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Lesson 10: Fun With Filters

Adobe Photoshop 6 Basics

Looking Sharp

This final lesson will hopefully whet your appetite for one of the most exciting aspects of Photoshop: filters. Photoshop has filters to correct photographic errors, filters to beautify your photos, filters to jazz them up, filters that can make your images bizarre, and others that will make them downright unrecognizable. Unfortunately, we won't have the time to run the whole gamut of them: we'd need at least three lessons to talk about them all! But we'll start the ball rolling by taking a look at the group that makes its living making your photos look good.

Sharpen Filters

If I had a buck for every out-of-focus photograph I've taken . . . well, it happens to us all. Although there's not much you can do with a photo that's completely out of focus, the Sharpen filterscan do a lot to rectify one that's a little off. Figure 10-1 shows the Sharpen Filter group.

Figure 10-1: The Filter menu with the Sharpen group visible.

Figure 10-1: The Filter menu with the Sharpen group visible. The function of the Sharpen tools is to look for any part of an image where there is a noticeable difference in color between adjacent pixels. When differences in color are found, the Sharpen tools accentuate those differences by making the light colors lighter and the dark ones darker.

The group includes filters to Sharpen, Sharpen More, Sharpen Edges, or Unsharpen Mask. Each works a little differently to adjust your image.

Let's take a photo or scanned image you have that could use a little more clarity and apply either the Sharpen or Sharpen More filter. The important thing to remember is that this filter is a good one to use as long as you don't increase the image size too much. Try it with your image and zoom in to look the changes. You'll really be able to see the changes in pixels. It's also worth remembering that using Sharpen More (or overusing Sharpen) will bring to the fore (or front) any blemishes or imperfections in the image. Use with caution and don't forget about using Undo as needed!

Sharpen More

If you apply the Sharp filter twice, it has the same effect as if you used Sharpen More once. The advantage is that working incrementally, you have more control over your work, and you can work backwards if you've overused the filter.

Sharpen Edges

Unlike the previous two filters (Sharpen and Sharpen More), Sharpen Edges only searches for anything that looks like an edge and beefs up the contrast between the two colors along that edge. This filter is a subtle, but useful, one that can help you increase definition between objects and surfaces in your image that lack clarity.

Unsharp Mask

When you learn what Unsharp Mask does, you'll be wondering why we told you about the last three! Unsharp Mask accentuates the difference at edges where you choose to work, giving you precise control over the changes in your image. Figure 10-2 shows the Unsharp Mask dialog box. Let's review the options:

Figure 10-2: The Unsharp Mask dialog box.

Unsharp Mask comes with a dialog box that lets you determine the following:

  • Amount allows you to specify to what extent the edge of the image will be affected by the filter. For example, 10% would show a slight increase in the edges, whereas 90% would show a significant one.
  • Radius determines the pixel range that will have its colors increased in contrast. When changing this value, start with a low amount, say 1.5 to 2 pixels, and work up.
  • Threshold determines how different in color the pixels on either side of an edge have to be before they're sharpened. The lower the setting, the more alike the pixels have to be, and vice versa.

Unsharp Mask is very useful for getting rid of that pesky blurriness from less-than-stellar originals or scanned photos. It's also a godsend when you've transformed an image in some way by resizing, rotating, skewing, or any other resampling (explained in the sidebar) that usually ends up softening the image. Simply perform whatever transformations you need to make and then run Unsharp Mask as your last step. Let's look at Figures 10-3, 10-4, and 10-5 to see the difference the Unsharp Mask filter can make to an image.

Figure 10-3: This is the original scan.

Figure 10-4: This is the same image after Unsharp Mask has been run at its default settings: 50, 1, 0.

Figure 10-5: Now look at the same image with these settings: 500, 50, 50. Can you see how you can use a correction tool like this one with cool artistic effects?

Just remember that it's better to run Unsharp Mask more than once with low settings than once at a higher setting. The results will be smoother and more uniform. Also, run it after you've finished editing your image, not during, as Unsharp Mask contains effects that will be magnified by other editing tools.

It's All a Blur

Some of you are probably wondering why you'd want to blur an image since you spend so much time taking the blur out! Well, you'll be surprised just how the Blur filter can bring a little something to your work.

Blur and Blur More

Like the Sharpen and Sharpen More filters, the Blur and Blur More filters work quietly to take away minor imperfections in your photos. But while the Sharpen group works to enhance differences between elements in your image, the Blur group works to soften and smooth out harsh lights or contrasts, or to take away part or complete unwanted objects from focus. Try to take any of your photos and apply the Blur filter to it. Can you see a difference? You'll probably have to look closely. Now try Blur More. See any difference now? Now you see what we mean by working quietly.

Gaussian Blur

The Gaussian Blur filter is most useful when trying to remove unwanted focus from objects in the background. It can also be used to make the edges of objects softer (anti-aliased). Figure 10-6 shows the Gaussian Blur dialog box. The higher pixel amount you choose when you use this filter, the greater the blur on the image.

Figure 10-6: The Gaussian Blur dialog box: the higher the pixel amount, the greater the blur.

Changing the pixel amount increases or decreases the radius where the blur is applied. The scale for this filter runs from 1 to 255. Most of your work will be done at the really low end of that scale between 1 and 3 or 4 pixels. Usually you'll want to blur just enough to create a distinction between two or more objects. Anything higher than that pretty much turns your image into a mess. Let's compare the images in Figures 10-7 and 10-8. See the difference between them? We would like to concentrate on the foreground image, which is lost in the background. In Figure 10-8, after using the Gaussian Blur filter, the part of the image we want is more in view.

Figure 10-7: We really want to concentrate on the foreground image here, but the background takes away from the image.

Figure 10-8: After applying Gaussian Blur, we see what we really want.

Smart Blur

Like Unsharp Mask in the Sharpen category, the Smart Blur filter is the undisputed king of all blurs. It basically blurs all parts of the image except the edges. It can make your mother look as young as she'd like to be (worth the price of the software itself!). It'll also work wonders on taking spots off fruit. The Smart Blur dialog box, shown in Figure 10-9, is basically set up the same as the Unsharpen Mark dialog box was.

Figure 10-9: The Smart Blur dialog box. Go back and take a look at Unsharp Mask if you don't remember what these terms refer to.

Now take a look the next two images of the author himself. Figure 10-10 is the original digital snapshot, and in Figure 10-11, I've applied Smart Blur to take me back to my salad days!

Figure 10-10: Another Before and After set.

Figure 10-11: Even the author looks younger!

Smart Blur offers you three modes primarily to preview your current radius and threshold settings. You should use Edge Only and Edge Overlay to tinker with your setting and then shift back to Normal mode once you're done.

  • Normal: shows you the effects of Smart Blur in the preview window.
  • Edge Only: shows you the edges where Smart Blur is active.
  • Edge Overlay: shows you the image's outlines as black lines overlaying the actual image.

That's All for Now, Folks!

In the dark years before Photoshop, bad photos were, well, just bad photos. Now, thanks to the filter family, flaws can be mere speed bumps on the road to quality artwork. Whether you need to restore focus to a bad photo or scan by sharpening, or create focus for a foreground object by blurring the background using the blur group, Photoshop most definitely has the tool you'll need.

We've covered a lot of ground during this course, learning all about the workspace and how to manipulate it. We have met the vast array of tools Photoshop puts at your disposal and have covered how to implement these tools in your photographic endeavors. We've also looked at ways of altering the appearance of your images, either to fix problems or to create eye-catching visual effects.

Right now you should have a solid understanding of the way Photoshop operates and be able to work on your own to build your knowledge of the program. Have I missed stuff and left things out? Absolutely. Even at its basic level, Photoshop is an often complex and expansive tool which requires a lot of time and effort to master. And although I couldn't hope to cover everything Photoshop has to offer, we certainly do hope to have given you a solid foundation on which you can build your own digital experience.

Now, since all good things must come to an end, don't forget to check in with the message board and post any last-minute questions, or just bid a fond farewell to your fellow students who've accompanied you on you travels.

Your instructor will also have some last-minute words of advice and wisdom, so keep an eye out for them. There's a farewell quiz and assignment to keep you on your toes. Enjoy them -- they're your last ones!

What's next? First, just keep on working on your own images. That's the best way to learn: trial and error (followed, hopefully, by success!). And then there's an Advanced Photoshop course just around the corner that should really complete your Photoshop education. Keep an eye open.

Advanced Lesson: Advanced Adobe Photoshop Applications Lesson 1

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