Photoshop Filters

Adobe's Photoshop is one of the most amazing pieces of software ever written, and I aspire to learn at least one percent of its functionality.

I've gotten pretty good at being able to touch up a photo to remove unwanted items, as with this photo shown at the end of my previous post (mouseover the phrase “the original” below the photo to see the original version).

The real roadblock with me and Photoshop is that even though I might learn the mechanical functionality, much of that functionality requires artistic skills to put them to good use — skills that I've never had in me. Consider, for example, one of the simplest image-transformation features in Photoshop: the filter.

A Photoshop filter is one which does a certain kind of process to the image, usually making the image look as if it had been created via a specific artistic method (e.g. with colored pencils, watercolors, stained glass, charcoal, etc.). Below is a small crop from this picture — mouseover the buttons below it to view it with various filters applied:

Original   -   Water paper   -   Sponge   -   Rough pastels

mouseover a button to see that filter

The results aren't particularly pleasing when zoomed up full size like that, but if you look at the uncropped picture reduced in size to fit a screen (as with a desktop background), the effects are much more pleasing. Here are links to the full images: Water paper, Sponge, and Rough pastels. (Try the large or massive links on each page.)

Anyway, continuing with filters, the first problem I face is shear numbers: my version of Photoshop has over 100 different filter types: neon glow, smudge stick, plastic wrap, spatter, ocean ripple, chrome, bas relief, mosaic tiles, despeckle, speckle, blur, sharpen, twirl, etc. etc. etc. Half of the problem is just remembering the name of a filter whose effects I like.

As I was composing this post, I thought that gee, there really should be a book about these filters. A split second later I realized that there must already be such a book, and a quick check shows that coincidentally, my publisher just published Photoshop Filter Effects Encyclopedia. I'll surely get a copy.

In any case, the 100+ filter count is only the beginning of the problem. Each filter has various parameters which you can vary (sometimes two or three parameters, but sometimes many more). Some parameters are intuitive, such as “size of mosaic tiles” on the mosaic filter, but many seem opaque to me.

Consider the “Distort / Glass” filter, which has three parameters: distortion, smoothness, and texture (which itself has two sub-parameters and an “invert” checkbox). Here is a smaller crop from the same picture as above, and three applications of the glass filter:

original photo, before Photoshop filters
original: duck sitting on a rock
photo after one type of 'Distort, Glass' filter
distortion=1, smoothness=1,
texture=frosted glass, scale=100%
photo after a different type of 'Distort, Glass' filter
distortion=5, smoothness=3,
texture=frosted glass, scale=100%
photo after a third type of 'Distort, Glass' filter
distortion=4, smoothness=6,
texture=tiny lenses, scale=110%

They're all quite different; I don't see much rhyme nor reason why the parameters act as they do.
And these examples only scratch the surface of this filter.
And there are 100+ filters.
And filters can be combined any number of times, in any number of ways.
And filters are only the smallest fraction (and one of the most simple fractions) of what Photoshop offers.

In playing around with filters, I also made some nice desktop-quality artistic impressions of the following (the location is described in my previous post):

View from a bridge over a lake in the southern part of the old imperial palace, Kyoto, Japan

If you're interested, follow the links on this page to see them.

I'm in awe of anyone who really knows Photoshop well. Arthur Clark's observation certainly still stands:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

All 4 comments so far, oldest first...

Ah yes, Photoshop is a really cool tool for retouching and overhauling. A lot of the work on my pictures taken from the 1996 trip to Japan were sharpened and slightly retouched using Photoshop, and a really excellent book called the Photoshop WOW book helped out a lot. Highly recommended, but not for beginer. On the linux side (where most of my time is spent these days) I’ve been using the GIMP, which tries to be as good as Photoshop – doesn’t do too bad of a job either.

— comment by William on November 28th, 2005 at 11:48am JST (18 years, 8 months ago) comment permalink

it’s kinda funny to see someone just dicovering photoshop 🙂

— comment by Claytonain on November 28th, 2005 at 5:01pm JST (18 years, 8 months ago) comment permalink

Well, there are lots of apps out there covering the wide range of human interests, and this is just one that I happen to be just getting into now. But anyway, really, is there anyone who uses Photoshop who isn’t continually discovering it? (That is, is there anyone who truly knows it all? I doubt it! 🙂 )

— comment by Jeffrey Friedl on November 28th, 2005 at 6:56pm JST (18 years, 8 months ago) comment permalink

true, you can spend years exploring it

— comment by Claytonain on November 28th, 2005 at 8:59pm JST (18 years, 8 months ago) comment permalink
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