"What is there to soft-focus portraits?" asked a photographer in a recent discussion of photographic methods. "I have seen examples of soft-focus work that were good and more that were bad," and he was quite right in both statements. Soft-focus portraits of quality are made by some workers and very poor attempts are often made by others, with discouraging results.

The first thing to be considered in attempting such work is whether or not it will appeal to your patrons. It certainly will not to the majority of people who have portraits of their children made every year as a matter of record. And there is the same likelihood that such work will not appeal to those who have portraits of themselves made once in five or ten years as a matter of record to please their family, friends and relatives.

A familiar landscape that you have come to know so well that every detail is firmly impressed upon your memory may seem much more beautiful to you on a hazy morning. Every familiar object is present, the lights and shadows are in their accustomed places but the detail is missing - something is left to your imagination, and to you, the landscape has a peculiar beauty that you can appreciate.

Soft Focus Work StudioLightMagazine1918 124


By Charles Brandenburg New York, N. Y.

The same may be true of the portrait of a very dear friend. There may be other portraits with more fidelity to detail of feature, more map-like in their accuracy of drawing and equally pleasing in expression, but the portrait with the soft lines, well modulated shadows and opalescent highlights will make a stronger appeal to your imagination and possess a quality that you can readily appreciate.

But beware of trying to sell such work to the patron who wants sharp, clean-cut photographs, full of detail. He knows what he wants, and if you want his dollars you must give him what he wants in return. It isn't likely that he will willingly part with his money as tuition for an art educational course of your selection.

You have seen examples of soft-focus work that were good because the men who made them put the same quality into this work that they put in straight portraiture. The lighting must be just as good - the expression, especially characteristic, and the modeling, if anything, stronger than for ordinary work to allow for the softening effect of the lens.

The mistake is often made of thinking that careful balancing of the light is unnecessary so long as some wierd and fantastic effect is secured. The result is nothing more than wierd and fantastic. If you have been tempted to make soft-focus work and your results have been nothing more than fuzzy, your failure may be due to a lack of knowledge of your lens and nothing more.

In many soft-focus lenses the softness is secured by the use of two common defects, spherical and chromatic aberrations. The result is that the degree of sharpness you see upon the ground glass is not secured in the negative. This is due to the fact that one focuses the colored rays, that are most plainly visible to the eye, on the ground glass, while the more actinic rays are in focus at a point in front of the ground glass. As the actinic rays record the image, or a greater portion of it, the result is a negative that is much more fuzzy than one would expect. For example, if the eye of the subject were the sharpest point on the ground glass, the tip of the nose would be the sharpest point in the negative and the eyes would be fuzzy. It is seen then that in using a lens with chromatic aberration that allowance must be made for this error by focusing back of the plane you wish to have the greatest sharpness, say on the ears, which will give you a negative with the greatest sharpness in the plane of the eyes.

If you merely wish to experiment with soft-focus work it is the safest plan to make sharp negatives and secure the softness in printing or enlarging. A fairly thick piece of celluloid between the negative and the printing paper will materially soften the result, while a very fine mesh of screen in front of the lens, with a hole in the center about the size of an f.32 stop, will give a pleasing soft result in the enlargement.

Soft Focus Work StudioLightMagazine1918 126


By Charles Brandenburg New York, N. Y.

The important thing to remember is that softness of itself is not a quality - does not make a good result from a poor one and will not cover up mistakes in lighting, posing, exposing, or other operations that require skill in negative making.