Friday, May 26, 2023

Soft Focus Pictorialist Effects ~ part Ten

If I bend the self-imposed rule about being done, finished, over with talking about soft images just a little I can sneak in another little missive about soft focus pictorialist effects, this on that does not involve optics nor filters.

I know I've written about this before, but in light of what I've recently learned about soft focus lenses, soft filters, and image processing, it might be good to make a clear comparison between the various approaches.

What if there was a way to create a "convincing" soft image from a sharp one?  I could avoid having to carry a soft focus lens or a soft filter.  I might have very good image processing flexibility, right?  Color.  Black and white.  Sharp.  Soft.  All from a single RAW digital image.

Back in the film days someone popularized an image softening technique that is known as the "Orton Effect."  Micheal Orton is the photographer.  His film technique is easily adaptable to digital image processing.

Though the previous links talk about the effect as it applies to landscape photography.  I'll take a short look at how it might work in portraiture.

Setup ~ 

  • Camera - 
    • Sony A7 100ISO, 2sec timer, "A" mode
  • Lens - 
    • Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4
  • Bogen tripod
  • Image Processing - 
    • RawTherapee - to generate a low contrast image that is fed into...
    • The Gimp
      • Gaussian Blur - 
        • Open image copy in a new layer
        • 2 pixel radius
        • Hard Light blend mode
        • Opacity set by taste by balancing the effect against...
      • Gaussian Blur - 
        • Open image 2 copies in 2 new layers
        • 10 pixel radius
        • Soft Light blend mode
        • Opacity set by taste
  • RawTherapee - to add final imaging tones

Note: The image processing choices I made here are to my taste and are based on trial and error.  It's easy to add or subtract "softness" by varying the Gaussian Blur settings.  It's a little more difficult to balance the contrast, but I found that varying the Opacity gives me flexibility in this regard.  There is no specific "magic" in the fact I used Hard Light and Soft Light blend modes, except they add contrast (sometimes very quickly) at the same time they soften the scene.  I could just as easily have added a Normal blend mode layer that was Gaussian Blur'd to help manage the contrast.

Image Comparison ~

As always, click on the image and enlarge to 100percent to see whatever there is to be seen.

Here is the original sharp image -

Orton Effect Comparison


Here is the Orton Effect processed image -

Orton Effect Comparison


For additional comparison purposes, here are two more images.  The first is soft filtered and the second is using the Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft lens.

Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm at f/1.4 + Nose Grease on UV filter + Local Contrast

Autoportrait ~ Pentax 85mm Soft f/2.2 at f/4.8


It should be pretty obvious that each softening technique has it's own "signature" and are each unique in their own way.  I'm not sure there's any one "good" nor "correct" nor "proper" way of doing this.  It's good to have choices and flexibility in image making, isn't it?

I've enjoyed exploring this topic again.  It's something that I've tried to come to grips with over the years and it feels like I'm getting close to being able to fully control an outcome based on a more complete understanding of the underlying materials, science, options, and effects.

I imagine a person could choose an approach and stick with it until they'd mastered their chosen path.

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