OnOne Software FocalPoint 2 £63
7th Mar 2012 | 13:32
Recreate depth of field effects to focus your viewers' attention
Depth of field control is an important photographic tool. Using differential focus to keep your subject sharp while blurring the background can give your pictures a real focus.
Traditionally, shallow depth of field is achieved by shooting with a wide lens aperture, for example, or a longer focal length lens.
But it's getting harder to do, because today's smaller sensor sizes have a side-effect - they deliver much greater depth of field than old-fashioned 35mm or medium-format film cameras.
Besides, most of us now use zoom lenses, which usually have a smaller maximum aperture than traditional fixed focal length lenses, making shallow depth of field effects even more difficult to achieve.
You can combine pre-selections in Photoshop with FocalPoint's own defocusing tools to produce more realistic results with tricky subjects where a simple Focus Bug wouldn't work.
OnOne Software FocalPoint 2 is an attempt to recreate these effects digitally rather than optically. It enables you to choose which parts of the picture you want to keep sharp, and which you want to blur.
It offers sophisticated control over the size of the in-focus area, the defocusing effect applied to the rest and even the subtle defocused quality known as bokeh.
FocalPoint offers to simulate classic lenses such as the Canon 85mm f/1.2 used here, reproducing each lens's characteristic bokeh, or defocused blur effect.
Ease of use
OnOne Software FocalPoint 2 is very easy to use. It's based around a Focus Bug, an on-screen gadget that displays the size and position of the area you want to keep sharply focused. It's called a 'bug' because a series of controls radiating outwards gives it an insect-like appearance.
You drag this Focus Bug from the centre to position it, then drag four white control handles to adjust its size.
A further two diagonal control handles at the top ('antennae') are used to adjust an optional vignette effect and to change the degree of background blur and the amount of feathering - how smoothly the sharp and blurred areas are blended.
The standard Focus Bug is elliptical, but you can also create planar Focus Bugs to simulate the depth of field of a receding plane. This is how the popular miniature effect is achieved.
We're conditioned to associate shallow depth of field with close-ups, so that if you shoot a real-life scene from a high angle, looking downwards, it can be made to look like a model.
Once you've created your Focus Bug, you can then simulate the characteristic look of certain lenses, adjust the brightness and creaminess of the highlights and even the shape of the lens aperture and the number of blades - this effect is especially noticeable in out-of-focus highlights, and key properties of that elusive quality of bokeh.
You're not confined to a single Focus Bug. For example, if you're trying to create a convincing depth of field effect in a city scene, where you've got a receding horizontal plane in the road surface and receding vertical planes in the sides of buildings alongside it, you could use additional Focus Bugs to make the effect look more realistic.
You can also create a selection in Photoshop before you start, and OnOne Software FocalPoint 2 will then use that as a mask to keep the selected area sharp.
Finally, there's a freehand Focus Brush for touching up areas that haven't quite worked, where large-scale Focus Bug adjustments would be ineffective or just too time consuming.
The question you're bound to ask, though, is what OnOne Software FocalPoint 2 can do that you couldn't do in Photoshop with the Gaussian Blur or Lens Blur tools and a little creative masking?
Quite a lot, actually. First, it bypasses the whole Photoshop selecting, feathering and blurring processes with a much simpler and more intuitive approach. Second, it does produce a much better 'blur' effect, and for those who set great store by this quality of bokeh, that's going to be a very important point.
It's also much better at blurring around tight selections than Photoshop is. Photoshop will use image detail within the selection to create the blur, creating a soft, ghosted outline around an object even when it's tightly selected. OnOne Software FocalPoint 2 does this much less.
Sometimes, very bright highlights in the selection area will show up as brighter, defocused patches around it, but most of the time it offers a dramatic improvement over any selection/blurring processing you can apply in Photoshop.
After: You can use a planar Focus Bug to replicate the miniature effect that's so popular right now. The real key, though, is shooting the right subject from the right angle.
After: You can use the manual Focus Brush to re-sharpen any areas of the subject that fall outside the Focus Bug range, such as the metal pole this boat is moored to.
After: A single, circular Focus Bug was used here to blur the background but keep our subject's face sharp. It's not as precise as a selection, but quicker and more natural-looking.
After: Many subjects benefit from a combination of defocusing and vignetting. You can match the vignette effect to the Focus Bug, or position it relative to the photo edges.
After: Some subjects need a little help from Photoshop. The Quick Select tool was used to select this statue, then the background blur was added in FocalPoint.
After: Focus Bugs are fairly imprecise and there are areas of this picture that are blurred where they should be sharp, and vice versa. Visually, though, the effect works well.
As we found with Alien Skin Bokeh 2, there's a limit to how realistic any digital defocusing tool can be, since you can't really recreate the complex planes of a 3D scene from a 2D image. But OnOne Software FocalPoint 2 gets pretty close, delivering remarkably convincing results.
OnOne Software FocalPoint 2 has a clear, direct interface, it enables you to see the effects of your adjustments as soon as you start working, and it can deliver striking and convincing defocusing effects.
The Focus Bug looks smart, but it can be fiddly to use if you're trying to make careful adjustments to the size, shape, position and feathering effect.
Although not perfect, perhaps OnOne Software FocalPoint 2's real value lies in the way it opens your eyes to the creative and compositional potential of your photos.