There’s no need to spend hours on the computer creating soft focus Photoshop effects when it’s so easy to do it in-camera. In our latest DIY Photography Hacks post we show you how to use a simple pair of tights to create a wonderful soft-focus effect in your portraits.
It’s possible to buy all manner of soft-focus filter attachments for your camera. Nikon even makes a lens that allows you to defocus areas of a shot. But for this project we’re using a cheeky old-fashioned technique which works amazingly well.
All you need is a pair of tights. You could use ones that the owner doesn’t want any more, though they cost so little to buy that we’d recommend you go out and shop for a new pair.
Take a pair of scissors, and carefully cut out an area large enough to cover the lens and extend down onto the barrel. Fix it down with an elastic band and start shooting.
You’ll need to get tights of the right thickness and take the colour into account, and be careful not to ladder the fabric, but that really is all there is to it.
The fine net pattern of the fabric produces the soft-focus effect, as the image is formed from the light that passes through the tiny gaps between the threads.
This may be related to the diffraction (softening) effects you get when shooting with extremely small lens apertures, but if there are any experts in optics out there who know better, please let us know!
There are two reasons why we really like this effect. First, there’s no need to make any special adjustments to the camera settings – you can just fit the tights and shoot normally. The only settings we changed were the sort you’d use for portrait photography anyway.
Second, you can see just how your pictures will come out in the viewfinder as you shoot, and on the LCD display immediately afterwards.
Photoshop has its advantages, of course, but it’s really useful to be able to see these effects as go along so that you can modify your settings and your composition to get the best possible results.
Make soft focus effects the DIY photography way
01 Advice from an expert
Our model Sam helped us pick out suitable hosiery for our soft-focus effect. The colour makes a difference, of course, but the key factor is the thickness, or the ‘denier’ value. We settled on 15-denier tights, which gave the perfect soft-focus look but still showed enough detail in Sam’s features.
02 A bit of a stretch
You need to cut out a section from the tights which is at least twice the size of the lens, so that you can fold it back along the barrel and secure it with an elastic band. An extra pair of hands is useful! Once the elastic band is in place, pull on the edges to smooth out the wrinkles.
03 Shades of grey
Our tights are a charcoal grey colour. The shade of grey won’t make any difference to the pictures – darker tones will reduce the exposure, but the camera’s exposure meter will compensate automatically. Different-coloured tights will affect the colour balance, though.
04 Smile please
Now we just shoot as normal. These 15 denier tights are quite thin, and the autofocus on our D300s copes perfectly well even though the image is a lot hazier. Normal portrait photography rules still apply: use a longer lens for a more flattering perspective, and always focus on the eyes.
Best Camera Settings
To make the most of the hazy, soft-focus effect we set the camera to A, or aperture-priority, mode and set our 18-70mm lens to its longest focal length and maximum aperture (f/4.5 at 70mm). This gives shallow depth of field so that the background is thrown out of focus. We used Auto White Balance because our tights were a neutral colour. If you use coloured tights, set a manual White Balance preset to stop the camera trying to ‘correct’ the tint.
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