Using the Surface Blur filter
Video: Using the Surface Blur filterAfter enlarging our image by 200%, we're now going to pre-sharpen the image a bit to restore some detail. Then, we're going to apply Surface Blur. What? Blur an image after sharpening it? That doesn't make any sense, or does it? Surface Blur protects edges, while simultaneously blurring areas of little contrast differentiation. This technique is essentially a simplifying filter that drains much of the language of photography's detail, yet enhances sharpness. Let's see how it's done. Now, as I said, we are first going to pre-sharpen this image, and I'm going to use an interesting technique that's not always in the mainstream but does a good job of sharpening overall image detail.
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Learn to think like a painter and render images that look like they were created with oils or acrylics, using the latest digital artist's tools. Author and artist John Derry introduces the process of interpreting a photograph into a painted work of art. He begins by explaining his system of visual vocabularies, which describe how to replace the visual characteristics of a photograph with that of expressive painting, and also shares the custom brush sets and actions he uses to achieve these results in Adobe Photoshop. The course also covers working with filters, layers, effects, and more to add further detail and texture.
- Setting up a Wacom tablet
- Removing lens distortions
- Correcting distracting image elements
- Making shadow and highlight adjustments
- Simplifying details with filters and Smart Blur
- Modifying color
- Cloning layers
- Using a traditional paint color swatch set
- Using custom actions
- Working with canvas texture
- Creating physical surface texture effects
- Painting with custom brushes
Using the Surface Blur filter
After enlarging our image by 200%, we're now going to pre-sharpen the image a bit to restore some detail. Then, we're going to apply Surface Blur. What? Blur an image after sharpening it? That doesn't make any sense, or does it? Surface Blur protects edges, while simultaneously blurring areas of little contrast differentiation. This technique is essentially a simplifying filter that drains much of the language of photography's detail, yet enhances sharpness. Let's see how it's done. Now, as I said, we are first going to pre-sharpen this image, and I'm going to use an interesting technique that's not always in the mainstream but does a good job of sharpening overall image detail.
And to do that, we are going to create a copy of our image, so I'm going to drag it down here onto the New Layer icon and we've now got a copy. Next, let's go and switch it to Overlay. Now, this is going to temporarily make it look a little strange, but for the technique we're going to apply, we do need to have it in Overlay mode. And that technique is to go up to the Filter menu and we are going to go down to the mysterious Other category, and go to High Pass. And what we'll see here now is a version of the image that is using this High Pass filter on the duplicate to apply a sharpening to it, and what's going on here is the High Pass filter, depending on this radius, actually attenuates detail in the image and it's a little difficult to see unless you're at a 100%, so I'm going to go all the way up to 100% here.
Remember, we're now working with an image that's twice as large as it was. And if we turn Preview on and off here, you're not going to quite see the correct information because when I turn Preview off, now we're looking at the overlaid version of the image on itself, which is over-attenuating all of the tonality and value in it, so it looks goofy. So, you do have to have a bit of a leap of faith to do this. But when it's on now, we can see how, if I turn it all the way down, nothing is happening. But as I start to turn this up, you can see how, you know, don't watch in the Preview, watch on the image, you can see how this starts to sharpen.
I'll do an exaggerated version of it. But you can see it's definitely sharpening. And so, I'm going to do around eight or so pixels here. And again, kind of turn it on and off and this isn't really going to tell us what we need to know, so let's use that leap of faith to go ahead and apply it. And the best way to probably see this is if I go down a ways and turn this layer off and on now, see the difference? See how much sharper that appears? What it's doing is it's accentuating the edges of contrast. So, wherever there's a dark and a light, it's going to attenuate that.
And our eye and brain perceives that as increased sharpness. So, we've brought a little bit of sharpness back into this image. I'm now going to go ahead and drop this copy because I like what I see. And here's where we're now going to blur it. But this is a special version of blur. This is Surface Blur. Let's go ahead and take a look at it. It's under the Blur category under Filters. Right down here, Surface Blur. And this is another one we want to be up at 100% here, so let's make sure we're at 100%, and let's turn this on and off.
And you can see what's happening if we just kind of examine this area right here. See how nice and flat and smooth that is now with Preview on. When I turn it off, see how we're getting all that grainy noise? Because this is an area that doesn't have wide dynamic range changes in, like it does say right here where this little carved element is, this is going to get basically smoothed out by the blur, OK? But areas where there's high contrast, it's protecting those areas. And so, what this does is it simplifies the image and yet, it's basically protecting the sharpness that is in the image.
And as you kind of look around in different parts of the image, like right in here for example, turn it on and off, you can see how we're getting rid of some of that noisy detail. And you can play around with the radius and threshold to see if you can improve upon it, but you'll start to get different kinds of effects. So, as I call many of these effects, they're what I call, season to taste. Now, I'm kind of looking at what's going on in here and it's really smooshed out so I want to reduce this down a bit. And I know this filter tends to work better at lower settings rather than pushing it way up.
So, I'm just kind of observing at what's happening in some of these areas. And also you can, if you turn the Threshold down, it's as if nothing is happening and as you start to turn it up, it starts to affect more and more of a range of pixels in the image. You can see right there, see, look how perfectly nice and sharp that looks. And when you turn everything else off, because it doesn't have that grainy, high frequency information to compare it to, what is sharp even appears sharper. So, it's actually kind of a sin of omission, is what we're doing here.
By removing some of that noisy detail, the areas that have some sharpness in it actually are reinforced and the eye picks it up as looking even more sharp. So, you're playing a little game here but it turns out, it's a great trick for kind of prepping this image in advance of painting. Let's go ahead and say OK. And I'm just kind of look around the image a little bit just so I can see what I basically have at this point. So, I just move around here a little bit and look at areas of the image. If we Undo and Redo here, we can see there's before and there's now.
But you can see how that just, what is sharp appears sharper because we're getting rid of that high frequency noise that's basically scattered throughout the image. So basically, you can really take advantage of this Surface Blur tool as a technique for getting rid of some of the noise in an image and yet, it will retain the sharpness in the high- contrast areas that are already in the image. And by removing that noise, to be there, to compare by your brain and eye with what's already sharp, it makes what is sharp even look sharper.
It's an illusion, but it works.
Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about Digital Painting: Architecture .
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