter ever made. It is plastic so put it between 2 glass mounts so dust doesn't get inside and so you don't have to clean and probably scratch the plastic softar filter. The prices are about $275 so if you go new protect it.

Back to top

Notify me of Responses