Understanding Filters in Photoshop Elements

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filter_before_after.jpg

When I was young, my dad told me that if at first you don’t succeed you should try and try again until you do. In today’s post, I am going to tell you why this adage relates to editing photos by working with filters in Photoshop Elements and in Photoshop.

Step 1

filter1.jpg

Start by opening an image that you like, set the foreground color to white and the background color to black and choose Filter > Distort > Diffuse Glow. When you do this, the image will take on a rather nasty dark glow. There is pretty much nothing that you can do to this image that is going to make it look good. You can try to remove the graininess and glow and increase the clear amount to 20 but if you do that, you’ve effectively removed the filter effect. The short answer is it looks ghastly and you might be wondering just what you did wrong?

Step 2

filter2.jpg

Exit the Filter Gallery, switch the foreground and background colors so that black is now the foreground color and white is the background color. Reapply the filter using Filter > Distort > Diffuse Glow. This time the filter looks very different.

The explanation is that Photoshop Elements (and Photoshop) use the foreground and background colors when applying the filter. This time go ahead and crank up the Graininess and adjust the Glow Amount until you get a nice glow on your image. Adjust the Clear value to suit and click Ok. Now you have a very different looking result.

Understanding colors and filters

filter3.jpg

There are many of Photoshop Elements Filters that work differently depending on the current foreground and background colors settings. The Halftone Filter is one of these so, for example, if you have red and green selected the halftone pattern will appear in red and green – not always the desired look.

filter4.jpg

Instead, set the foreground to black and the background to white and apply the Halftone Filter using Filter > Sketch > Halftone Pattern. This time you’ll get something more like the result that you are looking for.

filter5.jpg

Switch black and white in the color swatch and try again – and the result is different and not so appealing.

What you need to know

The short lesson to take away from this post is that when you are applying filters in Photoshop Elements or in Photoshop the foreground and background colors that you have selected will have a big impact on how some of the filters work. In most cases the filters affected are the Sketch filters but others use the colors too.

Select the right color mix and the result is pleasing to the eye. Select the wrong color mix and you could be excused for thinking filters just aren’t for you.

Read more from our Post Production category

Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at Projectwoman.com.

  • I almost never use any colors other than black and white (switching them frequently). Knowing about this affect is extremely useful. Now I want to play!

  • Be careful! There’s far too much use of filters within images at the moment. Just because they exist in Photoshop doesn’t mean you have to use them. Every image should be about communicating something. If you cant answer the question “What does the filter add to the image? How does it help communicate my ideas?’ then steer clear.

  • Thanks for the Tip, i took a photoshop workshop and they never mentioned that the colors affected filters, Thanks alot! Great tips i will play with it now!

  • Amy

    Can you please give a step by step on how to change the foreground and the background on photoshop elements. Thanks

  • I agree with Amy; many of us are not as experienced with Photoshop (yet). Some tips on changing background color would be appreciated.

    I’d like to see additional posts on this topic in the future.

  • chaz

    Changing forground and background colors is simple. I iuse and older version of Elements, but it should be similar. At the bottom of my floating toolbar, there is an icon. It is two squares. One is superimposed on the “front” of the one in the “background”. By default one is black and one is white. There is a two-headed arrow pointing at each of them. Clicking the arrow changes which color is in the foreground.

    Clicking on one of the squares brings up a color pallet. From there you can select the color of the square.

  • Susan

    Thank you SO much! I love the sketch filters and had thought they were broken or something because they didn’t work anymore…turns out I just had both foreground and background set to white! -duh- You saved my sanity!

  • Thank you, once again we learn something new every day. Never realized this. I very rarely use filters because of past disappointments.

  • It’s appropriate time to make a few plans for the long run and it’s time to be happy. I have learn this post and if I could I desire to counsel you few attention-grabbing issues or suggestions. Perhaps you could write subsequent articles regarding this article. I want to read more issues about it!

Some Older Comments

  • Engraved Gifts Online September 11, 2012 09:45 pm

    It's appropriate time to make a few plans for the long run and it's time to be happy. I have learn this post and if I could I desire to counsel you few attention-grabbing issues or suggestions. Perhaps you could write subsequent articles regarding this article. I want to read more issues about it!

  • Charles van Dijk June 29, 2011 12:36 pm

    Thank you, once again we learn something new every day. Never realized this. I very rarely use filters because of past disappointments.

  • Susan July 16, 2009 01:21 pm

    Thank you SO much! I love the sketch filters and had thought they were broken or something because they didn't work anymore...turns out I just had both foreground and background set to white! -duh- You saved my sanity!

  • chaz June 27, 2009 11:44 pm

    Changing forground and background colors is simple. I iuse and older version of Elements, but it should be similar. At the bottom of my floating toolbar, there is an icon. It is two squares. One is superimposed on the "front" of the one in the "background". By default one is black and one is white. There is a two-headed arrow pointing at each of them. Clicking the arrow changes which color is in the foreground.

    Clicking on one of the squares brings up a color pallet. From there you can select the color of the square.

  • George Servian June 23, 2009 02:10 am

    I agree with Amy; many of us are not as experienced with Photoshop (yet). Some tips on changing background color would be appreciated.

    I'd like to see additional posts on this topic in the future.

  • Amy June 21, 2009 12:56 pm

    Can you please give a step by step on how to change the foreground and the background on photoshop elements. Thanks

  • Tito V. June 19, 2009 08:56 am

    Thanks for the Tip, i took a photoshop workshop and they never mentioned that the colors affected filters, Thanks alot! Great tips i will play with it now!

  • Tim Collier June 18, 2009 07:36 am

    Be careful! There's far too much use of filters within images at the moment. Just because they exist in Photoshop doesn't mean you have to use them. Every image should be about communicating something. If you cant answer the question "What does the filter add to the image? How does it help communicate my ideas?' then steer clear.

  • Jeffrey Kontur June 16, 2009 04:44 am

    I almost never use any colors other than black and white (switching them frequently). Knowing about this affect is extremely useful. Now I want to play!

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