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Creating Dreamy, Soft-Focus Images on iPhone

April 28, 2016

If you’re looking for a dreamy, ethereal look in your images, try soft-focus. This technique, once applied by default because of technological restrictions, is now done purposefully – and beautifully, using mobile editing apps. Read on to learn more from guest blogger and talented iPhoneographer, Rad Drew.

Morro Castle across Havana Harbor, Havana, Cuba © Rad A. Drew

The Backstory

Original soft-focus images were done because, essentially, that’s the best technology could do at the time. Early lenses had flaws known as spherical aberrations that produced the soft-focus effect. As lens technology became more sophisticated, these aberrations were engineered out of the lens-making process, and lenses began to produce sharper images.

In the mid 80’s photographer Michael Orton began experimenting with ways to control soft-focus and created his now famous Orton Effect, which he achieved by sandwiching multiple slides of the same or very similar image to create a magical glow. You can see some of Michael Orton’s early images using his process on his website.

Since discovering iPhone photography in 2010, I resurrected my interest in soft-focus photography. Why? I love the sense of dreaminess, nostalgia, and timelessness it gives an image, and it affords yet another set of creative choices for the artist with a camera.

I’ve since learned that there are apps for the iPhone as well as features of Photoshop, and Topaz Labs products, that mimic the soft-focus of early lenses as well as the more recent Orton Effect. I even developed my own technique for creating soft-focus images and posted an article on recreating the effect on my own blog last year.

It’s ironic to me that, today, some lens manufacturers are now creating lenses, adding back the flaws that produced those original soft-focus images years ago.

 

Creating Soft-Focus Images with Enlight

Patricia, Dancer with Cuba’s International Ballet, Havana, Cuba © Rad A. Drew


However, since that original blog post, I’ve come to enjoy an app called Enlight, which produces great results and has made creating the soft-focus look even simpler!

 

The Process

Select an image that you think might benefit from a slightly dreamy quality. Landscapes and images with nostalgic, historic, dreamy, or romantic content seem to be particularly good candidates for the soft-focus look.



Ballerinas proved to be great subjects for these kinds of soft-focus images, at least for me! Soft-focus can be created with full, muted tones, or in black and white. You can decide works best for your subject.



 

Process the image in your usual way, following your normal workflow: cropping, sharpening, and adjusting color. Use your favorite apps to achieve the look you’re going for, whether that’s a “straight” shot, a vintage style, a painterly effect, or some other final quality.

Tip: When finalizing your image and making it ready for the soft-focus step, you may want to process it to be slightly darker than normal because adding the soft-focus in the final step may lighten it slightly.

Once you’re ready for the soft-focus step, open up Enlight.


Select your image, and follow these steps:

– Tap Artistic from Enlight’s side menu.

– Tap Painting.

– Tap Presets along the bottom.

– Scroll to the right to the preset Glow. It’s second from the last in the collection.

E_IMG_1966

– Using your finger on the screen, slide across the image to increase softness of the focus. Slide left to right until you reach the softness you desire. Sliding all the way left will bring you to 0 (no softness) and sliding all the way to the right brings you to 100 (extreme softness). Here, I’ve settled on 54.

– Try to find a sweet spot that retains some detail in your image yet gives it a slightly soft, buttery glow.

You may find that some images will accept more softness, while others only need a little.

For the image of the dancer, I chose to apply a lot of softness to emphasize the image’s nostalgic and dream-like qualities.

For the cover image of Morro Castle, I wanted to give it a slightly timeless quality to emphasize the historic significance across time and enhance the romance of the scene. For that image, I used only a slight amount of soft-focus.
 

For Your Inspiration

Here are a few more examples of the soft-focus look created with Enlight to spark your creativity.


 

 

 
Until next time, keep on shooting!

– Rad Drew
 
 
**Editor’s Note** The images in this article were created after Rad’s recent photography trip to Cuba. He’ll be leading groups there again next fall and winter and would love to share this magical experience with you. He’s also leading an Art of the iPhone Workshop in May in the South of France and again in October in Tuscany, Italy, where he’ll be covering many post processing techniques. For more photo tips, discounts, or to stay informed about trips and learning opportunities, you can visit his website, subscribe to his newsletter or email him directly.

Rad Drew
Rad Drew

Photographer, Explorer, Teacher. My approach to photography changed dramatically in 2010, with my first iPhone. After carrying an iPhone with me all the time, I find that I constantly evaluate light, shapes, colors and lines in everything around me, and because the phone is always with me, I take more opportunities to shoot what I see, sometimes with wonderful results.

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