Easy Portrait Softening in Photoshop

While it’s always best to start out working with sharp photographs, sometimes a portrait or other photos look better with soft focus in certain areas. This tutorial is designed for starting Photoshop users who might want to create a soft focus lens effect. Here’s a picture of my lovely wife that I’d like to soften a bit.

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The first step I took was to duplicate the background layer. This duplicate will be the layer to blur later on.


Select the background copy and apply a Gaussian blur filter. 4 pixels is not a magic value: the amount of blur you want will depend on the resolution of the image. Don’t worry that the blurred image is more unclear than you want the final result to be.


Brighten the blurred layer. In general I think that it is preferable to use the “curves” adjustment, but you can also you the simpler “Brightness/Contrast” tool from the ‘Image’ > ‘Adjustments’ menu.


Select the newly blurred and brightened background copy and reduce the opacity of the layer until the image looks the way that you want it to. Another possibility here is to change the blending mode of the background duplicate layer to “luminosity” and see if you prefer that look. I can’t tell the difference.


Select the softened layer, and create a layer mask by holding down the “alt” (or apple) key and clicking on the ‘Layer Mask’ button. The soft focus effect will disappear and the image will look just like it did before you started.


Now select the paintbrush tool and make sure that the foreground color is white. Paint over any parts of the photo that you want blurred. You’ll see the layer mask showing the shape of the area you’ve painted over in white.


In this example, I wanted to make sure that the eyes were still sharp. To remove the soft focus effect from anything you might have accidentally painted over, change the brush color to black and paint over the areas you meant to leave sharp.


Here’s the softened picture.


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