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Filters and Effects

Sure, you can paint and retouch and composite within Photoshop, but you know as well as we do that the most fun comes from playing with filters. When you’re up against a deadline for a picky client, however, productivity with filters becomes more important than fun. Here are some techniques we’ve found to be useful.

Float Before Filtering. One’s natural inclination is to make a selection, then choose a filter from one of the Filter submenus. We suggest adding a step: copy the selection to a new layer first (press Command-J in Mac OS X or Ctrl-J in Windows). Doing so gives you much more flexibility in how the filter is applied. For instance, once the filter is applied on the new layer, you can move it, change its blending mode, run an additional filter, soften the effect by lowering the layer’s opacity, and so on. Best of all, you don’t damage your original pixels until you’re sure you’ve got the effect exactly right. If you don’t like what you’ve done, you can undo, or just delete the entire layer. Similarly, if you’re going to run a filter on a whole layer, consider duplicating the layer first. It’s safer and much more flexible.

Filter Shortcuts. Like many other features of Photoshop, you can speed your work with keyboard shortcuts. You can tell Photoshop to run a filter again by pressing Command-F (Mac OS X) or Ctrl-F (Windows). However, this doesn’t let you change the dialog settings. Pressing Command-Option-F (Mac OS X) or Ctrl-Alt-F (Windows) opens the dialog for the last filter you ran so you can change the settings.

Fading Filter Effects. Most folks figure that once they run a filter, the choice is to either move forward or select Undo. But the Fade feature (in the Edit menu) allows you to take a middle path by reducing the opacity of a filter, or even changing the blending mode, immediately after running it. (As soon as you do anything else—even make a selection—the Fade feature is no longer available.) You can get to the Fade dialog quickly by pressing Command-Shift-F (Mac OS X) or Ctrl-Shift-F (Windows).

The Fade feature works not only with filters, but also with any of the features in the Adjustments submenu (under the Image menu) and almost every brushstroke. For example, you can run Hue/Saturation on an image, then reduce the intensity of the effect with Fade. However, we use this technique much less than we used to, because adjustment layers are more powerful (see Chapter 8, “The Digital Darkroom”).

Build Textures on Neutral Layers. Instead of burning filter effects directly into an image, you can filter a neutral-colored layer. Using filters in conjunction with neutral layers gives you much more freedom to change your mind later. When you choose Layer > New Layer or Option-click (Mac OS X) or Alt-click (Windows) the Create a New Layer button in the Layers panel, many blending modes enable the “Fill with neutral color” check box. For instance, if you set the layer to Screen mode, the check box says “Fill with Screen-neutral color (black).” The exact wording of that check box changes depending on the mode you select.

Now, when you apply a filter to that layer, the parts that get changed are no longer neutral. They change the appearance of the pixels below (see Figure 11-34). Of course, this primarily works with filters that add texture to an image, such as the Texturizer filter. It typically won’t have any effect at all with the Distort filter or an artistic filter.

Figure 11-34 Filtering a neutral-colored layer

You can now play with the filter without affecting the actual image by taking advantage of the neutral color. If you want to make a texture less prominent, paint with the neutral color on the neutral-colored layer. If the neutral color is 50 percent gray, anywhere you paint using that color will remove the texture. For example, you could paint the neutral color with a brush set to 10 percent to gradually fade a texture in some areas of a image. You can also try out different filters by running them on your neutral-colored layer, and again, the original underlying image is never disturbed. You can combine this technique with layer masks, depending on the effect you need.

Smart Filters

Smart Filters represent a powerful, nondestructive way to use filters. Like many of the newer features in Photoshop, Smart Filters help you keep your options open, because they make it possible for you to change filter settings at any time in the future, even if you close and reopen the document. Not even the History panel can do that.

We covered Smart Filters pretty extensively back in “Sharpening with Smart Filters” in Chapter 10, “Sharpness, Detail, and Noise Reduction.” As we mentioned back there, because Smart Filters are based on Smart Objects, they can dramatically increase the file size and RAM requirements of a Photoshop document, and can also slow it down. Despite that, it’s nice to have Smart Filters as an option when you need them.

Before you can apply a Smart Filter to a layer, the layer must be a Smart Object. If you placed or opened a graphic as a Smart Object, you’ve already got that covered. If you intend to apply Smart Filters before you even get a graphic into Photoshop, remember that there are now more ways to import graphics as Smart Objects, such as selecting a file and choosing File > Place > In Photoshop (when in Bridge), or clicking the Open as Object button in Camera Raw 4 (if you don’t see it, press Shift).

If a layer isn’t already a Smart Object, you don’t have to navigate the Layer menu to turn it into one. Just choose Filter > Convert for Smart Filters, which is simply another way to convert a layer to a Smart Object.

Once a layer is a Smart Object, you’ll notice that many commands on the Filter menu are not available for Smart Objects. However, choosing any command on the Filter menu that’s available applies that command as a Smart Filter. There are actually a couple more important commands that you can use as Smart Filters that are not on the Filter menu: Image > Adjust > Shadows/Highlights and some of the commands on the Edit > Transform submenu. These are commands that users have wanted to be able to use in a nondestructive way, but that aren’t practical or possible to implement as adjustment layers. Smart Filters have given Photoshop a way to use these important commands nondestructively (see Figure 11-35).


Figure 11-35 Smart Filters in the Layers panel

You can create Smart Objects inside Smart Objects if you really need to, but nesting Smart Objects can really accelerate file bloat.

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