How to use filter effects in editing software to add artistic effects to your photos.
With the almost universal inclusion of filter effects in the latest digital cameras, we thought it worthwhile to point out how many of these effects can be created with image editing software. The end results are usually much better than the in-camera effects and you have a great deal more control over how they are applied. In addition, since you’ll work on a copy of your original shot, the integrity of the image won’t be compromised if you don’t like the end result.
The unedited original image.
The trick to using filters successfully is being able to visualise the changes each filter will make to the image, so you know beforehand which effects to apply and how to tweak them to produce the end result you require. Some filters that work well with certain images may produce truly horrible results with others.
In most software, the names given to each effect provide only a rough guide to the end result. However, this is helpful when selecting which filters to use. Fortunately, most software also allows you to preview effects before committing to them, so you can experiment freely with different filters. Be prepared to try out at least half of the adjustments provided for each filter to get a feel for what will work on different images.
Both the software applications mentioned in this feature provide several levels of ‘Undo’ that let you remove an effect that hasn’t worked satisfactorily. Most also allow you to ‘Revert’ to the original image fi le, which strips out all of the editing you’ve done in the session. This makes it very easy to return to the image you began with and try something different.
The Undo and Revert settings are located in the same sub-menu in Photoshop Elements 10 (circled). Undo steps back to the previous state of the image, whereas Revert takes you right back to the original fi le as you loaded it in the application.
It goes without saying that some software packages are better than others for effects editing. And some are easier to use. Our preference is for GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program), a popular freeware editor, which has the widest range of effects to choose from. It also provides live previews with slightly enlarged crops that can be adjusted to show you the areas in the image you’re most interested in.
Some of the filter effects available in GIMP freeware editor.
In some filters, the range of adjustments is particularly wide. For example, the Mosaic filter provides sliders for adjusting the shape of the tiles, their size, height and spacing and also for tweaking ‘neatness’ (regularity), light direction and colour variation. There are also five check boxes for adding anti-aliasing, colour averaging, tile splitting, pitted surfaces and foreground/background lighting effects.
Where previews are provided in GIMP, they show only part of the image, although you can drag the displayed area around to reveal different parts of the picture.
The GIMP Mosaic filter provides sliders for seven parameters plus five check boxes for applying additional effects.
The range of artistic effects is particularly generous in GIMP and includes ways to simulate oil painting and a Cubism filter that divides the image into artistically-arranged tiles. There’s also a ‘GIMPression’ filter full of impressionistic adjustments, some of which are quite subtle while others apply dramatic changes to the image structure and tones.
GIMP also provides a suite of useful Lighting Effects that let you simulate the effect of different types of lighting. They’re located in the Light & Shadow sub-menu, which also provides lens and perspective effects as well as an interesting Glass Tile simulation.
The Oilify filter simulates the appearance of an oil painting and allows you to adjust the thickness of the brush (‘mask size’) and the intensity of the effect.
In the Cubism effect, the tile size and saturation are adjustable.
Lighting Effects adjustments let you set the direction of each light for up to six lights, choose their colour and intensity and adjust the way each light is applied.
Some of the filters in GIMP are pretty extreme, as shown in the examples on this page. But at least they give you the tools to produce radically different images, whereas the in-camera filters provided by most camera manufacturers tend to produce very similar results.
The GIMPression filter in the Artistic filters sub-menu tends to produce slightly softened and textured results, regardless of which of the many settings you use.
GIMP provides 18 different ‘Distorts’ filters, among them the Whirl & Pinch effect illustrated here.
Five ‘Edge Detect’ effects are available, among them a Neon effect that adds a glow using saturated colours to image edges.
Some filters in GIMP can be useful outside the effects arena, among them the Jigsaw pattern in the Render/Pattern sub-menu, which lets you see how images can work as jigsaw puzzles. The Dø©cor sub-menu provides a very nice filter that lets you apply sepia toning and adjust focus and surface mottling to produce a credible simulation of an ‘Old Photo’.
The JIGSAW pattern in GIMP’s Render/Pattern submenu lets you adjust the numbers of pieces and the breadth and shaping of the divisions between them.
The ‘Old Photo’ filter in GIMP provides a realistic simulation of an old, sepia-toned print.
Photoshop Elements is another popular image editor that provides an extensive library of filters covering ‘Artistic’ effects, Brush strokes, Sketch effects and Textures. Most of these effects can be adjusted, at least to some degree. Filter options are different from those provided in GIMP so it’s worth checking out both applications when looking for creative filters to apply.
The best way to select and apply effects in Photoshop Elements is via the Filter menu on the top menu bar (circled in red in the screen grab on this page). If you select a filter from the dropdown menu, you’ll also be able to access any adjustments available for the effect, whereas selecting the same filter via the panel on the right hand side of the desktop leaves you stuck with the pre-set for the filter.
The Filter dropdown menu in Photoshop Elements (circled in red) provides the best way to access filter effects.
Adjustments vary with different effects. Drawing and painting effects usually provide adjustments for brush stroke lengths and thicknesses. In some cases you can also adjust the ‘paper’ (background) brightness with respect to the image.
The Coloured Pencil effect is one of the ‘Artistic’ effects that provide adjustments for stroke width and pressure as well as paper brightness.
The Palette Knife setting, another ‘Artistic’ effect, provides adjustments for stroke size, stroke detail and softness.
The Brush Strokes and Sketch effects replicate some popular graphic arts looks. Some retain the original image colours, while others convert images to black and white.
For a completely different look, try some of the filters in the Texture sub-menu, which contains settings that replicate rough paper (Craquelure), fi lm grain, mosaic tiles, patchwork and stained glass. With effects like Mosaic Tiles you can change the size of the tiles and the width of the ‘grout’ between them as well as the lightness of the grout.
The Graphic Pen effect is located in the ‘Sketch’ submenu. It converts coloured images to monochrome and provides adjustment for stroke length, light/dark balance and stroke direction (the dropdown menu is shown).
Adjusting the cell size and border thickness for the Stained Glass filter.
A Mosaic setting is also found in the Pixelate sub-menu, where it breaks the image into blocks of pixels. This filter only lets you adjust the size of the pixel ‘cells’.
The Mosaic effect in the Pixelate sub-menu only allows the cell size to be adjusted. This adjustment determines the size of the colour blocks that make up the image.
This is an excerpt from Photo Review Issue 51.