Turning a Gaussian Blur into a Soft Glow in Adobe Photoshop

  • Thread starter CraigHardy
  • Start date


May 11, 2021
Reaction Score
  • #1
One of the many joys I get out of writing posts on this blog is passing along some really cool tips to those of you who love to work in Adobe Photoshop. The possibilities are truly endless with this application and I’m sure I have my hands full for the rest of my life. After all, I do plan on writing these posts forever. It’s only been a few years and I already have over 450 of them. That’s a remarkable feat, if I don’t say so myself.

Anyway, I have a pretty cool tip for you today that takes advantage of Smart Objects, Smart Filters, some blurring and a blending mode. I’ve written about each one of these topics on this blog, so if you’re interested in any of them, please search those terms in the search bar at the top of this page.

In today’s post, I’ll use a demo photo that I’ll add a slight glow to. The goal is to demonstrate just how easily you can alter the way an image looks in Photoshop. The change won’t be drastic, but I hope to give you an idea of what the possibilities are. The most important aspect of this post is the setup. I’d like to convey the important of Smart Objects and how they can assist when attempting to experiment with changes such as the one I’m going to make. Since it’s ultra important that we work in a non-destructive manner as much as possible, it’s critical that we employ at least one of the available methods for doing so. There are plenty, but when working with filters, Smart Objects are the most straightforward.

What is a Smart Object?​

I know I’ve already discussed Smart Objects in the past. I was doing some reading this past weekend when I came across the best description of what these things in Photoshop are. Basically, think of a Smart Object as a box you put your image inside of. Once the image is inside, you can make many changes to the object (box) itself, without ever touching the original image. It’s a protective layer that keeps any change you make, non-destructive. What’s best is that the image inside the box can be taken back to its original state at any time. Smart Objects really are incredible tools.

What is a Smart Filter?​

Smart Filters are regular filters that you apply to Smart Objects. There’s not much special about them other than that. The filters don’t change in any way, besides what you apply them to, so there’s nothing new to learn in that regard. And just so you know, when you use the Filter > Convert for Smart Filters menu item, all you’re doing is modifying the layer so it’s a Smart Object. That’s all.

The Demo Photo​

Here’s the original photo.


As you may have noticed, it’s a bit dull. With that in mind, I’ll run the image through Camera Raw and I’ll apply my usual modifications to it. If you’re interested in what those modifications are, please check out this post.


There, that’s better. Now I can move on with the rest of this post.

Converting the Photo to a Smart Object​

To transform this layer into a Smart Object, I think I’ll give the method I just told you about earlier a try. I’ll head up to the Filter > Convert for Smart Filters menu item and click.


When I do that, I’ll see the small icon appear in the lower right corner of the layer thumbnail in the Layers panel. Also, if I open up the History panel, I’ll notice that the most recent state was Convert to Smart Object, which coincides with that I wrote above. By using the item under the Filter menu, I’m merely changing the layer into a Smart Object.


Adding a Gaussian Blur​

Since I have the Smart Object all set up, I can now move onto applying a filter to the image. To do this, I’ll head up to the Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur menu item and click.


When I do that, the Gaussian Blur dialog box will appear.


Inside this dialog, I can choose the amount of blur I’d like to have applied to the image. Since I’ll be modifying this later on, this value isn’t important right now. Setting up the filter is more important than the specifics. When I’m finished, I’ll click the OK button to apply the filter.

Adjusting the Blending Mode​

Now that I have the Smart Object created and a filter applied to it, I can make the image look the way I want it to. Here’s what the Layers panel looks like now.


The best part about applying filters to an image via Smart Objects is that you can adjust them on the fly. Right now, I’d like to adjust the blending mode that belongs to the filter. Currently, it’s set to Normal, which is making the entire image blurred out. I can’t see any details. I’d like to change Normal to Soft Light, which will give me a softer, deeper looking image, that’s clear. That’s the goal, anyway.

The best way to alter the blending mode of a Smart Filter is to double click the Blending Options icon that belongs to that specific filter in the Layers panel.


When I do that, the Blending Options dialog appears. This panel gives me the ability to change the blending mode that belongs only to the specific filter. I can also change the opacity if I wanted to. I like the full effect, so I’ll leave the opacity alone. I will change the blending mode to Soft Light though, as I mentioned earlier.


When I’m finished, I’ll click the OK button a take a look at the final product.


To me, things look pretty good. As I said at the beginning of this post, the change won’t be drastic. It is richer though.

Making Further Adjustments​

If I didn’t like the look after I applied the blending mode, I could always open up the filter dialog box again to adjust the blur with the blend mode applied, so I could see the effects in real time. To do this, I would simply double click on the Gaussian Blur Smart Filter layer in the Layers panel to open the Gaussian Blur dialog box once again.


Once the dialog box is opened, I’d push the slider back and forth to give me the best soft glow effect.

What’s the Value?​

The true value of this post isn’t that I showed you how to apply a soft glow to an image using Smart Filters. The value is that I demonstrated that you can apply this same workflow with so many different Photoshop filters. It doesn’t have to be a blur. It can be something completely different, such as additional noise, some sharpening or many more that are available. It’s the concept that matters here, not the small task that I achieved. And Just so you know, any appropriate Smart Filter that you add at this point will be contained in the same Smart Object box that the blur is currently in. All new filters will have their own blend modes and opacities that can be adjusted, so the sky’s the limit.


I suggest you open up Photoshop to play around with some Smart Filters a bit. You’ll quickly discover the power they offer and how they can modify a photo. In the meantime, I hope I clearly explained how to use a Smart Object and a Smart Filter to add a glow to a photo in Adobe Photoshop. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this post, please leave them in the comment section down below. Thanks for reading!