An Element of Unpredictability

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The ‘Oohs’ And ‘Aahhs’ Of Filters

There has always seemed to me to be a stigma attached to the use of filters in Adobe Photoshop. This is undoubtedly a result of the ease of use of the medium — some artists will merely run a photo through a generic Photoshop filter, get a few ‘oohs’ and ‘aahhs’ from their friends and family, and call it a work of art. On the other hand, Photoshop digital masterpieces seem to be either exquisitely painted images or beautiful compositions of different photographic elements.

The Art Of Unexpected Results

While in college, I took an etching; in which we printed pictures onto paper from prepared etched plates, using many different techniques with which to make marks on the plates. By definition, etching is the process of using acid to make marks on a plate, which carries with it an element of unpredictability. Often, the acid can bite the plate where you did not want it to, leaving marks or darker regions on your final image.

Contrary to what it might seem, this is not necessarily a negative thing. You cannot always control the actions of the acid, and so you cannot always control your final image; however, most of the time this adds a unique element to the design. Giving up precise control over your images allows them to grow and develop in new directions that you did not originally intend.

In our first project in the etching class, we were told to choose an object from which to draw inspiration, and make marks on the plate based on this. We were not supposed to have a final image or destination in mind, just develop the imagery as it happened.

Being free to allow the image to develop as I saw fit with no particular goal in mind and just work with the medium, was a breath of fresh air. The end results were beyond anything I could have expected. I produced works that I was incredibly proud of, but were nothing that I could have thought of from the start. Had I not allowed the image to take its natural course I might have ended up trying to work towards a goal that ultimately I might not have been satisfied with, and the image would most likely not have been as fresh and original as the ones I produced.

Where Do Filters Fit Into All This?

While working towards a goal and having your images planned out is most certainly a good thing, I also think, for the most part, that the process is undervalued in comparison to the final product. It is often in this process that the best images can be unveiled.

So how does this relate to filters in Photoshop? Filters are often unpredictable. It is possible to take a picture, for example, a simple snapshot of the family pet, and run it through so many filters that it becomes completely unrecognizable and turns into another image altogether.

Is this art? If the image is interesting and stands on its own then I would most certainly contend yes. It doesn’t matter that the image started with no particular end in mind; it is the process that is important in this situation, and recognizing when you have created a viable and interesting image. So use filters, develop an image as it happens, and see what kinds of images you produce!

Jenna Hoffstein [bluevenus],
Front Page News Staff Columnist
We invite you to visit Jenna's
Renderosity Art Gallery
Renderosity MarketPlace Store

October 31, 2005

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Member Opinions:
By: tantarus on 10/31/05
I`m not fan of the filters also, corective filters like blur, sharpen, other, noise are very usefull, but desctructive filters like artistic, brush strokes dont have much(any) purpose :)

By: gunsan on 11/1/05
I agree with you Jenna about filters and the unpredictable. I have studied etching in a Graphic school for four years, and what I liked the most was the unpredictability of the process, as if I and the copper plate cooporated to get an etching. Most of all I liked to work on plates that others had thrown into the waste basket. I had something to lead me in to the plate, then it took me along on an adventure where both I and the plate worked together.
I feel just so when it comes to digital work and filters. I use them intuitively, I never can go back in my footsteps and say how I did. So it is a collaboration here too between me and the medium I use. I really like filters, but using them with care and discrimination. I never duplicate a way to work, because I don't remember how I arrived to the place when I feeel the image is finished and I am happy with it.

By: Momcat on 11/1/05
Well I LOVE filters ♥
Filters are tools. They are neither corrective or destructive, in and of themselves. It is how you use them to *change* aspects of your image. I've gotten some wonderful effects by using various filters on an image in different layers and blend modes.

By: bassillion on 11/2/05
As for me, I am curently loading a computer for the purpose of holding nothing but Photoshop, and all the filters,actions, and the like, that it can hold, or that can be gotten, as a stand alone device created soley for rendering in photoshop!

As you can see I'm fully commited!

By: archdruid on 11/2/05
I have to agree with Momcat... filters are tools... just like a computer is a tool. If you're a purist, then you're welcome to grind your own pigmants, and so on. Me, I use whatever is available to me... it is my initial vision that drives my art, and the ability to see how great the accidental can be.
bassillion, good luck with what you're doing.

By: ysvry on 11/2/05
filters look at first nice but come repetitous and boring very quickly ,my advise is avoid the artist filters like the plague.

By: nickcharles on 11/3/05
Great article. I've been playing alot with Photoshop lately, and find it fun to see what various combinations of filters can do...often ending up with something completely different than what I started with. Sometimes the unexpected results can prove to be really inspirational :D

By: Qualien on 11/5/05
"Great article" vclaszlo

I echo thIS sentiment. But "While in college, I took an etching;"; did you mean "I took a class in ethcing"? or were you stealing from the art buildings collection to pay your tuition?

Anyway, a thoughtful and intersting article, even if from an art thief. To some people, the raw image of a photo contains all the information possible. Applying a filter is always 'destructive' (Momcat) because a filter never adds information to an image. A filter can only be a thief of image-signal information. To some people, filters are criminal. But that is true only if the camera is the artist. If the artist is the artist, then bring on the filters, IMHO.

By: JamMeister33 on 11/5/05
I agree wholeheartedly..
Very often you can come up with some really interesting results playing around with filters.
It feels good, it looks good, the end can and does justify the means!

By: zescanner on 11/7/05
I couldn't help but notice that nobody has mentioned layering and layer blending modes. Perhaps this is all taken for granted. But on the off chance that it isn't... I'd like to add that a combination of filter use, layer blending modes, and layer masking can give you an added degree of individual creativity and control for what happens where in your image. Then the image takes on a result that is beyond what would occur if you JUST ran it through a series of filters.

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