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Thread: Do I want "Soft Focus"? Pro help needed.

  1. #1
    aero
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    Do I want "Soft Focus"? Pro help needed.

    Hi All,

    I've been shooting for about 3 years now - my background was fine art and design, but I've really enjoyed shooting photos as a primary means of expression.

    In a nutshell, I *like* blurred, soft, out of focus abstract images. Here's the thing - I have a Canon 1ds MIII that has mostly been used for super clear, in focus shots for fashion and product work (which I no longer do). I want to utilize my investment to produce my fine art preferences and am looking for a lens that will produce really soft images. I tend to go almost completely out-of-focus and shoot in dark, colored (red, blue, yellow) light (f1.2) to achieve the effects I like.

    It seems like my camera and lenses (50mm 1.2: 50mm is my preferred lens) conspire against me. I tend to get a lot of stair-stepping in my digital images, especially with the gradations of red. I also can't get the "soft out-of-focus" look when shooting objects at certain distances when my 50mm is in it's focus zone.

    I know this can be done in Photoshop - but I really want this to be in-camera. Real-Imaginary, if you get my meaning

    Sharpness me damned, do I want 100% bokeh?

    Is it a soft filter I need? A different 50mm lens? Am I just trying to make my camera's sensor do more (er, less) than it was designed to do?

    Any assistance appreciated!

    All the best,
    -Dan
    Los Altos, CA.

  2. #2
    Subscriber Member TRSmith's Avatar
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    Re: Do I want "Soft Focus"? Pro help needed.

    One solution is a Lensbaby lens. They're entire purpose in life is to make soft focus or focus shift on a DSLR. I have the 3G version that includes the ability to tilt the lens in several directions (or not at all). I think I paid $300 brand new for the thing. While I don't use it all the time, it's a great effect when that's what you're after. Google Lensbaby and you'll get al kinds of hits.

  3. #3
    Administrator Bob's Avatar
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    Re: Do I want "Soft Focus"? Pro help needed.

    Stair-stepping in red graduations might be more related to processing and or exposure.
    Do you shoot raw? How do you process them?
    As for soft, there are many ways to achieve this effect from using antique uncoated lenses to smearing Vaseline on a filter. The low light angle shouldn't hurt the soft focus look, take everything wide open. Try shoot through a layer of nylon stocking stretched over the lens, There are a number of filters available, look for example at the Cokin line.
    Of course, you can run your rig on manual focus and set a point of focus well in front or behind your subject with the lens wide open.
    -bob

  4. #4
    aero
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    Re: Do I want "Soft Focus"? Pro help needed.

    Hi Bob, TR,

    Thanks for the tips - I've messed about with a Lensbaby, but the effect wasn't quite what I had hoped. Cool, but not quite it. I'm playing with the nylon stocking effect this afternoon and will report my findings. My girlfriend was none too pleased, but hey, it's all for art right?

    Bob, I've been doing exactly what you specified: focusing manually with the lens wide open. That's how I've achieved the effect so far. It works well enough - the only downside is that on occasion, I get results that are incredibly hard to print due to the color gradations that lead to the stair-stepping.

    One solution I've been doing with some success (thanks to Jim at Summitgrace!!) is to apply Viveza and Dfine (I only shoot raw) to modify areas of particular trouble. However, it really changes the overall contrast and original intent of my photos. Out-of-gamut colors are constantly an issue.

    To be honest, I think this is just something I have to live with... it seems to be the nature of these images and I need to be careful when editing to watch the edges very carefully.

    I'll keep at it this week and see how it goes - thanks again,
    -D

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    Administrator Bob's Avatar
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    Re: Do I want "Soft Focus"? Pro help needed.

    You also might try the technique of a clear filter with Vaseline lightly smeared on it.
    Try to leave the central third of the diameter uncoated for a bit of sharpness. The effect changes if only the center third is smeared and the perimeter is left clean.
    Could you explain a bit more about the color gradations and stair-stepping you are referring to or perhaps post an example? I am having a bit of difficulty imagining what is going on.
    thanks
    -bob

  6. #6
    aero
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    Re: Do I want "Soft Focus"? Pro help needed.

    Hi Bob,

    Ok, I'm trying the smear technique today and will report the results.

    Regarding the stair-stepping, in a nutshell, many of my photos have out-of-gamut colors (mainly reds). The issue seems to be that when I front or back focus extremely to achieve the blurring effect, there's a lot of edge gradation that (when profiled) look pretty awful. On my monitor without printer profiling, no problem. When profiled (for just about ANY media) the images become stair-stepped. I can somewhat fix the problem by applying dfine and/or viveza, but that really increases my work a lot in post production. I think these are just difficult images - I've been having them printed "managed", which of course costs more $$... The print house seems to deal with it for me, but with mixed results print-to-print. Not cool when I'm doing a whole "series". I'd love to master a simpler technique of dealing with this issue, if one exists. The guys at Summitgrace took a look, and were able to help a bit - that's how I was able to get Viveza and dfine on the table. But it's still a pain...

    The images in question are about to be shown in September - so I won't put them up here just yet. However, I have some that didn't make the cut that show the issue. Stand by and I'll post!

    By the way, thanks for taking the time to help out, much appreciated.

    -Dan

  7. #7
    Administrator Bob's Avatar
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    Re: Do I want "Soft Focus"? Pro help needed.

    How are you processing these?
    Are you shooting raw and importing into PS using something like prophoto RGB 16 bit?
    I would love to see an example. It is not likely that you should see steps unless you are using a small color space and a low bit depth, or unless there ARE steps.
    thanks
    -bob

  8. #8
    aero
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    Re: Do I want "Soft Focus"? Pro help needed.

    I do everything in Adobe RGB. My process is:

    * Make sure everything is ColorMunkey'ed

    1_ Shoot RAW (Adobe RGB in Camera)

    2_ Import files into Lightroom for viewing and minor adjustment (16bit Adobe RGB)

    3_ Photos that I like and need real editing go to Photoshop CS3 as 16bit Adobe RGB (PSD format).

    4_ When in Photoshop, I immediately proof for my intended output printer and paper type (I only use Lightjet Fujitrans or Fuji Crystal for output). This is when I see my beautiful images turn to stair-stepped garbage'

    5_ I turn on gamut warnings. Gamut warnings are lit up like a christmas tree. I have one picture that's almost 50% covered in white!

    6_ From here, I need to utilize a variety of things to fix the issue. I dull my images down with masks - use viveza to bring down the gamut warnings in certain areas... Basically, I end up ruining the on-screen beauty of my images to get the stair-stepping and gamut into a printable form.

    ...and then curse printers, printing and consider using a projector to project my images instead of printing at all

    Pictures coming when I can get home to do so.
    -D

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