August 22, 2011

Photoshop CS4’s Filter Gallery & Smart Filters

Original article appeared on the IPA website in 2008…

I decided to take on the Photoshop CS4 Filter Gallery and Smart Filters for this article and because later versions of Photoshop still have this feature. Many or us often wonder if the latest upgrade on our favorite software is worth the the upgrade costs and if we can really benefit from that upgrade. I for one, will usually skip a generation or two on my upgrades, since I only use a small fraction of the many features in some of the programs I use day to day. Since I use Photoshop mostly for production of our web site images, I don’t need all the features packed in it for the true working photographer who must produce glorious prints for their clients. So after we received the new Creative Suite CS4 for the Web from Adobe to review, I had the opportunity to get into Photoshop a bit more and find out some of the hidden treasures in this latest version. Now of course we have Photoshop V5.5, but it still contains their Filter Gallery with some upgrades and new filters. This article will help you understand how these work in any of the later versions too.

When I upgraded from my Photoshop CS2 to CS4 I noticed a new filter set called “Filter Gallery” in my filter menu. Adobe’s Filter Gallery provides a preview of many of the special effects filters. You can apply multiple filters, turn on or off the effect of a filter, reset options for a filter, and change the order in which filters are applied. When you are satisfied with the preview, you can then apply it to your image. Not all filters in the Filter menu are available in the Filter Gallery, but I am sure there was a reason to exclude some in the Filter Gallery and leave it in the pull down options. Maybe there was some popularity vote on which filters would be used most often.

I discovered this was a new and more user friendly menu for some of the filters we have grown to know and love in previous versions and was actually added to PS CS3, but refined even more in CS4. The new “Filter Gallery” contains Artistic, Brush Strokes, Distort, Sketch, Stylize and Texture but is now much easier to use and control using the new menu and Smart Filters.

They have shifted things around a bit so when you look at Stylize in the Filter Gallery, it only shows one effect, but if you use the Stylize pull down menu it shows a few more. Not to worry, some of those others have been sorted a bit differently in the Filter Gallery and can be found under other headings. I didn’t find Solarize in the Filter Gallery however, and it is available in the pull down menu, One other tip, all the available filters in the Filter Gallery can be selected from the convenient Pull Down Menu in the Filter Gallery screen, so you can select the filter you want either alphabetically in the pull down menu or the tab menus with the illustrations. If that filter is available in the Filter Gallery too, it will actually open up the Filter Gallery to that effect. This way you can take advantage of the extra features in using the Filter Gallery with that filter.

Now, this article would not be as interesting if we couldn’t tell you about using Smart Objects and Smart Filters. Smart Objects are simply layers that contain image data from a raster or vector image, such as Photoshop or Illustrator files. The Smart Objects preserve an image’s source content with all its original characteristics, enabling you to perform nondestructive editing to the layer. Now in order to create a Smart Filter, you simply go to your Layers palette and select “Convert to Smart Objects”. Once you apply a filter to your Smart Objects layer, you will see it now show up on your layers palette as a Smart Filter which you can adjust, reorder, or delete it if you like…very cool.

Another great feature using Smart Filters is the ability to Mask the Smart Filter area. When you look at your layers palette you will not only see the Smart Filter, but also an empty (white) Filter Mask thumbnail. If you made a selection before applying the Smart Filter, Photoshop displays the appropriate mask instead of an empty mask on the Smart Filters line in the Layers panel.

If you don’t want to apply the filter to the entire image area simply click on the mask and as you would with any PS mask, you can then paint the mask. Areas painted in black are hidden; areas you paint in white are visible; and areas you paint in shades of gray appear in various levels of transparency. You can also use the controls in the Masks panel to change the filter mask density, add feathering to the edges of the mask, or invert the mask. As you apply your mask changes, you can watch the effects in real time on your screen, so it makes it so easy to be creative.

Filter effects are applied in the order you select them and you can of course select more then one filter and apply them all to your final image. You can rearrange filters after you apply them by dragging a filter name to another position in the list of applied filters. I tried this and found that rearranging filter effects can dramatically change the way your image looks.

Using the standard Water Color Filter Adjustment

I was also able to double click on the arrows icon on the filter in my layers window and open up to my Blending Options for that filter layer, select which option I wanted to use and even adjust the opacity of that option. I decided to play with the many other Click the eye icon next to a filter to hide the effect in the preview image. You can also delete applied filters by selecting the filter and clicking the Delete Layer icon.

Now the purpose of this article is not to give you a full tutorial on the Filter Gallery and Smart Objects and Smart Filters and Masks, but to rather excite you and if you haven’t already upgraded to Photoshop CS4 to do so now and learn to use these and other great new features. You can find lots of useful information about using PS CS4 at the Adobe website.

Over the years, I really haven’t used filters much for the work I was doing. I found that using the PS pull down menu’s a bit bothersome going back and forth from the pull down menu to apply a filter, see the results and then removing the ones I didn’t like to try another. With the addition of Smart Objects and Smart Filters and the new Filter Gallery interface, I found it easy to use, it excited me when I saw some of the results of their use on my images, and gave me a good reason to revisit these filters one more time.

Since I have reviewed many Photoshop filters for IPA from companies like Alien Skin, Auto FX and others, I was a bit apprehensive when I first began to use the new/old Filter Gallery in PS. Not knowing what to expect and thinking it would simply be another way of using the old filters that I never used in past versions of PS, I wondered if it would be worth writing about. Well, to my surprise it was worth writing about and I found the new, user friendly interface, made using the filters easy. Using their Smart Filters enabled me to apply filters to portions of my images or on various layers or even to individual channels and masks, and this made there use a whole new game. The samples you see in this article were done using the default settings for most of them. I am sure if I wanted to spend more time, I could have had a lot more fun, but too many articles to write for now.


Samples Before & After Filter Effects

Click Images to see larger view.


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About the Author

Len Rapoport
Len Rapoport
IPA Editor-In-Chief, ID: 1000 • I am an internationally published photographer and the founder of International Press Association. As president and editor-in-chief, my duties at IPA are extensive. For over 40 years I have written articles, had my photos published in millions of publications, record album covers, books, and in the digital media. I was senior marketing and sales executive for major corporations, including my own and as a corporate communications consultant. I have taught photography and formed IPA 20 years ago. I currently work from my home office and continue to actively cover media events in addition to all of my other IPA and IMPress responsibilities.


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