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Using the Surface Blur filter

From: Digital Painting: Architecture

Video: 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.

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.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Digital Painting: Architecture
Digital Painting: Architecture

49 video lessons · 12326 viewers

John Derry
Author

 
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  1. 26m 4s
    1. Introduction
      1m 3s
    2. Using the exercise files
      32s
    3. Installing custom content
      2m 46s
    4. Setting up Wacom express keys
      13m 32s
    5. Setting Wacom touch ring preferences
      2m 14s
    6. Setting Wacom stylus preferences
      3m 24s
    7. Division of labor: Image prep and painting
      2m 33s
  2. 19m 9s
    1. Visual vocabularies
      3m 49s
    2. The vocabulary of photography
      7m 38s
    3. The vocabulary of painting
      4m 59s
    4. Looking at reality through a mental painting filter
      2m 43s
  3. 38m 57s
    1. Removing lens distortion with the Adaptive Wide Angle filter
      6m 47s
    2. Removing distractions
      8m 7s
    3. Don't be a slave to the original photograph
      10m 51s
    4. Correcting image adjustments
      2m 58s
    5. Telling a story with added image elements
      10m 14s
  4. 25m 2s
    1. The eye has a better sensor than a camera
      3m 2s
    2. Adding natural shadows with Field Blur
      8m 47s
    3. Using the Shadow/Highlight adjustment filter
      7m 48s
    4. Using the HDR Toning filter
      5m 25s
  5. 39m 56s
    1. Resolution is in the brushstrokes
      3m 26s
    2. Using the Surface Blur filter
      6m 17s
    3. Using the Displacement filter to add imperfections
      6m 22s
    4. Using the Oil Paint filter
      11m 51s
    5. Making tonal and color corrections
      12m 0s
  6. 22m 40s
    1. Nondestructive layer painting (NDLP): Your creative safety net
      5m 54s
    2. Setting up the Mixer Brush cloning action
      7m 29s
    3. Using cloning layers
      2m 58s
    4. Working with adjustment layers
      6m 19s
  7. 20m 7s
    1. Using tool presets and not brushes
      3m 41s
    2. Categorizing and organizing brushes
      6m 14s
    3. Adding canvas texture
      4m 51s
    4. Using Sample All Layers
      5m 21s
  8. 14m 48s
    1. You must destroy detail
      2m 9s
    2. Establishing compositional structure
      3m 46s
    3. Determining a style and sticking to it
      7m 30s
    4. Painting in progress: Finishing the underpainting layer
      1m 23s
  9. 26m 40s
    1. Understanding simplified indication
      9m 9s
    2. Understanding color: Warm advances, cool retreats
      4m 9s
    3. Painting in progress: Introducing texture to the intermediate layer
      13m 22s
  10. 40m 19s
    1. The play's the thing
      5m 18s
    2. Focusing on the subject through detail
      4m 40s
    3. Using a traditional paint color swatch set
      4m 37s
    4. Painting in progress: Completing the detail layer
      16m 25s
    5. Adding surface texture effects
      9m 19s
  11. 12m 47s
    1. It pays to wait a day
      1m 55s
    2. Adjusting your importance hierarchy
      4m 49s
    3. You'll never paint the same thing twice
      2m 7s
    4. Helpful resources and inspiration
      3m 56s

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