Most of the time I try to make my photos as sharp as possible, and I go to considerable pains to be sure they are sharp. Occasionally, though, I like to soften an image in Photoshop just to give it a gentler, more romantic look.
If you’re selling your images, you might try creating both sharp and soft versions of some images, since certain types of publishers (e.g., calendars, greeting cards) often have a use for softer images. Soft images also look nice on self-produced cards, scrapbook images, etc.
Softening Images with Gaussian Blur
If you’re editing in Photoshop, the simplest way to soften an image is to use the Gaussian Blur filter (although I’m sure that other programs also offer similar softening filters). Using Gaussian Blur is very simple: you just apply it to the image and adjust the degree of softness that you want. But there is a more sophisticated way to control the balance between sharpness and blur:
1. Call up the original image and do all of your color and exposure corrections.
2. Using “Command J” (Mac; Option J in Windows), duplicate that layer.
3. Go to the filters menu and apply the Gaussian Blur to the duplicate layer.
4. Go to the “Opacity” slider (top right of the layers panel) and adjust the opacity of the blur layer until you get just the degree of softness you’re after. The opacity slider lets you reveal the original image and blend it with the soft image according to the degree of opacity you’re using. At 100 percent opacity, none of the original sharp image is showing through. At 50 percent opacity, the image is an even mix of soft and sharp files.
5. Optionally, experiment with some of the “Layer Blending Modes” (top left of the layers panel) and see if a different blending mode produces an effect you like more.
6. Save the file with layers open in case you want to play with the image again later; then, using a different file name, save a flattened version.
The use of a duplicate layer allows you to bring up some of the sharpness from the original image layer and have much more control over the degree of blur in the final image. In fact, I often use duplicate layers for adjustments so that I can blend them more precisely with original image.