Soft focus for your portraits

Soft focus has been used in photography for almost as long as cameras have been used to take portraits. Softening the focus helps hide wrinkles, age lines, and skin blemishes, but it can also be used to give a somewhat dreamy quality to any subject. And it can help your own photos as well.

Work with layers

Start by opening our sample picture in your favorite image editing program. (I use Corel's Paint Shop Pro X, but, as always, the techniques can be applied to any image editor.) The first step is to duplicate the image in a second layer. Layers are a handy way to make adjustments, since you can vary the opacity of the layer you make the changes in, thus fine-tuning the overall effect.

To add the layer, choose Layers, Duplicate from the menu. You won't see any difference in the photo itself, since all you've done is slapped an identical copy of the image on top of the one that was already there. If the Layers palette on the right side of the screen is turned on, you'll see both layers represented there. (To turn the Layers palette on, choose View, Palettes, Layers.) The new layer, called Copy of Background, is the one on top. Here's what you'll see in Paint Shop Pro X.

Note: In previous versions of Paint Shop Pro X, the layers representation will look a little different.

Add some blur

Now let's add some soft focus to the photo. The easiest way to do that is to choose Adjust, Blur, Gaussian Blur. In the Gaussian Blur dialog box, set the Radius to about 2.0 and click OK.

Now we've got some blur. Actually, we have way too much blur. You could undo the effect and try again with a smaller radius, but it's easier to just use our layers to fine-tune the image.

In the Layers palette, drag the opacity slider (the small rectangle displaying the number "100") to the left until you throttle back the blur to your liking. What we're actually doing is making the top layer increasingly transparent so the bottom layer -- which has no blur -- can peek through. By combining just the right amount of blurred image and non-blurred image, we can make the photo perfectly soft (my favorite setting is an opacity of around 65 percent).

Sharpen the eyes

There's just one remaining problem. Since we indiscriminately blurred the entire photo, the girl's eyes are just as soft as the rest of the image. And that makes the photo look not just soft, but out of focus. In fact, it actually hurts my eyes to look at this image (though it doesn't bother my editor).

Once again, layers can come to the rescue. We'll erase the blurred eyes from the top layer so the sharp eyes can poke through from underneath.

Click the Eraser tool, which lives little more than halfway down the toolbar on the left side of the screen. Set the size of the tool to about 10 pixels in the Tool Options palette at the top of the screen; this adjustment makes the eraser smaller than the eyes in this photo. Then erase the eyes from the top layer, being careful to not stray outside the eyelash region. It might help to zoom in for a better view. In the end, you'll get a photo that appears to be sharp because the eyes are sharp, but the soft focus gives the rest of the image a pleasing appearance.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Dave Johnson

PC World (US online)
Show Comments



Victorinox Werks Professional Executive 17 Laptop Case

Learn more >

Sansai 6-Outlet Power Board + 4-Port USB Charging Station

Learn more >



Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?