Like many people who've made the switch from film cameras to digital,
I've discovered that the lens tools I once used so effectively on my
cameras to soften, diffuse and vignette my images for quality "finished"
professional results won't do for digital what they did for film.
I'm sure it's arguable by some that their diffusers still work fine, and I too
have discovered that some tools still work okay under some
circumstances; my Ziess Softar #1 seemed to offer decent results when
photographing a single subject in the studio but I knew that the black
netting diffuser that I used with my Lindahl Bell-o-shade no longer
worked on the Nikon D70 zoom lens at the wider angles without
showing lines in the image. Not a risk I was willing to take professionally
so I just stopped using the Lindahl shade and drop-down filters for a
Then it happened. A savvy carriage trade-minded customer brought in
a wall portrait that she had purchased several years ago by a
photographer obviously using medium format lens tools like I was used
to using in the past with my film camera. She wanted her new wall
portraits to have that same "softened" look. So I arrived at the portrait
session armed with my digital camera equipped with the very mild Softar
Filter that works at any aperture on any lens thinking that this was good
insurance at getting the kind of "softness" she could live with.
Understand that I knew any diffusion used on an entire family group
portrait would be more exaggerated by their relative head sizes but I
had explained that to her and she assured me she liked her portrait
images "very soft".
While the images looked good on the small camera monitor, once I
opened them up in Photoshop and printed them out as proofs I knew
they were too soft. I called a colleague who is a digital expert and
explained to him what I had done. He told me that you simply cannot
use on-lens filters anymore for professional softening and diffusion
without creating mush on 35mm type digital camera images. This leaves
the special effects job now to the computer and not the camera. "But I've
tried using Photoshop CS for their diffusion tools and what I get doesn't
look like real photography," I complained, "The results are terrible." He
agreed that Photoshop's filters weren't the right tools either to mimic the
professional photography filters of the past but told me that there is a
company that has a software program that is a plug-in for my Photoshop
and has filter tools to recreate believable results for various levels of
softening and diffusion.
The software is called "PhotoKit" and is available from Pixel Genius for
only $49.95. I bought the Mac version and it is wonderful. I have played
around with it now and have found that you can get varying degrees of
whatever you want that looks similar to what you used to be able to do
with your old lens filters and drop-down tools. Even more possibilities
are now available to you. One of my favorites is the ability to lasso areas
and "clear" the results of diffusion keeping eyes and teeth sparkly and
If there is a downside to doing your diffusion this way it's that the
customer can't really see the results on the proof, so they have to "trust"
your artistic license. But it was like this with retouching too so there will
be a short new education curve for your clientele to learn, or to save
yourself from disaster you might offer a second proof appointment to
show the customer a proof of their selected images with the added
softening or diffusion. It's going to take more time and you'll end up with
having to rework some things more than you want so I'd only
recommend this for customers like mine who's initial concern was the
In summary, softening and diffusion can be done effectively and
professionally but it's not as easy as it used to be when you'd just pick
the filter you wanted and pop it over the lens. Your old on-camera lens
filters will often turn your digital images to "mush" or images of weak
contrast that may or may not be salvageable.
Tom Ray is a Certified Professional Photographer through the
Professional Photographers of America. If you are interested in his full
story please go to: http://www.rayphotography.com/HomeBiz2info.html - Professional Photography: Success Without School!