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How To Use Filters in Adobe Photoshop

Lesson 1 of 6

Class Introduction: Smart Filters

Ben Willmore

How To Use Filters in Adobe Photoshop

Ben Willmore

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Lesson Info

1. Class Introduction: Smart Filters

Lesson Info

Class Introduction: Smart Filters

Now, we're going to transition into talking about filters. Filters are found under the Filter menu in Photoshop and it's a long menu of creative effects you can apply. But there's really a lot to know about them because it depends on how you apply them, as far as how versatile they're going to be, and how you combine them with other features that are found in Photoshop. So let's jump in and get started. So first of all, when you apply a filter, usually it's gonna be a destructive process. What I mean by that is if I already come in here and, let's say, blur my picture, I'm just bringing up the blur, click OK, and then if I save and close that image, and I open it a month later, there's no way for me to get that information back if I apply it as a normal, everyday filter like I just did. There is a special way to apply filters that makes it so they're non-destructive and therefore they just become an accessory to a layer, like a setting attached to that layer, where at anytime you can t...

urn them off or modify the settings, so if later on, I decided that I blurred that too much, I'd be able to lower the amount of blurring. And so I'm gonna choose Undo here. And before I apply that filter, I'll go to the Filter menu, and there's a choice called Convert for Smart Filters. When I do that, it's going to convert this layer into what's known as a smart object. You can think of a smart object as a protective bubble around your image that makes it so nothing can affect the original contents of that layer directly, so you'll always gonna retain the ability to get back to the original content. And anything you do to the layer will just become a setting attached to the layer, a setting that could be thrown away where you would get it back to the original look if you'd like. We'll have an entire separate lesson about just smart filters if you end up watching all of the complete guide so you'll learn more about them. But they put a special command right here called Convert for Smart Filters under the Filter menu. If you've used smart filters before, you'll find another command under the Layer menu, under Smart Objects, called Convert to Smart Object, and that does the same thing as the menu choice that I was just showing you under the Filter menu. They're just trying to make it more discoverable and kinda suggest it by giving it another name as well, but it would do the same thing as coming here. So I'm gonna go up to the Filter menu and choose Convert for Smart Filters. Now, the first time I do that, it's just telling me that it's gonna be converted into a smart object. And I'm like Okay, that's what the command does, I'll choose Don't show again, and I'll click OK. Now, if you look at my Layers panel, you'll find there's an extra icon that wasn't there before in the lower right, and that indicates this is a smart object. So just think of it as this layer is like a protective bubble around the original contents and I'm not able to directly modify that contents, I'm able to just add settings on top of it that can be removed later. So then I'll come over here and apply a filter. I mentioned blurring before, well, let's use Gaussian Blur, and I'll apply it just like we did before. I click OK, but now if you look at my Layers panel, it's different. Before, all I saw was a blurry layer and nothing else was special about it. But because this is a smart object, now when a filter is applied, it's applied as a smart filter, and right here gives me the name of the filter, and you see the little eyeball icon? Well, if I were to click the eyeball, that would disable the filter, bringing you back to what it looked like before using it. If I turn the eyeball back on, it reapplies. And then if I double-click on the name of the filter in my Layers panel, it ends up bringing me right back into the filter as if I'd never left the filter and I can lower the setting, if I find it to be too much, or increase it if I need more. Whereas usually, if you weren't using a smart object, then you've blurred the image once and you go back to the exact same blur filter, the only thing you can do is add more blurring to an already blurry picture. But this is as if I never left the first application of that filter, so I could lower it. Heck, if I bring it out to point one, it won't be blurry at all. Click OK. Then if you apply more than one filter in a row to the same layer, here I'll come down and choose, I don't know, Emboss, then you're gonna find in the Layers panel that you just start getting a list of filters, one stacked on top of the next. And you can think of the bottommost filter as the one that's applied first and then after that was applied, the ones on top. And then above you have the word Smart Filter, and that just means collectively all of the filters that had been applied. So here I could turn off the Emboss. If I just turn off its eyeball, you could see the image over on the right go back to its original appearance. Also, the thumbnail here. Turn that back on. Or I could turn off the blurring and then it's going to unblur the picture but still apply the Emboss. Or I can come up here and turn this eyeball off and that's gonna turn off all of these things. So now I should be seeing the original image before and any smart filters where applied. In addition to that, there is a white rectangle here in my Layers panel, and that's known as a layer mask. And we have a separate lesson just about layer mask. So if you're not used to using them, be sure to look for that particular session. But if I paint with black when this mask is active, and you can tell it's active when its corners are highlighted. If the corners are not highlighted, you just gotta click on it to make it active. Well, now if I grab my Paint Brush and I paint with black anywhere where I paint, it's going to remove the filter that's there and bring me back to the original image. Now, I have a single layer mask for all of the filters that have been applied, so I can't tell it to do something like only remove the blurring, don't remove the embossing, because this is collectively applying to all of the filters that've been applied. If I needed something where I could mask them separately, I would have needed to duplicate the layer and apply the filter on a separate version of the image. But you can see here the black paint that I've put in that mask, and that's preventing these filters from affecting that particular area. You can do things to this layer mask that's here just like you can with any other layer mask. So if you learned any tricks to that layer mask, like, for instance, I've mentioned, you could Shift + click on it to disable it when we had the layer mask lesson, or you could Option + click it, Alt + clicking in Windows, to view the contents of it. Those kinds of things, they work here as well. But if you haven't used layer mask, for now just think of that as something that could limit where the filters are applied. Other things you can do when it comes to working with smart filters is here we have whatever is at the bottom is considered to be applied first and then whatever is on top is applied after, well, I could drag this, I believe, to change the order, and now that's gonna change the appearance of the image because now Emboss was applied first and then Gaussian Blur. All I did was click on one of these and drag them, like that, to change their order, although it seems to like it better when I drag down. And so if you have a large stack of various filters applied, you can experiment by moving them up and down in that stack. Finally, towards the right, you're gonna find a little icon over here. It's supposed to look like little sliders that you could use. And if you go to that icon and you double-click on it, then each one of those filters you've applied can have its own blending mode and you can lower the opacity to lessen its effect. So we have an entire lesson on blending modes that's part of the complete guide. And in that session, you would have learned that there's a set of blending modes where 50% gray goes away. And the Emboss Filter is a filter that gives you a lot of 50% gray. Look at this result, lots of gray. Well, if you change this menu to one of the choices found in here, then that 50% gray could go away and you still get the overall look of the filter, though. And then if it's too strong, you could lower the opacity. Click OK. So the way I got to that is in the Layers panel. You need to have a layer that's been converted to a smart object. Remember, I converted it to a smart object under the Filter menu, and it just said Convert for Smart Filters, and that's what added this little icon to it. And it's only if I've added that little icon that when I apply filters, they'll show up as a list down here. If it's not a smart object, then you don't see this list. I double-click on the name of any one of these to get to the settings for it. And I double-click over here, on one of these, to get a blending mode choice. And if you try to edit the one that's underneath, if you have more than one, it's gonna tell you that it's gonna have to hide some of the, you know, any filters that are applied above that while you're changing the settings. And so I'm gonna come in here and just do a blending mode that will make this look a little different, adjust my results, there we go. Now, we have it looking quite different. That's because I was able to use blending modes and opacity. So that's how I generally work with filters. I end up converting most of the time to a smart object first because then I can experiment as much as I want with filters. And if I decide I don't like the look of the end result, all I need to do is if I don't like the Emboss, let's say, is I can just drag it to the trash. Just drag it down here to the trashcan and that will go away, and I can decide I didn't like that, maybe use a different filter. Or I can click on the words Smart Filters, and I believe I can drag that to the trash, delete all of them. Choose Undo a few times. And once you have filters applied, the last thing you can do is in your Layers panel, over on the right side will be a little triangle or up-pointing arrow, and if you click that, you'll collapse things down to keep it nice and clean-looking. But these two little circles here indicate you have a smart filter applied and so you could expand it to see what's there. So now, let's try to take a look at some of the effects we can create using filters. I'm gonna revert this image back to its original to get rid of all the weird stuff we've done to it, and let's see about filters I might wanna apply.

Class Description


  • Add the illusion of motion to objects
  • Simulate the look of shallow depth of field by blurring a background
  • Enhance detail with sharpening
  • Understand the High Pass and Displace filters
  • Transform a photograph into an oil painting


  • Beginner, intermediate, and advanced users of Adobe Photoshop.
  • Those who want to gain confidence in Adobe Photoshop and learn new features to help edit photos.
  • Students who’d like to take ordinary images and make them look extraordinary with some image editing or Photoshop fixes.


Adobe Photoshop 2020 (V21)

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Bonus Materials with Purchase

Practice Images


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Great class. Clear instruction. (There is a typo, however, on the title of the last section where it should say combining, not combing.)