I love details. Sharp, focused, deliberate. But sometimes, I want to create a specific mood or feeling with my photographs that go beyond the limitations of a sharply detailed image. This is when I put aside my Sony 90mm macro lens (my workhorse for precision detail) and shift over to some more artistic, soft-focus lenses.
I use soft focus in my work to create images that defy convention in an effort to convey the greater depth of emotion and feeling. My favorite tools for soft-focus photography are the Lensbaby Velvet- 56 & 28, the Soft-Focus optic in the Composer Pro II, the 16mm and 50mm Obscura. Here are some ways I enjoy using a soft-focus in my photography-
A lot of nature photography leans on realistic interpretations of subjects. Sometimes though, I just want to express how that animal or plant or fungus makes me feel (yes- fungi give me big feelings!) Octopuses are one of my favorite subjects, and I have had the great privilege of photographing them a lot! Most of my Octopus images focus on their wonderful details, but I wanted to create some images that evoked the sense of awe and wonder I feel every time I am in their presence. The Velvet 56 shot at a wide-open aperture created a soft, beautiful glow that worked perfectly to achieve that feeling.
Mushrooms are another favorite nature subject of mine! This past fall, I started experimenting more with my Velvet 28 lens, taking some soft-focus images to express that sense of magical beauty that mushrooms have. The soft glow created by shooting at f2.8 or lower was perfect for these charismatic fungi!
Want to create some different flower portraits? Soft focus lenses are fantastic to create unique, painterly, and emotive floral images. This image was created with the Composer Pro II and Soft-Focus Optic to create an ethereal glow.
The Obscura 16mm set on f22 is a great tool for creating unique and slightly abstract floral photos.
Landscape is another genre of photography that often relies heavily on small apertures and sharp, defined details. I LOVE soft focus for creating dreamy landscapes with a more artistic feel.
Jen Strongin with Lensbaby Velvet 28
The Velvet 28 shot wide open was perfect for expressing the fairy tale magic of this spring scene in the Arboretum close to my house.
"Soft focus lenses are fantastic to create unique, painterly, and emotive floral images."
The Obscura 16mm shot at f22 gives a very painterly, soft look to images. It is like having a painter's brush on your camera. This landscape was taken at one of my favorite places on the planet, the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. I have plenty of traditional landscape images from this spot, but this soft-focus image is actually one of my favorites.
ENVIRONMENTAL PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY
Soft focus photography really brings out the essence of portrait subjects. I chose the Obscura 16mm at f22 to take some portraits of my dear friends in the Arboretum this past spring. I loved how I could bathe them in soft light and create a vintage and dreamy feel to both of these images.
My mother-in-law, pictured here, suffers from Alzheimer's disease. Using soft-focus on her was my way of interpreting what her world must seem like for her as she loses her memories.
Soft focus plus urban scenes equal magic for me! I love using a soft-focus in contrast to all the hard, urban edges. The soft-focus optic is one of my absolute favorites for urban landscapes, but I also love to use the Obscura 16mm and the Velvet 28.
Soft focus isn't for every situation, but I find it a fantastic tool for creating unique, emotive, and expressive images. Do you use soft-focus photography in your work? What are your favorite types of photos to make with soft-focus lenses?
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Jen Strongin is a professional Naturalist, Educator and Photographer living in Seattle, WA on the edge of the Salish Sea. She is happiest walking slowly through the forest or the intertidal zone, camera in hand, observing the wonderous details of nature, large and small. Her work invokes a sense of curiosity and wonder, inspiring the viewer to slow down and take the time to observe the magical details of the natural world. Her photographs have been featured by the Seattle Aquarium, MaST Center Aquarium and Salish Magazine.Instagram Photography Instagram Website