I have been applying soft focus techniques to my lifestyle images as long as I can remember. Years ago I developed my own filters molded from Plexiglas to achieve the specific results I wanted, and recently I returned to making some of these filters. I also use glass objects -- glasses, vases, prismatic pieces of chandeliers, anything that will diffract the light -- I have picked up at flea markets.
I find that the technique works best with lenses of a full frame focal length of 50-85mm and a wide open aperture. For that reason I use my filters with fast prime lenses. It also works best with top quality optics that have good contrast, since the filters themselves tend to really subdue contrast and detail.
The main reason I make my own filters is that the streaking and blurs are more random than what can be achieved with typical, store-bought softening filters. On top of that, I can create the filters to deliver very specific effects that I like to use.
I make my own filters either my molding plexi squares over heat, or by applying a thickly molded acrylic gel to the surface. By cutting my plexi to the same size as Cokin filters I can also use a Cokin filter adapter to hold them in front of the lens.
|This is a plexi filter I have created to deliver a sun-streak effect. It works best with a strong light source in the background.|
|This effect is simply selective focus achieved by placing the camera close to a foreground desk area and using a wide open f/1.4 aperture on the lens.|
|Sometimes I use one of my filtering techniques to give the impression that I am shooting through a glass panel from an other room.|
|This is my sun-streak filter again combined with a post-processing inclusion of a sunburst placed in the window.|