Photoshop Elements certainly didn't hold back with these brushes.
|The Smart Brush tools (two
of them) live near the bottom of the Photoshop Elements
tool bar and they can do some amazing
things in your digital editing projects.
The top brush automatically selects the area to modify and the bottom
brush (the Detail brush) lets you make all of the decisions.
Adobe has set it up so that the Smart Brush Tool (the top one)
automates a whole lot of different functions. You decide what you
want to do and then let the brush loose to do its thing.
are nine main adjustment categories and each one has a number of
different effects within the category for a total of 67 different
Here they are ...
- Black and White - 7 effects
- Color - 15 effects
- Lighting - 5 effects
- Nature - 5 effects
- Photographic - 10 effects
- Portrait - 7 effects
- Reverse Effects - 6 effects
- Special Effects - 12 effects
Tablet or Mouse?
Pen tablet, of course ...
This is a brush intensive technique so using a Wacom pen
tablet (Bamboo or Intuos4) makes things a lot easier.
There's a setting in the brush palette (in the Option Bar) for this
tool to turn on Pen Pressure (or finger wheel with the Wacom airbrush
tool) when you have a Wacom tablet installed.
You can also select the typical brush settings in this palette.
- Brush Size (Diameter).
- Softness of the brush edge (Hardness).
- Angle and Roundness.
- Brush Size (none, pen pressure, stylus wheel)
When you click on the Tool you're almost
ready to go. The next step is to go up to the Options Bar and
choose how the brush will behave.
If, for instance, you want to change the color
of an object in your image drop down the menu and select Color.
Now you have 15 different color choices.
Scroll down to see the choices available and select the color you like
or the one that fits your requirements.
You'll notice that Adobe has assigned interesting and catchy names to
each of the color selections.
When you've chosen the color simply click and drag over the color you
want to change, wait a few moments and watch what happens.
Elements will search for areas that are similar in certain ways, create
a selection and then add the adjustment you've chosen. Sometimes
it's utterly amazing and at other times the selection is poor.
I've got this picture of a streetcar with nice red stripes. How
would it look if all of the red stripes were a different color?
After dragging the cursor near the front of the red stripe on the
streetcar - this is what happened.
The selection and the new color looks good especially on an area that's
not overly complicated (like hair, for instance).
In this example it's easy to see that some areas were missed because
they were far too different from the original red color (like the
To finish changing the color from re
d to green just take your pen and
paint in the other red areas.
- Fair skin will be almost white
- Blue skies will be black (very dramatic)
- Green foliage will be kind of gray.
After you're finished it will be obvious that the Smart Brush did a
great job but also made some mistakes.
Here's the streetcar completely changed ...
Sold one this month
The marching ants selection is still visible and there are a couple
more problems that need addressing.
- The edge of the selection did not completed enclose the
original red color.
- The area under the left windshield wiper was missed.
- The number at the front of the streetcar has some red that
was not selected.
- The lighter red on the top stripe was not selected.
The Minus Smart Brush
Here's a close-up of the area below the windshield wiper - the red is
gone but the Smart Brush traveled into the base of the wiper so that
is the kind of thing that will occur when you use the Tool and the more
complicated the area you are working on the more the
brush will drift into areas where it shouldn't go.
So how do you fix this? Simple - go up to the Options bar at the
top of the screen and select the tool with the minus sign - which is
the remove from adjustment Smart Brush.
Now carefully paint over the area that should not have been adjusted
and carefully remove the adjustment. Here is the same detail
after removing the adjustment.
Looking closely at the part that was repaired it is easy to see that
the selection has changed using the minus Smart Brush.
At the bottom of the shadow in the top picture you can see some red at
the border between the shadow and the sunny part. The plus Smart
Brush was used to fill in this missing detail.
It is now a simple matter to zoom in and scroll around the image to
make sure the Smart Brush Tool has done what it was supposed to do.
then Minus - Plus then Minus - Over and Over
The thing I've found when fixing up with the plus Smart Brush selected
is that often the minus Smart Brush removes too much.
There is an easier and more effective method of fixing any errors and
that is to use the Layer Mask built into the Adjustment Layer when the
Smart Brush tool is used.
With A Layer Mask
Layer Mask review - each Adjustment Layer comes with a Layer Mask and
each of the Smart Brush Techniques uses an Adjustment Layer.
This means it's really easy to fix any problems created in the first
adjustment without going back and forth between the plus and minus
doing an adjustment with the Tool you'll see a new Layer
and Layer Mask above you're Background.
The Layer Mask is black and when it's painted with white the color
you're adding (in this case, Green) will be applied (the same as using
the Plus Brush.
When the Layer Mask is painted with black then adjustments that have
been applied (the Green color in this case) will be removed (like using
the Minus Brush).
Paint with White to add the color.
Paint with Black to remove the color.
Working with the Layer Mask in difficult places is much easier than
trying to use the add to adjustment and subtract from adjustment Smart
Brushes - at least is seems that way to me!
Smart Brush Tool
The Detail Smart Brush Tool will produce similar result to the standard
Smart Brush Tool but does so in a different way.
The reason for using the Detail tool is that you get to make the
selection choices rather than the standard tool making all of the
In one sense, the standard tool acts like the Magic Wand and that can
be unpredictable and annoying.
Another advantage of the Detail brush is that it works really well on
more complicated objects.
For example take a look at this image ...
It's fine but could use some minor adjustments. The sky was very
dramatic in the original scene but isn't at all dramatic in the image.
The Detail Smart Brush was chosen and after some investigation the
Could Contrast in the Nature category was selected and carefully
painted onto the image with my Wacom tablet.
After tuning up the sky, the dull red of the engine seemed somewhat
flat and boring - it seems to need some contrast. The Lighting
category has a Contrast High adjustment so that was painted over the
dull red of the engine.
on the sky
on the engine
Painting in the adjustment is much easier and far more accurate, at
least in my opinion, than letting the brush make those decisions.
The change to the sky is dramatic and the increased contrast on the top
of the engine is more subtle yet effective.
Speaking of which - all of the adjustments (with a few exceptions) can
Each of the adjustments is done with an Adjustment Layer and the nature
of these layers is that they can be modified.
In the engine example the Adjustment Layer that Elements used for the
sky is a Levels Adjustment Layer and here's the default adjustment when
Cloud Contrast is chosen.
If you know levels then you know that moving the little adjusting
triangles below the histogram will change the appearance of the image.
Moving the left and right adjustment sliders will probably make more
dramatic changes than you want so just kind of mess about with the
middle slider to either lighten or darken the adjustment layer.
To lighten the Adjustment Layer move the middle slider to the left.
To darken the Adjustment Layer move the middle slider to the right.
Here's the image with a more dramatic sky -
This may be a bit much but it's easy to see how simple it is to make a
In the same image the top of the engine had it's own
Brightness/Contrast Adjustment layer and here is the default adjustment
The contrast can be further modified by moving the contrast slider.
Once you've done the initial selection it is very easy to make
changes. All you need to do is select the layer that has the
adjustment and then choose a new adjustment from the drop down lists.
With this picture it would have been easy to go through all of the 26
different adjustments - simply click on the layer, select the Smart
Brush tool and then choose the adjustment.
The Adjustment Layers for the color options are Gradient Maps and they
can be modified in lots of interesting ways.
This is the Gradient Map for the Blue Mustang and if you click on it
then Gradient Editor comes up.
Messing With The Gradient
The Gradient Editor allows for changes to the color or the Gradient -
and here it is ...
Underneath the gradient is that little blue square thing (it's called a
- If you move it to the left the color gets lighter and if
you move it to the right the color gets darker.
- If you select another gradient from the Presets then the
original blue will be replaced with the new Gradient.
- When you click the little
button above the Presets the list of gradients on your computer will be
displayed and you can choose a new one.
The thing to do with this brush is to try out all of the combinations
and permutations to find something you like.
As you become more familiar with these two Tools, you'll probably agree
that using one or the other of
them is very much like just using one of the Adjustment Layers because
- basically - that's what it is.
There is a couple of categories that deserves a more
in-depth look and they are the Portrait category and the Black and
White category ...
Black and White
OK - so I really, really like a good black and white picture! To
me they can convey so much emotion and that feeling rings true with a
lot of folks.
If it were not true then black and white would not be as popular as it
is when faced with the color pictures that can be digitally captured.
The filters you are offered go some way to simulating some of the black
and white films that were available over the years. Historically, films
were only sensitive to blue light. As time progressed, film became more
and more sensitive to red light. So 100 years ago, skies in black and
white photos were very dark in colour compared to the skies of say 20
years ago. To
capture that “older” look, you need to go to the red or yellow filters.
The great advantage of digital editing is that you can just change part
of your image. Our grandfathers would have really appreciated that. Add
to that the fine tuning of a Wacom tablet and Smart Brush technology,
and you’re on a winner.
The category includes seven adjustments that should satisfy your every
black and white conversion need. The adjustments simulate filters
used with black and white film to create specific results and the good
thing is that you can use as many of the filters you want on one image!
Here are the filters ,,,
And just for the heck of it here is the original color (which was
adjusted with the Smart Brush earlier) and the conversion to black and
- Blue Filter
- Cold Tone BW
- Green Filter
- High Contrast Red
- Red Filter
- Yellow Filter
Here's the Layers palette and just so you know,
the filters that were chosen from bottom to top were ...
(1) Blue Filter on the red part of the engine,
(2) High Contrast Red Filter on the sky,
(3) Red Filter on the three high rise buildings, and
(4) Yellow Filter on the bottom of the engine and on the mid and lower
The Filters are using Adjustment Layers that were created in the full
version of Photoshop and they cannot be edited in Photoshop Elements -
just so you know ...
The filters painted over the image were chosen very specifically and
the choice depended on the underlying color of the original and that,
my friends, is taking us dangerously close to color theory.
You can actually start off with this tutorial by Terry
where he talks about colour. The tutorial was written for Paint
Shop Pro but colour theory is the same for all digital editing programs.
In general, a filter lightens its own color and darkens the color
across from it on the color wheel. As the color wheel progresses
from the filters color to the color across from it the colors become
progressively darker (from white to black).
The Red Filter and the High Contrast Red Filter
lightens its own color (red) and the colors immediately adjacent to
red. As the colors get farther away from red they get darker
up to cyan which is almost black.
Skies aren’t actually blue they’re more cyan in color which means the
red filter will darken them. A downside to the red filter is that
it will lighten lips and faces which have a red component to them. So
people become more anaemic-looking!
This is most often used in well lit outdoor scenes and tends to produce
very dynamic skies - like this, for instance. The sky in the
engine picture was painted with High Contrast Red.
The high rise buildings were painted with the Red Filter so they are
not quite as dramatic.
When either of the Red Filters is painted onto a color image ...
- Fair skin will be almost white
- Blue skies will be black (very dramatic)
- Green foliage will be kind of gray.
The Blue Filter will darken Red and that's what I wanted with the top
of the engine. But the blue filter will make the sky look paler
and the clouds will become merged into the sky and the sky becomes less
This is what you’d have seen in black and white photos from the 1950s
onwards. The upside of the blue filter is that it will darken lips.
Deft use of the Wacom tablet and smart technology, can accentuate just
the lips, especially useful in female portraiture.
I first tried it with the Red filter but it made the red part of the
engine white which was not particularly appealing.
the 1960s, most black and white film photographers kept a yellow filter
on the lens like we digital workers keep a skylight, UV or clear lens
protector in place
The advantage of this filter was it was a “half-way house”. It gave
some sky darkening, it didn’t make the skin tones to bleached out, and
it didn’t darken foliage too far. If you want to soften and lighten the
green foliage, you’ll need the green filter and just control that part
of the image – since a green filter lightens green.
However, green foliage reflects infra-red differently than green paint.
Foliage goes lighter and paint goes darker. Infra-red film was
developed to differentiate tanks from trees in the Far Eastern wars of
the 1950s and 60s.
This Filter was chosen for the yellow part of the engine and some of
the background. The Yellow Filter will lighten its own color and
I wanted the area immediately below the red part of the engine to be
much lighter. It could have been used to just accentuate
the sky from clouds, rather than to darken it.
portraits is one of the categories under the Smart Brush and Detail
Smart Brush tool and modifying portraits just happens to be very
popular with many digital editors.
There are seven different portrait adjustments available, including ...
This deserves it's own page so click here to follow along with a Portrait
- Bright Eyes
- Lighten Skin Tones
- Pearly Whites
- Spray Tan
- Very Pearly Whites
Tablet or Mouse?
Using A Layer Mask
The Detail Brush
Modifying The Adjustments