Digital Darkroom; Intro to Filters in Photoshop

The Digital Darkroom is a series of posts aimed at beginners and those interested in Digital Photography and Editing. In previous weeks we have looked at basic adjustments, curves, editing colour with the HSL/Color panels, black and white toning, split toning, local adjustments, sharpening, noise reduction and Lens Correction and Camera Calibration in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw. Moving into Photoshop we have looked at the program’s layout,basic adjustments to light, basic adjustments to colour, basic black and white adjustments, Basic Sharpening, Basic Noise Reduction, Creating Presets and Actions, Basic Masks, Making Selections, Refining Selections, Using the Pen Tool, Clone Stamp, Heal Tool, Patch Tool, Content Aware, Smart Objects and this week an introduction to Filters
If you wish to check out previous posts in the series you can do here.

In last week’s digital darkroom we talked about Smart Objects, and one of the benefits of Smart Objects is applying filters in a non-destructivly. Photoshop has a lot of filters that can be used to a great effect to transform an image. Filters bring great power, “with great power comes great responsibility”. Although a filter can make a dramatic change to an image, does that change enhance the image? I see lots of pictures where the filter has not enhanced the image, in fact it has made it seem mediocre and nothing special. This is due, most of the time, to a one click process when adding the filter; a filter needs to be adjusted and not the only ingredient in the transformation. A good meal is not made with just one ingredient.

You can separate the Photoshop Filters into four categories; Utility Filters, Artistic Filters, Cool Filters and Special Effects.
The Utility Filters; are the everyday filters that you may need to use to improve an image; Sharpening, Noise Reduction, Blur and perhaps Dust and Scratches.
Artistic Filters; are those that add an artistic twist to an image; Artistic, Brush Strokes, Stylize, Sketch, Render and Texture.
Cool Filters; are just cool to play with and can add a bit of a wow to an image; Distort, Pixelate, some Render, some Stylize, as well as some blur filters.
Special Filters; are those that can add a bit of a special effect to an image; Extract Liquefy, render, Pattern Maker as well as other.

I would say that not all of these filters will be used edit to edit. I generally only use the utility filters unless I am looking for a specific effect and then the filter is not the only step in the process.

The above to images have both been edited in Photoshop using filters. The one on the left has had a basic watercolour filter applied and the one on the right has had Dry brush and Paint — applied. On the right however I have also used masks and other layers to build up the image so that the filter effect; although a large part of the process, the artistic filters have been enhanced and complimented by the other steps. The watercolour image by itself is nice, added elements of paper texture and brush strokes would improve the image greatly.


Filters Vs Plugins

Filters are the name we give to the native filters in the filters menu. A plugin is a third party filter or a filter from Adobe Creative Cloud Library that has to be added to Photoshop. Some of these plugins are editing suites in themselves like, Topaz, Nik Soft and Alien Skin to name a few. It is still a good idea to apply these filters to a smart object if you can; the only issue you may have is when you need to go back to the image and a new version of the plugin is now installed, as there may be a compatibility issue. As with filters the Plugin does not have to be the first and last stop for editing, although with comprehensive Plugins like Color Efex I can understand if it is.

When to use Filters

Filters as with lots of things, need to be used in moderation. It is great that they are there, but when editing we serve the image. It can be a good idea to sketch out what you want the final image to look like, even if it is broad strokes and ideas, before starting to edit. This way you will have an idea of what filters to use and how you can complement and improve the image with other adjustments.
Utility filters can help enhance the image but thinking about their ordering combined with other steps will enhance the image more. I say noise reduction before sharpening. However if I am adding a blur, I like to do this before noise reduction and then Sharpen. The blur step will reduce noise by blurring it. In having the noise reduction next means that this filter will not have to be as strong. Selective sharpening being the last step means you only have to sharpen what needs to be sharpened and you won’t be wasting any time sharpening a blur.

In the end filters can add a lot of fun to your editing, in the end just have fun.

Painted Flowers

If you have any questions or comments please use the comment box below, all are welcome as this series is designed to help people learn how to use Photoshop and Lightroom.

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If you wish to get notifications when I post on my blog, you can follow me on Twitter@apertureF64, on or alternatively be emailed by subscribing below. All images are the Copyright of Benjamin Rowe , ALL RIGHTS Reserved unless credited to another photographer. For more information please read my Copyright Statement

9 thoughts on “Digital Darkroom; Intro to Filters in Photoshop

  1. Another great, Digital Darkroom, tutorial! I like using a variety of Photoshop filters and plug-in filters when I’m creating an artistic piece. I often use layer masks, history snapshots, the history brush, and a variety of brushes and blending modes. It makes the piece unique instead of being a pre-canned preset. I often find that I only like certain parts of presets, but not others. So I’d rather put my own creative twist on it 🙂

  2. I love your Digital darkroom series. Once I get up the nerve to tackle Photoshop, I’ll be re-reading everything of yours I can find! 🙂 Thanks for sharing all your knowledge.

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