You normally associate soft focus effects with portraits, but they can work on all kinds of images, adding a romantic, dreamy feel to an everyday scene. Landscapes, for example, are often given a dramatic, brooding look when sometimes the emotion we feel is much lighter.
Here’s an example. This tree-lined avenue felt bright, airy and summery, but somehow the picture doesn’t really do it justice. The camera has done a great job of capturing the light and the details and the colour exactly as they were, but not how they were experienced at the time. Capturing reality exactly is all very well – if you’re a photocopier salesperson – but most of us want to add something of our own feelings to a scene.
So here’s a pretty simple soft-focus technique that can add a softer and more romantic look to practically any outdoor image. It actually consists of two things – a soft focus effect which spreads the highlights in the picture and makes them more diffuse, and a simple saturation increase.
As it happens, the Glamour Glow filter in Color Efex Pro, part of the Nik Collection, does them both at the same time. What’s more, it lets you stack more than one instance of a filter, so that if you like the effect you can simply double it as we’ve done here.
01: Different soft focus effects will produce different results – it all depends on the software you’re using. Ideally, though, you want one that does what we’ve got here, softening and spreading the light but still retaining clear object edges. It’s made the leaves in these trees soft and airy without smudging them into a blur.
02: Increasing the saturation will make some colours much stronger than they are naturally. In the original scene, the shaded areas of this sidewalk had only the faintest blue tone from the blue sky above, but the increased saturation has made this much stronger. Is it a problem? Not at all – it adds to the rich colour palette in the edited picture.
03: One application of the Glamour Glow filter wasn’t enough, but Color Efex Pro lets us add another. You don’t have to use the same settings both times, of course – in this instance we wanted the maximum Glow value again, but only a modest increase in saturation. Doubling up on filters in this way can, in theory, degrade the image quality, but unless this is obvious and severe, getting the overall ‘look’ just how you want it is much more important.
So here’s the finished image. An everyday scene has been re-imagined as a kind of idealised summer’s day and it now works as more than just a record of the scene. This saturated soft-focus effect works really well on sunlit landscapes generally, and if you don’t already have the Nik Collection you can download it free from the Google Nik Collection website. Don’t waste too much time, though, because it may not be around forever.