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One very easy, creative technique to make an image more interesting is to give it a soft highlight glow, or just a nice contrast glow. I am going to teach you how to do that with the Gaussian Blur Smart Filter. So, as the name implies of this technique, if you want to do this as a Smart Filter, you need to convert this layer to a Smart Layer first or a Smart Object layer. To do that, you can go to the Filter menu and choose Convert for Smart Filters. This will allow us to apply Gaussian Blur in a non-destructive way and then fine-tune it after we've done the initial settings.
So, let's do the Gaussian Blur by going to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, and we're going to give this a pretty high amount. Don't be alarmed by destroying the original detail of the image. We are going to go back and blend that back in, in just a moment. For now we will use a Radius, a pretty high Radius. I am going to do 20, and the radius you are going to use it depends on the resolution of your image. This is a pretty high-res file. On a low-resolution file, you would use a lower radius. Maybe I'll take that back to 15. Go ahead and click OK. Now what we are trying to do is get a nice softening and glow around the edges here.
Now, obviously, we want to blend this back in with the original detail, otherwise it is just going to feel like we have to squint the whole time. So, to modify how this Gaussian Blur filter is blending back down to the original pixel information of that original layer, we are going to double-click on the actual icon, these little Blending Options to the right of the name of the filter in the Layers panel. We'll go ahead and double-click. That brings up the Blending Options for that particular filter. And the first thing we're going to do is choose one of the contrast blend modes, and those are the ones that begin with the word Overlay.
Overlay and Soft Light are your two best choices. Let's start with Overlay, and you can see I get this nice blend of this soft focused image back down to the original un-blurred image. And I can also play with the Opacity. First, let's try between Overlay and Soft Light to see which one we like better. So, Soft Light is a little bit more subtle. It's softer, thus, the name. Overlay gives you a bit more contrast. You lose a little bit more detail, so it just depends on what the overall effect you like. Now I can also play with the Opacity of the blurred version. How much of the blurred version do we see layered on top of the original version? One of the nice things about some of the controls in Photoshop is when you put your mouse over a label in Photoshop, the cursor gives you a little index finger with a double arrow cursor, which means you can just simply click on the label itself and drag left or right to change the value.
These are also called Scrubby sliders. So, if I drag it to the left, I am lowering the Opacity. If I click on the word Opacity and drag it to the right, I am increasing the Opacity. So, you have a lot of control over how this blurred version is going to be blended back into the original version, by either changing the Blend mode or the Opacity or both. So, let's go ahead and click OK and then to see the before and after, we can just turn off Gaussian Blur with this little eye there. There is before. That's where we started. There's after. And you can see it just increased the contrast, made the colors more saturated and just made it a little bit more visually interesting, all with a single filter applied as a Smart Filter.
Last thing, every Smart Filter has a layer mask assigned to it as well. That doesn't mask the layer itself. It masks the effect of the filter being applied. So, one thing you might consider is when you're trying to create a nice subtle effect here, you might want to randomize it a bit by applying a random filter to the layer mask itself, or the Smart Filter mask itself, in this case. So, I am going to click on the actual thumbnail for the mask of the Smart Filter, and one of the random filters that you can choose is under the Filter menu > Render > Clouds and when I say random, what I mean is every time you run the Clouds filter, you get a different pattern, a different clouds pattern, so it's a random filter.
I am going to go ahead and choose the word Clouds, and you'll see it fills that layer mask with clouds. If I were to run the filter again, I'd get a completely different cloud pattern. And remember, in masking terms, black hides, white reveals. So, wherever I see dark pixels on that layer mask, I am hiding the blurring effect. And whenever I see the white areas or the light areas on that layer mask, I am seeing the blur effect. If I hold down the Shift key, you can turn off the layer mask temporarily, so there is without the mask. Shift+Click again, there is with the mask.
So, it's a great way to preview before and after. If you do it too fast and end up doing a double-click, you bring up the Mask Options, so it just go a little slower, Shift+Click, Shift+Click turns the red X on and off, to preview what it would look like with or without the mask. So, there you have it, a very quick easy technique for doing a high contrast glow effect, all with a single filter, called Gaussian Blur, applied as a Smart Filter.
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