How To Get the Glow Effect Without Losing Detail

Many who try to create a glow effect in their shots will end up with something closer to soft focus. Here's how one photographer gets a dreamy feel to his images, without sacrificing sharpness or important details.

There was a time where you would see soft focus everywhere. It was a fair few decades back now, but for many of us, we grew up seeing professional portraits of relatives on the wall where the image looked like the camera had cataracts. I grew up hating that aesthetic so strongly that I always ran as fast as I could in the opposite direction with my images. However, there is a "look" that isn't uncommon in modern photography and videography that has a dreamy feel to it. The highlights seem to bloom like a video game, but contrast and detail are retained. So, how is this done?

Well, there is more than one way, but the best way I know of happens to also be the way photographer and YouTuber, Vuhlandes, achieves it: a Pro-Mist Filter. The Tiffen Black Pro-Mist 1/4 Filter range is the most common and can be highly effective in creating that look. However, as you can see in even Tiffen's example images, it's far too easy to fall into the soft focus look. As Vuhlandes explains in his video — and he really has mastered the filter in my opinion — you're not looking to wash your image out, but rather achieve a subtler effect.

Do you use a Pro-Mist filter? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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2 Comments

Lee Christiansen's picture

Speaking as an old pro who is old enough to remember when ProMists came out for video work... (Back when Betacam SP was considered the latest thing)...

I tried ProMists like everyone else and they certainly had a unique look. But I never quite fell in love with them. Even when I used the Black ProMists which helped keep the contrasts better. They did of course help the video images of old days which had a somewhat edgier look than we get today. I'm firmly believing that because I used my black/white/warm Promists, that my work stood out differently from the other freelancers - and that's what got me the higher end jobs from at least one client.

But then I tried "Soft FX" made by Tiffen.

Back in those days, Tiffen filters had a horrible green tint throughout the range (even the ProMists), unless you asked for White-Water glass, which was as optically pure as resin. Nowadays it seems everything is nice and optically pure.

Soft FX are essentially lovely flat glass with dents in it. Different grades of Soft FX gave a different number of dents.

The result was a glorious in-focus / sot-focus look that retained detail and contrast but offered localised glows where there were highlights. We loved them so much we'd actually seek out shots with bright areas just to get the effect. Suddenly interviews with windows behind and blown backgrounds, were highly attractive. :)

You had to be careful with camera moves incase the effect was noticeable, but with care it wasn't much of an issue.

I remember shooting a whole video with the heaviest grade I had, and it made focus a challenge at times - but throughout the contrast stayed great and images still felt controlled and detailed. I've always been proud that the particular project didn't have any grading and the DigiBeta rushes were edited as shot. It looked very lush.

I think you can still get Soft FX filters and there's nothing quite like them. (Unofficial advert, I'm selling mine... ha).

I know some prefer to add the effect in post, and certainly it requires a braver heart to commit the effect to the rushes or to the Raw file, but it makes you shoot differently when added physically at the time of capture. Very rewarding.

Jon Winkleman's picture

Good diffusion filters cannot be simulated in Photoshop with features like Gaussian Blur as they scatter some but not all light creating softness while maintaining sharpness. I also have the Tiffen Soft FX, it predecessor the Zeiss Softar and the newer Schneider Black True-Net for an Old Hollywood look. Diffusion filters are good for taming highlights, brining out detail in dark shadows in video and some other technical purposes but each has it’s own signature which also creates a mood and atmosphere. Vuhlandes talks about getting that “heavenly look” other diffusion filters create a warm intimacy, glamour, film noire or vintage. Cinematographers choose filters for mood as much as they do for technical reasons.