The Softar Debacle
OK. I’m talking about myself here. I shot all these Softar images. So don’t get upset and think I’m talking about anyone else and their images. This is an opinion piece on filters to NEVER use. Your mileage may vary.
I at times just go to the extreme for no reason other than I think I will surprise myself with some life changing revelation. It rarely pans out, so I don’t know why I do these things. Now it’s years later and I still wince. But it was a lesson learned when I was still quite young. And if you’re going to mess up, it might as well be when you’re young. Youth forgives all. Or most.
I guess I should start at the beginning. This was the late 90’s, so the film vs digital debate was not yet even a twinkle in anybody’s eye. Unless you count the 1 MP Kodak monstrosities. You lit an image, composed an image, shot an image, and sent it to be developed. Or developed it yourself. Viola! I’m not against all filters. Red and Yellow filters when shooting black and white are very useful. Polarizers can be quite useful when windows, water or sky are a significant part of an image. Even Skylight and UV filters can improve an image, (or just protect a lens), and make the darkroom experience quite enjoyable. So, I don’t have a blanket disdain for filters. It was 1998, and I had to do a look book for a designer. Well, I have a great idea. I’ll use a Number 2 Softar Filter, and the models skin will be really smooth. The images will exude an ephemeral glow. Everyone will think I’m a genius! Not. Sadly, I think too much. Secondly, I should have tested it first.
Bayonet IV Mount
This was not a regular, cheapo filter. The lens was a Zeiss lens on a Rollei 6008. Which means it took a Bay IV mount filter. Only Hasselblad, Heliopan and B&W made them in that mount, as far as I could tell at the time. I went for the Heliopan. I don’t remember the exact price, but it was over $100.
The designer showed up with the clothes. He was Argentinian. Then the model. She was friends with the designer, and quite a famous model. Doing a favor for a fellow Argentinian. So my first surprise was she needed no Softar. Period. Her skin was like cream. But what the heck. I bought the filter so I might as well use it. Right? Wrong.
Let me tell you something about any Softar filter. You can always soften an image in the darkroom or with software. You can NOT undo softening an image. When I got the images back from the lab, I was horrified. Were they beautiful? I guess. Did the designer love them? Yes, he did. (luckily) But they were too “soft”. And I was powerless to fix them. And you will be too. Quite frankly, I was embarrassed with the images despite the client’s satisfaction. If I don’t like them,…they’re no good. That’s my criteria.
If I was developing a style as an art photographer, maybe I could find a use for a softar. But I would have to commit to that ‘style’ forever! My simple advice is,… don’t use Softar filters,… ever. But,….IF YOU MUST,….try the Photoshop tutorial below instead. Leave the filter alone.