Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Soft focus

This post about about something my new camera can do that has produced an intriguing result.

The Panasonic LX100 is a serious camera, intended for experienced photographers, but Panasonic have still included two buttons that make it simple for casual users to get either easy shots, or to amuse themselves with ready-made creative effects. So there's a button that will plunge the camera into completely-automatic mode, where literally all you have to do is switch it on and press the shutter button. That's of no interest to me. The other button presents you with twenty-two special-effect 'filters', to make your shots look 'different'.

That filter button is easy to dismiss as a sop to beginners, and not much more than a gimmick. And I hadn't given it any priority in my first ten days of ownership - I was much more concerned to get up to speed on how the more essential controls worked, and whether I liked their out-of-factory settings. But in the last couple of days I've been investigating that filter button more closely.

Pressing the filter button is the way to get the camera to take black-and-white photos, and you get several B&W options, including straight no-nonsense monochrome, dramatic high-contrast monochrome, grainy atmospheric monochrome, and all-monochrome-except-for-one-colour, a colour you can choose from the scene in front of you. Such as the blue of my pilates mat in this indoor shot:

I can't see many applications for this kind of picture, but it might be a way of locating something in a chaotically untidy scene, if that something has a definite single colour. Say a pill you dropped onto the floor, or worse, onto a thick pile carpet. You'd just set up the colour of another pill, then shoot the scene and carefully examine the result at sufficient magnification.

There are all kinds of special-effects filters for regular colour shots too, and not just bog-standard Sepia renditions. Not the kind of effects I'd personally use on-camera. I'd prefer to create them on the laptop afterwards using Curves, and applying my own 'artistic' notions, instead of adopting something already worked out for me.

But there is also a soft focus filter. Ah! Now that can be genuinely useful, for softening hard edges, and concealing or disguising blemishes in portraiture. It can easily create an artificial 'dreamy mood', which might be appropriate for certain shots, though it's an effect very easily overused.

There used to be (speaking now of interchangeable lenses for film SLRs) such a thing as soft-focus lenses, in which the softening effect could be controlled, and in professional hands could be made as subtle as desired. My new camera was doing it with software, and I'd get just the one sort of softening on offer. All the same, worth investigation!

Here are the results from my afternoon walks at Waggoners Wells and the Devil's Punch Bowl. First, the unfiltered me, all stark and jagged:

Next, a shot using the on-camera soft-focus filter, in strong sunshine:

Hmm! Quite a pronounced softening effect - but I still look recognisable, even though the many skin blemishes have largely disappeared. I like what it has done for my hair. I particularly like the 'painted' appearance of the trees in the background, which would have been nicely out of focus anyway, with a good bokeh, but now seem somewhat improved. This is a shot to place on a dating website. It flatters in an acceptable way, and is not a complete lie.

But this next shot is a gross lie! This time I was in shade, with the light flat and even:

Oh dear! Who is this elfin creature? If you click on the shot and have a good look at it, you can see it really is me, but as I might have been twenty-five years ago. I was never so pretty, and certainly am not now. It's a thoroughly dishonest picture.

However, although it's too seductively dreamy and flattering to be true, I still like the shot as a 'might have been' kind of picture. And as a quick way of assessing the effect of professionally-applied make-up - which I'm assuming would attempt to create such a look. So if I had bought a fantastic wedding-guest outfit, and was trying it on, and wanted to see how I'd look with my face changed from jagged to smooth, then a soft-focus selfie would give me a useful preview.

This picture is really rather fascinating, isn't it? And perfectly OK, provided you keep a very firm grip on reality and don't start believing that soft-focus is a legitimate technique for all occasions, and that the results are true to life! 

I may however offer to take a picture like this of all my friends, and email them a copy to keep, and take encouragement from. 


  1. Go for it, Coline. Don't eat, pay bills, or even think of holidays. You need this camera!


  2. I certainly do now! my trusty Panasonic version of your trusty Leica has just gone wobbly on me! Sadly we have eaten the camera fund for the next year so I am looking for a long term review of your new one. My fifty plus years old Rolleiflex is with me and seems to be working fine!


This blog is public, and I expect comments from many sources and points of view. They will be welcome if sincere, well-expressed and add something worthwhile to the post. If not, they face removal.

Ideally I want to hear from bloggers, who, like myself, are knowable as real people and can be contacted. Anyone whose identity is questionable or impossible to verify may have their comments removed. Commercially-inspired comments will certainly be deleted - I do not allow free advertising.

Whoever you are, if you wish to make a private comment, rather than a public one, then do consider emailing me - see my Blogger Profile for the address.

Lucy Melford