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Soft Focus & Kirlian Photography

Updated on March 29, 2015
LuisEGonzalez profile image

I enjoy photography and have been doing so professionally and independently for over 30 years. Hope you enjoy my hubs!

Soft Focus and Kirlian Photography

Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0
Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0 | Source

Soft focus is a technique which oddly enough arose out of a flaw in the earlier photographic lens designs. It works by basically making highlights appear as areas that are out of focus or blurred. This gives the appearance of a soft "halo" around the subject.

Today there are soft focus lenses and filters that can achieve the same result. Soft focus is not to be confused with out of focus. Out of focus affects the entire image, while soft focus just blurs certain areas, mostly around edges, the center portion, or some highlights, depending on how much effect one wants.

Some of the newer soft focus lenses are made by Canon such as the Canon Ef 135mm f/2.8; make sure that if you want a soft focus lens that it says so on the box, instructions etc. A soft focus lens introduces spherical aberration over the entire scene, some manufacturers have defocus control lenses which are not the same as soft focus.

Even if you do not own or want to buy a soft focus lens, the same effect can be approximated by using a photo editing software program such as Photoshop. Filters like the Gaussian Blur closely mimic the effects. Other techniques for recreating a soft focus effect are to spread a thin layer of petroleum jelly over the lens or better yet over a filter placed in front of the lens.

This creates a diffusing barrier that resembles the effects obtained with a soft focus lens. Other techniques involve covering the lens with nylon stockings. The best alternative to a soft focus lens is a soft focus filter, also known as diffuser filters, or softening filter.

Regardless of how one adds the softening effect , the purpose if to artificially create a "softer" image without sharp edges or details. Images taken this way are often referred to as romanticized shots. This technique is widely used to hide minor flaws or imperfections that will show on the image, especially on close ups.

Portrait and glamour photography are heavy users of this technique as minor skin blemishes are "blended" away resulting in much more flattering photographs. The technique can be applied to any subject where small imperfections are present and to also create what seem like "dream" images. Hollywood has been using this technique since the 1930s in promotional still photographs as well as in the actual movie reel footage.

This technique is equally functional in color, digital and black & white film, but some professionals work exclusively with and prefer black & white due to the perceived "romantic" atmosphere which the format evokes.

There is a wide market for this style in the portraiture field, wedding photography, glamour and fashion photography but here is mostly aimed towards the makeup industry. Greeting card manufacturers are also heavy consumers of this technique.

By C4r0 (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By C4r0 (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Another seldom heard photographic technique or rather category is the Kirlian technique, better known as Kirlian Photography. Kirlian photography is the name given to the technique of capturing images of objects placed directly onto film and through which an electrical current is passed. Discovered by Semyon Kirlian when by accident found that any object placed onto a photographic plate would create an image once this plate was subjected to an electrical charge.

The images produced this way have been classified, probably for a lack of a better term, as auras. The simplest way of obtaining a Kirlian image is to place a subject directly onto a film strip (large format) which is in contact with an electrical conducive material, once the electrical charge is given, the image and principally, its outline, will be captured onto the film.

Please note that to do this technique no camera, or lens is required. Just film, a subject and a dark room or a dark holding container (sort of a miniature photo booth). The best subjects to use with Kirlian photography are living subjects; plants more specifically. Do not use live animals. Subjecting live animals to a live electrical charge is not only cruel but illegal.

Inanimate objects can also be used, coins and other metals work well, and their aura effect is much more pronounced. People can be photographed this way too, but a specialized controlled low-voltage current and other precautions have to be taken with the photographs mostly limited to appendages with the fingertips being the most common.

Such human applications are currently used in various hospitals around the world for the detection of stress and for artistic purposes.

The principal market for this technique is limited to collectors, art galleries, photography publications, and in some cases sports centers, hospitals, and research organizations.

It is worth mentioning that paranormal research has claimed that this medium can be useful in the detection of paranormal activities, such as revealing the presence of ghosts, due to the perceived claim that residual energy from these entities remains long after the physical presence or the entity is no longer present.

But not to be confused with a heat signature that can only be revealed using IR gear and it is a factual physically phenomena.

© 2011 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      @Patti Inglish,MS

      Thank you, I had not done Kirlian since my college days but started again recently and found that I enjoy it as much as I did back then.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 6 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      It's been a long time since I heard of Kirialian photography, so this caught my eye. Rated Up and awesome.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Stessily; I truly appreciate your comments, again thank you.

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      stessily 6 years ago

      LuisEGonzalez: Thank you for sharing your expertise; your presentation is clear and understandable. The section on Kirlian photography was especially interesting; your explanation is one of the best I've ever read. And I appeciated the inclusion of the soft focus photo of British actor Leslie Howard --- he is one of my all-time favorite actors, and it was a tragedy that his life ended too soon, albeit in the service of his country. Congratulations and best wishes for your proposed book!


    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Everything is still pending, the lawyer is going over the forms, but it looks promising. I'll keep you posted.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      That's awesome about the book, congrats!

    • profile image

      Lynn S. Murphy 6 years ago

      Congrats Luis. I will be waiting for your book. Two awesome techniques. Soft focus hides a lot of sins. LOL!!! But the Kirlian - very interestng and artistic.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Cogerson: It's funny that you mention that, I received two emails from a publisher about three weeks ago in which they want me to submit drafts of the material. I am waiting for the non-disclosure agreement & contract from them first and will decide afterward, however is quite trilling.

    • Cogerson profile image

      Cogerson 6 years ago from Virginia

      Great advice as always on soft focus....I imagine you will have enough photo advice to get a book published....great hub and voted up and useful