Many of my clients, especially women, want a softer look for their photographs. Almost like you just got a glance at them out of the corner of your eye. Mysterious and exciting. Or you see a beautiful woman at a restaurant in dim candlelight or in their home with soft lights.
Why not look fabulous? After all, you will be displaying these images for years. Impressing your friends and family with your images is important to you.
Soft focus portraits are making a comeback. After years of high contrast, too sharp images created on digital cameras, many sophisticated clients want more artistic photographs of themselves. So many people are tired of seeing pictures that show every wrinkle and blemish on their face and also on their hands and other parts of the body.
As I dislike critically sharp, harsh photos of women, I have for many years experimented with many techniques to create more flattering photographs and softer effects. It takes an expert to achieve the proper effect.
There is a long history of soft focus and "pictorialism" in Photography. Creating photos that almost look like paintings, are fine art oriented or have a fantasy element. Photographs that are often softer and more emotional. The goal is to create the picture instead of just recording a boring and often harsh view of reality.
Photoshop is the number one tool most photographers use. Unfortunately, retouching by an expert is a time consuming and expensive process. I often spend 1-2 hours per picture and then review the photo later and spend another 30-60 minutes making final adjustments and corrections, before printing. If my client is older or has rough skin the time may be much greater and the expert skill required is very high.
I was shocked when I talked to one of my competitors a year ago and she told me that many of her clients complained about the retouching. Her business model was to create work quickly and as cheap as possible. She only allowed 2-3 minutes per image for retouching and preferred to hire students, due to the cost. She eventually went out of business, due to her low quality work.
George Hurrell, the master of Hollywood Glamour photography, said he spent up to 6 hours retouching a photo for a celebrity or for the movie studio so they could use a magnificent photo on a poster, ad or magazine. His memorable and iconic photos of Hollywood movie stars like Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Jean Harlow are still admired and collected many years later.
Unfortunately many photos of women today almost look like cheap cartoons. Many newer photographers think buying a "portrait" software programs for retouching is the answer. Unfortunately it is not. The programs tend to soften everything equally. But a skilled artist may soften the area around the nose, more than the area near the eyes. Or he or she will blend areas to achieve a natural look.
And then it is essential to shape the face properly with light when creating the portrait image. Getting everything right from the lighting, posing, camera technique and finishing of the image will determine if the photograph is a success or a failure. Also don't forget that using film, instead of digital, is often important since it maintains a softer skin tone naturally.
Fixing a bad image with Photoshop is like buying a house with a bad foundation and hoping no one will notice the cracks or that the house is starting to fall down.
I am occasionally asked by my clients if can retouch their own pictures. Do you ask your mechanic if you can use his garage to tune up your engine or find out why your transmission is broken? Just because you have a wrench or hammer does not make you a mechanic. It's the same with Photoshop. Even after working with Photoshop and other programs for thousands of hours, I have some secret methods I use and I learn new techniques on a regular basis. I sometimes will use 2 or 3 programs to achieve the look I want, since even Photoshop has limitations and a certain look to the pictures it produces.
There are also many ways to achieve a soft focus look, from soft focus camera lenses, filters to add on to your lens and even adding petroleum jelly or silk stockings to the front of the camera lens.
It is also possible to add the effect when printing under the enlarger. Well known and sometimes notorious fine art photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe often used that techniques in his portraits of singer Patti Smith
How do you get the photograph you want? It's best to work with an expert. Please consult with an expert photographer, before taking the photos. That way you can work together to achieve the effect you desire. I can advise you about what fashions photograph the best, use the most flattering lighting and posing and then use the proper camera techniques and enhancements to create a great photograph.