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My three TIFFEN filters stacked fur the Leica 50mm Summilux-M f/1.4. Sharp lens, soft filters is the secret sauce. © Thorsten von Overgaard.
   
 
   

Thorsten Overgaard's Optical Special Effects - Page 1

By: Thorsten Overgaard. January 23, 2020

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TIFFEN Diffusion Filters

In my hunt for imperfect optical lenses (often referred to as rock'n'roll lenses), I’ve found this easy and inexpensive way to make special photographs. Diffusion filters is an exercise in time travel back to the 1980's and the 1920's when the great masters used soft filters and Vaseline to soften the image.

Today I'll tell how to use diffusion filters to make photographs like this one.

 

No filter:   Diffusion filters:
 
50mm Summilux ASPH f/1.4 at f/2.8   50mm Summilux ASPH f/1.4 at f/1.4 with TIFFEN filters

 

I've worked with the Leica Thambar 90mm f/2.2 lens ($7,195.00) to get that soft dreamy portrait look, but I was never entirely satisfied with it. After all - that is my conclusion at least - the Thambar was made for a 1920's standard of film cameras and tends to not fulfill the detailed scrutiny of digital sensors.

 

Using the Leica 90mm Thambar-M f/2.2.
Using the Leica 90mm Thambar-M f/2.2.

 

Diffusion filters in history

One of my personal favorites in use of diffusion filters is the Thriller cover made by Dick Zimmerman, using a Hasselblad 6x6 camera with diffusion filter (clear glass with white dots). What I like about it is that you don't notice the effect even it is clearly there. Special effects should support the story, not be the story.



Hasselblad with diffusion filter (clear glass filter with white dots). The reflection behind MJ is from a plexiglass screen. Dick Zimmerman.

 

Dick Zimmerman was the celebrity portrait photographer of the 1980's, taking over from the famed George Hurrell who used large format cameras with a little bit, or a lot of Vaseline applied to the front of the lens for glow. Both Dick Zimmerman and George Hurrell also mastered the light to capture both details and glow.

 


George Hurrell (1904-1992) large format camera with Vaseline on the lens

 

TIFFEN filters

I've used the TIFFEN filters for a few assignments in the past where I worked in darkness and with just a few candle lights as a light source (inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s famous candlelit scene in Barry Lyndon").

The use of effect filters becomes more visible in moving pictures than in stills. Stanley Kubrick didn't really use any diffusion filters, but used the extremely lightstrong Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f/0.7 lenses originally made for NASA, which in themselves have soft diffusion.

 

 

Soft lenses and diffusion filters seem to glow and come alive with backlight and relatively strong light sources. A candle light is not a strong light source in itself, but when used in a dark room, it becomes a relatively strong light source that will glow. The ideal setup of the aforementioned Thamber 90mm lens is to have strong backlight from an angle behind the subject; and soft light on the face.

However, the problem with soft lenses of the past without coating to suppress internal reflections is that the light shining straight into the lens tends to create an overflow inside the lens. So you need sufficient light on the face to capture the texture of the skin and the life in the eyes, and at the same time strong enough light from behind to create edge-light, as well as an overall glow of the photograph. On the edge of overflow, so to say.

 

Actor Jason Dohring caught in a dark room lit by only candle lights. TIFFEN Pro Mist 1 filter on Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4. © Thorsten Overgaard.
Actor Jason Dohring caught in a dark room lit by only candle lights. TIFFEN Pro Mist 1 filter on Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4. © Thorsten Overgaard.

 

Controlling soft filters

Getting it just right with diffusion filters is a bit of a trick. You want to maintain details, but you also want the diffused, soft glow. In many cases, the softness takes over.

However, here are a few tricks. Apart from the fact that the TIFFEN filters cost very little compared to buying a lens, you can stack them. You can also hold them at an angle with a hand in front of the lens, so as to create a diffusion as you wish. Many movies use fishnet or lace on the back of the lens, or in front of it to create diffusion and flare, but that’s another story for another day.

 

The point of this story is sharp lens, soft filters

A modern sharp and detailed lens such as the Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 will usually create a crisp and clear image, high contrast and many lively micro details.

When you apply a filter in front of it, you soften the glow, but the details remain to a large degree. This is a remarkably beautiful solution in comparison to an entirely soft lens that only offers softness but loses the details of skin texture and hair.

 

Stacking filters

The diffusion filters from American filter producer TIFFEN are mainly made for cinema where they add haze, diffusion, glow and softness to the moving image.

When you do still photography, you tend to need more effect to be able to see and appreciate it in a still photo that is just a single frame, and usually seen in a much smaller format than the format of a cinema screen.

Here's my 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 stacked with three TIFFEN filters. As you can see, cleaning the filters and lens is the least of your concerns. They just look like you just pulled them out from a drawer after 50 years.
Here's my 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 stacked with three TIFFEN filters. As you can see, cleaning the filters and lens is the least of your concerns. They just look like you just pulled them out from a drawer after 50 years.

 

         
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Adding more glow and detail to a soft image

Besides using a sharp lens with soft filters, I also sometimes use Photoshop to enhance the perception of details and glow.

How so?

Simply by making certain details such as the eyes and the lips more contrasted. You use Photoshop for that. First you paint the Highlights with the Dodge Tool (set to 5% or 10%), then you paint the Shadows with the Burn Tool (set to 5% or 10%).

 

Singer Nikki Lorenzo. Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 with three TIFFEN filters stacked. © Thorsten Overgaard.
Singer Nikki Lorenzo. Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 with three TIFFEN filters stacked. © Thorsten Overgaard.

 


I stacked BLACK PEARLESCENT 1, PEARLESCENT 1 and PRO-MIST 1 for my photo of Nikki. For no particular reason other than that I had these filters. I would have used three of the same, but I just didn't have three of the same. So I took what I had to produce an extremely soft image with good micro details (thanks to the lens' optic). See the TIFFEN homepage for all the possible types of filter.

 

I'll Dodge the reflections in the eye first, then the white in the eye a bit less (I don't like overly white eyeballs, as this looks unnatural), and then I will Dodge stripes in the hair, the highlight in the lips, highlighted edges on textiles, and often jewelry. All that shines gets to shine more. Often I apply a larger Dodge tool to a V-shape of the face as the last step.

Then I apply the Burn tool to the eye line, the eyebrows, the darker ring around the eye pupil, the shadow under the nose, the lips, and often the edge of the chin if it makes sense. Then with a larger Burn tool, I'll burn the shadows in the hair, the opposite V-shape of the face (the V-shape is lightened with the Dodge tool), the lower sides of the face are burned with the Burn tool to make the face stand out and look slimmer). Then I apply the Burn tool to any shadow areas on the clothing and the background that I want to make darker.

Ideally, as you work with it, the image doesn’t look overdone. In fact, it should feel as if your editing had no effect. If you had made a Duplicate Layer in Photoshop before you started, you can now see the difference you’ve made. It made a big difference, but it still looks natural. That's my ideal.

 

Original photo:   Enhanced with Dodge and Burn in Photoshop:
 
50mm Summilux ASPH f/1.4 with three TIFFEN filters   50mm Summilux ASPH f/1.4 with three TIFFEN filters

 

Same scene without filters:   Same scene with filters:
 
50mm Summilux ASPH f/1.4   50mm Summilux ASPH f/1.4 with three TIFFEN filters

 

Making a photograph glow step-by-step

You can add that glow to any photograph by "painting with light" on it, but in the case of the soft filter, it enhances the sharpness details of the photograph even more, while you maintain the soft glow of the overall photograph. I’ll be releasing a small booklet shortly with how to “paint with light” in Photoshop, step-by-step. Email am@overgaard.dk to be kept in the know about when this title will be ready.

 

To be continued ...

I hope you enjoyed this. More to come. Sign up for my free newsletter here to stay in the know on new articles about lenses, photography and cameras.

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Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.2   Leica CM 35mm film camera
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Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f//1.4   Leica 19mm Elmarit-R f/2.8
Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 "rigid" Series II   Leica 35mm Elmarit-R f/2.8
Leica 50mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0   Leica 50mm Summicron-R f/2.0
Leica 50mm Elmar-M f/2.8 collapsible   Leica 60mm Macro-Elmarit f/2.8
Leica 75mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/1.25   Leica 80mm Summilux-R f/1.4
7artisans 75mm f/1.25   Leica 90mm Summicron-R f/2.0
Leica 75mm Summilux-M f/1.4   Leica 180mm R lenses
Leica 90mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.5   Leica 250mm Telyt-R f/4.0
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Above: My three TIFFEN filters stacked fur the Leica 50mm Summilux-M f/1.4. Sharp lens, soft filters is the secret sauce. © Thorsten von Overgaard.  

 

 

 

 

 


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Thorsten Overgaard
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish-American multiple award-winning photographer, known for his writings about photography and Leica cameras. He travels to more than 25 countries a year, photographing and teaching workshops to photographers. Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via email.

You can follow Thorsten Overgaard at his television channel magicoflight.tv.

Feel free to email to thorsten@overgaard.dk for questions, advice and ideas.

 

 

 




 

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Thorsten Overgaard photo workshops and masterclasses for Leica photographers and digital photographers

     
     

Join a Thorsten Overgaard
Photography Workshop

I am in constant orbit teaching
Leica and photography workshops.

Most people prefer to explore a
new place when doing my workshop.
30% of my students are women.
35% of my students dotwo or more workshops.
95% are Leica users.
Age range is from 15 to 87 years
with the majority in the 30-55 range.
Skill level ranges from two weeks
to a lifetime of experience.
97% use a digital camera.
100% of my workshop graduates photograph more after a workshop.

I would love to see you in one!
Click to see the calendar.

     
St. Louis   Chicago

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Thorsten Overgaard photo workshops and masterclasses for Leica photographers and digital photographers



 


 

 


 

 

     
Buy eBooks by
Thorsten Overgaard
     
"A Little Book on Photography"   "A Little Book on Photography"
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"The Leica Q Know-All eBook"  
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"Finding the Magic of Light"   "Composition in Photography - The Photographer as Storyteller"
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"The Freedom of Photographic Expression"   "The Moment of Emptional Impact"
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The Portrait Book
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Preorder: The Noctilux Masterclass
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Extension Courses
     
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Lightroom
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Video Classes
     

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This is Street Photography

  Street Photo
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Leica Q2
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"Leica TL2 Quick-Start Video Course"
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"Leica M10 Video Masterclass"   "Leica M 240 Video Masterclass"
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Lightroom Dutch Painters Presets by Thorsten Overgaard   Leica Presets for Lightroom by Thorsten Overgaard
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"Hollywood Film Presets"
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Hemingway Presets for Lightroom by Thorsten Overgaard
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201 Lightroom Presets
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Capture One Styles:
     
"Capture One Pro Survival Kit"
Capture One
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  Leica Styles for Capture One by Thorsten Overgaard
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17 Capture One Styles
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