Now that the latest version of photoFXlab (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link) has been released for several weeks, I have had a little time to come to grips with how to use the program and integrate it into my workflow. I have been surprised by how often I am using the Masking Brush to add new skies to my landscape images.
The above depicts a really cool private bar on the beach on one of the more remote roads in Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas. I had the fortune of sailing there a couple years ago and am revisiting some of the images I did not process. It is so clear for starters because I converted it to a 32-bit HDR image in Photoshop CS6′s Merge to HDR and then processed the resulting TIFF file in Lightroom. (See my blog New Lightroom and Photoshop 32-bit Processing Capability for info on how to do this). So many of my images from Marsh Harbour had no clouds in them - so I added a few in the background for effect. Now that I am getting familiar with the Edge Aware Masking Brush in photoFXlab, it is turning out to be one of my favorite selection tools.
These are the basic steps to replace a sky and it is very simple:
1. Once inside the plug-in, duplicate the bottom layer (always do this when using photoFXlab – it can save you from a lot of problems in the long run.)
2. Go to +From File button and select a cloud image you like – watch out for the way the sun is lighting up the clouds. If you took the original image in the middle of the day, use a cloud image from a similar time of day. Also be sure it is a jpeg or a psd file (it will flatten the layers when it comes in) – photoFXlab does not open up camera raw files. I took a NEF file I liked and saved it down as a jpg in Photoshop – pretty easy.
3. Use the Tools tab in photoFXlab to Scale, Move or Rotate (or flip) the cloud layer to fit the area you want to fill – line up the part of the image you like, even if the edges go outside the original image size.
4. Move this layer underneath the duplicated image layer.
5. Now the magic starts! Select the Masks tab and create a fairly small size brush setting the Strength to 0 (creates a black line on the mask so you see through to layer underneath), Hardness around .20 (shows a fairly large feather size – set to 1 it has no feather), Flow 1.00 (if you make this .5, you only get a gray or 50% black color and it is hard to keep the tone the same), and Edge Aware 1.00 (set to 0 it will detect no edges). Start painting on the mask – make sure the crosshairs or inner circle of the brush do not enter into any part of the image you want to keep. Let the feather area of the brush slip over other areas so edges between image layers will be sharp. Zoom in if you need to get the details. Paint around the horizon edges first, and then fill in the background with a larger brush size and Edge Aware set to 0. Voila – there is your new sky.
What is really neat is that even if your little edges disappear – like the coat hangars and chain in the above image, the details can sometimes be brought back by lowering the opacity of your cloud image just a little – in this case I set it to 54% since I did not want the clouds being the major center of attention. Just be careful around the horizon lines – set the Strength to 255 (white) to clean up areas that you painted over – it actually acts like an eraser.
The +From Stack button was clicked to create a Stamped or Composite layer on top. In the Adjustments tab the Saturation was set to 23, Contrast to -23, Dynamics to 51, Highlights to -21, and Shadows to -4. The image was brought back into Photoshop where a Curves Adjustment Layer was added for additional contrast and that was it.
This is so much faster than using the Photoshop selection tools or any of the masking plug-ins, but it really works best on skies. I believe other programs should be used when you have a more complicated selection. Still, this is one of the major things I need it for and it works great!
I listened to Topaz Webinar A Closer Look at Edge-Aware Brushes with Nicole Paschal, who does a great job creating interesting and useful webinars that highlight all the Topaz products and how they work together. You can type in questions in an interactive way with both the staff and Nicole as she is presenting the webinar – very informative. Several webinar tips are listed below along with a few of mine:
- If you find that you are not getting a good distinct line between the items you are trying to select, change the brush size down to a smaller size – it will give you a better result as large brushes do not recognize edges as well. The Edge-Aware technology is based upon the color under the crosshair so this gives a smaller and more accurate sample.
- Can either brush or click to fill area. Usually the first pass of brushing will leave little areas not covered completely or with a little haloing, but if you brush back over it , they disappear. Nichole finds that it is easier for her to just click several times as she moves through the area of the image instead of actually brushing.
- Make sure your inner circle is not touching any color you do not want selected.
- Set the Brush Strength to 255 to paint back in areas that you accidentally covered up when painting on the mask. If you set the Strength to 125, the area allows 50% of the layer below to show through, as done in the last image below.
- Probably best to create another +From Stack layer if you want to add some of the Brushes effects to an image. Nicole says she likes to do just one major brush effect to each layer at a time. There is then more flexibility in adjusting opacity and changing blend mode for each change done.
If you look closely, you can tell this Marsh Harbour image used the same cloud image, this time at full strength. The same workflow was used to get the clouds in the image. Normally at this point the Adjustments tab and the Dynamics slider would have been used, but it just did not give me the look I wanted. Therefore Nik Color Efex Pro 4 was selected with these filters stacked: Detail Extractor with control points removing it from the sky, Darken/Lighten Center which gives the slight vignette effect, and Pro Contrast using the Dynamic Contrast slider which I do not always like. Nik Viveza 2 was also used to add detail into the water and sharpen the stones a little. Sometimes you have use more than one plug-in to get the right effect, but the sky still looks great using the Masks tab.
This beautiful Lion’s Face is atop a tower on Flagler College (the old Ponce de Leon Hotel) in St. Augustine, Florida. They are all over the campus and city. These slightly different steps were followed: The Adjustments tab settings were: Saturation set to 2, Contrast -37 and Dynamics +96. From the +From File, Shadowhouse Creations Marshmellow Skies was opened, then scaled and rotated in the Tools tab so it was on a diagonal to fill out the sky area. A Stamp layer was created by clicking the +From Stack button, and in the Effects tab the Black and White Effect preset called Opalotype-Hand Tinted Cream preset was applied. This layer was set to Lighten Blend Mode at 100% Opacity. In the Masks tab again, the middle of image was painted out using a large brush set to a Brush Value of 145 (middle gray) so it just clears the effect from the lion’s face a little. Back in Photoshop my layer style frame was used (see DLS Free Layer Style Frames blog).
Pretty easy and fast to replace a sky in this new program from Topaz. If you have some of their products already, download the photoFXlab trial and see what you think – I personally like the feel of the new interface and am using it a lot!…..Digital Lady Syd
Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Digital Lady Syd’s Review of Topaz photoFXlab v1.1
Using photoFXlabs v1.1
This topic has always interested me. There has been so much written on this so I am not going to go over all of it. I have found that for me a little trial-and-error works as good as anything when it comes to this type of processing. Luckily in Lightroom there are presets that will give you a quick look to see how an image will stack up as a monochrome type image, and there are many black and white presets for Photoshop’s ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) that can be downloaded. The St. Augustine, Florida lamp lights RAW file had a really bright blue background and very black wrought iron with little detail. By converting to more of a sepia tone, the detail came out very clear. The really interesting thing is that to get the detail to pop out of the ironwork, an Invert Adjustment Layer set to Soft Light Blend Mode at 92% opacity was used.
When an image just seems overwhelmed by color and I am having trouble controlling the feel, applying a black and white conversion or introducing a slight color effect can calm down the whole image. That is what happened in the above image that was taken near the summit of the large volcano, Mauna Kea on the Big Island in Hawaii, of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (apparently to be dismantled in 2016) where the Keck Telescope is also located. The little observatory was lost from view in both the strong browns of the surrounding dirt and foreground gravel and the soft blues of the Mauna Loa volcano in the background and the sky. It was processed totally in Lightroom using the Basics section sliders and a preset I had created from reading David duChemin’s book Vision & Voice – Refining Your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. I call it the duChemin Massai Chocolate split-tone & vignette preset. Only those two sections of Lightroom 3 were used to create the preset so it still works with Lightroom 4. In Split Toning the Highlights Hue was set to 34 and Saturation t0 30, Shadows Hue was 0 and Saturation 6, and the Balance slider was set to -25. In the Lens Correction section’s Manual tab, the Lens Vignetting Amount slider was set to -63 and the Midpoint to 18. I have used this preset several times as it has a very nice subtle tonal appeal. That was basically all that was done to make this a much more interesting image.
Another one of my favorite images from Hawaii but once again, the detail would have been lost if it had been processed as taken. The original RAW file had very little detail in the rising hillside and water and the color was totally dull – almost a flat-looking black and white. By converting it to a nice cool water tone, the image takes on new life. The image has several filters stacked in Nik Color Efex Pro 4: BW Conversation using Dynamic Contrast method, Photo Stylizer which give it the beautiful blue glow using Method 1 at 28% Strength, Low Key, Lighten/Darken Center, and Detail Extractor using 7 control points to selectively bring out the details in the image. Nik Viveza 2, Imagenomics Noiseware filter, and OnOne PhotoFrame were also used to complete the image.
Here is another example of a very busy and overly bright image that really loses its appeal in color. Since it is the oldest drugstore (built in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1739) in the United States, it already has a that vintage feel to it. Therefore a sepia tone really adds to the effect the image should be portraying. This image was an HDR image taken in bright sunlight during the hottest part of the day. It was processed into a black and white using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, the the background original was layered on top and a black layer mask was added to bring back a hint of color in the windows. Topaz Lens Effects was used to add a slight vignette effect, and finally OnOne PhotoFrame acid burn controlled 05 was added. For both Topaz and OnOne website links, see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog.
It appears that if you have a really nice image but the colors just do not create the correct effect, or if the image gets lost in all the powerful colors or brightness of the day, give the black and white or sepia tones a shot. You do not have to have one of the mentioned filters – Photoshop has a wonderful Black and White Adjustment layer that also adds any monochrome color. Great way to get a quick impression of whether this effect will work on your image. Definitely do not write off an image just because of color issues – it may turn out to be a great shot!…..Digital Lady Syd
This new feature is taking the Photoshop world by storm! What a great new addition to Lightroom’s 4.1 upgrade. If you have Lightroom 4, you have got to try this. Matt Kloskowski, one of the NAPP Photoshop Guys, created a nice short video, A New HDR Feature in Lightroom 4.1, on how to process your images using the Merge to HDR in Photoshop, and then bringing the 32-bit tonemapped image back into Lightroom to use with the camera raw sliders. The image above is from the Hilton Waikoloa Village – some of the unusual art that is in this complex. After processing the 32-bit image using Lightroom sliders, Nik Color Efex Pro 4 was applied within Lightroom using these filters: Detail Extractor adding (+) control points on only the sculpture itself, Midnight using Neutral mode, and BiColor User Defined Preset 02 Brown/Pink and using (-) control points on the sculpture. The image was taken back into Photoshop (now as a 16-bit psd file) to add OnOne PhotoFrame acid burn controller 06 (see sidebar for website in my Tidbits Blog), which could have also been added in Lightroom. The Nik plug-in could have been added in Photoshop and a Smart Object used to save the setting – instead I created a Note in Photoshop to recall how the settings were used used in Lightroom.
What is absolutely amazing about this addition to Lightroom is that the images are so sharp and clear with little noise especially in the skies like you get with the other HDR processes. It is totally amazing that neither of these images had any sharpening or noise reduction applied. Wow!
Here is my first attempt at creating a 32-bit image using three bracketed images hand-held of the beach on the perimeter of the Hilton Waikoloa Village – not a very good place to sunbathe but nice and breezy. No other plug-ins were applied to this photo. I was major happy how clear and sharp this image came out. The frame was created using the layer style instructions for my Digital Lady Syd’s Free Layer Style Frames – colors can be sampled from image and changed out easily.
What is happening here is that inside Lightroom you select your bracketed images, right click and Edit In – Merge to HDR. This opens up the HDR program in Photoshop where set the tonemap setting to 32-bit, not 16-bit. Next check the Remove Ghosts box. Close and if you do not have your Preferences set up in Lightroom to save your HDR’s as TIFF’s, you need to do a Save As, name file, and select TIF as your format to bring back into Lightroom. Once back in Lightroom you are free to use all the sliders available to create the look you want on the 32-bit image. The image can be taken back into Photoshop to add your framing or plug-ins if you want, where it is now back at 16-bit mode.
I am still amazed how great these images are looking. This image is of some colorful plants at the entrance to the Lightner Museum, in the old Alcazar Hotel, St. Augustine, Florida. After processing as a 32-bit image in Photoshop and bringing back into Lightroom, the image was taken back into Photoshop and the new Topaz photoFXlab v1.1 plug-in (see sidebar for website in my Tidbits Blog) was opened and the Dynamics slider applied at 55. I also removed a very small amount of noise with Imagenomics Noiseware. This is my free Thin Double Edge layer style frame (see link above) with colors sampled from the image and that was it. This image is incredibly clear!
My last example once again was processed in Lightroom as a 32-bit hand-held HDR. I did apply a little Nik Color Efex Pro 4 Detail Extractor to the gargoyle only to sharpen it a little. No noise reduction was applied, only my Thin Double Edge Frame layer style applied to the image. Very easy. This image was taken at Flagler College (the old Ponce de Leon Hotel) in St. Augustine, Florida.
I am going to have to go back through my old HDR images and update them. This process is totally amazing if you want a very natural HDR look. Wonderful new feature! It is a pretty easy procedure to follow and the results are definitely worth keeping!…..Digital Lady Syd
Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
32-Bit HDR Using Lightroom and CS6
Wow! What to say! What to say! This is a totally new direction for Topaz – technically this is a stand-alone interface that can also hook into Photoshop as a plug-in. It combines all their individual plug-ins into one spot to be accessed together, instead of individually (which you can still do if you want). For those looking for a quick answer, I am recommending photoFXlab for two very good reasons – InstaTone and the Dynamics slider. These are rather unique features and I commend Topaz for coming up with them. Also the Mask and Brush tabs with the already familiar Edge Aware technology is top-notch. For a full review, see below. Definitely worth downloading the trial and trying it out, especially if you have some of the other Topaz plug-ins. (To access the Topaz Website, see sidebar of my Tidbits Blog.)
Topaz had a difficult time getting Version 1.0 to work smoothly so Version 1.1 was released and now it is a much more solid program. This lovely bovine image from the Big Island in Hawaii is my first attempt at using photoFXlab and overall it went pretty smoothly. To create it, the original image layer was duplicated by clicking Duplicate at bottom right of the interface or CTRL+J can be used just like in Photoshop (the plug-in now has layer capability). Next the Plugins tab on the top left was accessed, Topaz Adjust 5 was opened, and the Sun-Dynamic preset was applied with Adaptive Exposure set to .25, Regions 5, and Tone Setting Strength set to 0.74. I did not use one of the canned effects in the Effects tab, to me that is not where the strength of this program lies. The sky’s reds and yellows were too harsh, so the next step was to go to the Masks tab at the top right and create a sky mask using the Mask Brush set to 125 (set to 0, it will be a totally black brush) to soften the color by 50%, and the Edge Aware slider was set to 100 to follow the skyline closely. The sky was selected very easily and inverted so only the sky was revealed. (Remember – White reveals and black conceals.) At this point you could go the Adjustments tab which is very similar to the Basic tab in Camera Raw and correct the sky, or just adjust the opacity of the layer or change the blend mode for a different look. In this case the layer was changed to Linear Light at 82% opacity, just as if you were in Photoshop’s Layers Panel. That is all that was done on this really basic attempt to try out the new product.
What I Like!!!
- The Dynamics Slider – might be worth buying this plug-in just because this is a great slider to have in your bag of tricks, and they have got the halo issue under control. It could be a plug-in all by itself. As Topaz says “It gives it the dynamic local contrast without the dirty grungy look.” I love it! Also all the sliders use IntelliColor technology which gives a more natural effect – for example, the Contrast slider does not increase Saturation like it does in Photoshop or Lightroom.
- Being able to use InstaTone – just click on a number of internet sources or use your own file of photos – it instantly will apply the tones to your image. (This is totally addictive!) By clicking the Remember button, up to six different tonal images can be revisited before you decide which one to apply. Of course, you may need to go to the Adjustments tab for some tweaking to make it look good on your current image. Still great idea and very easy to do! See the image below.
- The Masks tab with Edge Aware brush capability has made using the masking function very easy. Much easier and faster than actually going into ReMask 3 for detailed selections like the sky behind tree branches. Apparently it is best to use ReMask 3 when selections are fairly simple.
- The addition of layer capability such that the image can be duplicated and the Opacity and Blend Modes set – looks very similar to Photoshop’s layer palette. Great addition! Also, can just scroll over the different Blend Modes to see what effect they have on the image without actually applying it – very quick to see if you like it.
- The Brush tab – great functionality here – and all the brushes from Topaz Adjust 5 and Black and White Effects are included, just have to adjust the top slider to get the effect you want. The Edge Aware technology for general selecting is much better than anything Photoshop has IMO. Great time-saver here.
- Even though I do not love the Effects in the Effects tab, they do make it very easy for you to see what the effect will look like on your image by just clicking the Preview With My Photo checkbox. This has a similar feel to using presets in Lightroom.
- The Tools tab may actually help with compositing a couple of images together to get an interesting effect or to add a texture to an image. Still has some limitations here but does have some possibilities. See orange daisy image below.
- The addition of a History tab – have not had to use it yet, but I can see where it could be very useful in certain circumstances.
What I do not like!!!
- The thing I dislike the most is that you cannot get back into the Topaz layers once you have applied the settings. You would never know that you had applied a Linear Light Blend Mode at 82% Opacity to a layer if you did not write it down. It would be great if the final application would come back into Photoshop as a Group containing the Topaz layers that could then be adjusted for opacity, blend mode changes, sharpening, additional masking, etc. as a group or individually. It would be so much more functional that way. UPDATE: Topaz has added a unique file extension to their program. Now you can open the image up in photoFXlab and restore your settings as applied. Not a total solution, but much better than before!
- In a related issue, the Smart Object functionality does not work when entering from Photoshop – I have always had trouble with all Topaz plug-ins when using Smart Objects – they do not retain the settings applied, but the ability to save your own presets has kept this from being a major issue. I understand that they cannot add the individual image changes made from brush strokes, but it would be nice to have the settings available that were made in the Adaptive Exposure or Details sections of the individual plug-ins or the Adjustments tab in photoFXlab. The image is flattened upon exiting and that is it, even if converted to a Smart Object before opening the plug-in. This requires me to write down everything I did and then create a note in Photoshop for the image if I want to refer to the settings at a later date. Big problem!
- The Effects are not that great – so I still end up going into the individual plug-ins using the Plugin tab. This is the only way I can reach the presets I created with each individual plug-in, which tend to be the ones I use the most. You cannot save them in the Effects panel at this time.
- It will not read RAW files, although in Topaz’s defense, if you bring your image into the plug-in through Photoshop (which converts NEF files to PSD immediately and Lightroom creates a TIF) or some other program, it will read PSD, JPG and TIF files. I have not had a problem with this. It would be a problem if you used the stand-alone program and wanted to bring in a RAW file.
- When zoomed in to apply brush effect in tighter areas, it is hard to get around the image – no window to move where you are painting. Need to know that ALT + click in layer will switch brush to Hand Tool to move around and it is very jerky.
- The Tools tab has a Scale section but it only scales 1 to 1, does not transform or stretch so it is hard to get a texture with interesting borders lined up – they get cut off.
- This program does not come with their bundled package at this point – if you do not own all the different plug-ins, you get a much shorter list of examples in the Effects tab.
- As touched on before, no way to create presets, especially in the Effects tab, like you can in the individual plug-ins so that you can use the same settings again.
- When you use the bracket keys in the brush tabs be careful as it associates with the last slider you changed, so when you think you are changing the size of the brush, you might be changing the strength or some other slider. Also, the size jumps in large amounts – not a smooth change adjustment. Small nags here.
- In InstaTone Photo Library, there is no way of remembering which tonal image you used – have to count over rows and down to locate it again. This is another small nag. The work around is to use your own finished image next time you want that look applied.
- In InstaTone internet locations or when using your own folder of images, when a black and white image is clicked, the effect applied to your image is still in color - it will darken the image a lot, but the color is still visible. (Work-around for this is to switch your image layer to black and white first – easiest way to do this is to set Saturation slider to -100 in the Adjustments tab, then click on black and white image in InstaTone.)
This image of the Lagoon Towers at the Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island in Hawaii uses the InstaTone tab. The 500px.com button was selected and by clicking on different images that pop up, the tone is transferred to your image. This is ingenious! The image above uses an image called Chiesa die Croce Rossa by Sven Fennema. Next the Adjustments tab was selected and the wonderful Dynamics slider that simulates the Topaz Adjust HDR look was set to +75. The Brushes tab was used last and the Burn Brush Tool selected and set to a Strength of -.10 to darken the shadow of the palm trees just a little. Be sure the Edge Aware slider is set to 1.00 for sharp selection. I have to admit this turned out really nice with just a little effort. To see what my original image looked like, see below.
As usual, Topaz has good documentation for the plug-in with the User Guide (which needs to be slightly updated with the new version release) and forums. They also have a good video on U-Tube, Quick Intro into photoFXlab v1.1, which shows you all the bells-and-whistles in detail, and I found it very helpful as the program can be a bit confusing until you look at it.
This image is actually two images composited in photoFXlab using the Tools tab. Using the +From File and adding another of my orange daisy images as a new Topaz Layer, the Tools tab was selected and the image was scaled, rotated and moved to adjust over the original layer correctly. On the new image layer mask, the Brush Value moved between a Strength of black (0) and white (255) to create an effective mask – this was a little tricky until you get the hang of it. Clicking on the +From Stack, a composite of the two layers was created on top, preserving the layers underneath. Next the Adjustments tab was used and several of the sliders were tweaked including the Dynamics slider set to 94. On the top layer, another +From File was clicked and Shadowhouse Creations Scratchbox4 texture (and one of my favorites) was added and set to Linear Light blend mode. The centers and a little bit of the petals were painted out using a Brush Strength of roughly 125 or middle gray. The OnOne PhotoFrame (see sidebar for website link at my Tidbits Blog) was added back in Photoshop to finish up the image. I believe with a little more time, I can probably do more creative things using the composite feature, but it might still be easier to do this in Photoshop where a Free Transform command can be used to adjust textures and images.
All in all this plug-in is a wonderful addition to the Topaz line up of plug-ins – just needs some smoothing out. What I love about Topaz is that once you buy it, you always get the upgrades for free and I do believe this product will get much better. It has lots of useful things going for it. If you have a mental block on what to do with a picture, the InstaTone tab is fabulous for that. I would never have thought to try out the tones in the Hawaiian image without using it. Also the Dynamics slider is a terrific addition. I am hopeful that Topaz will make it so you can at least retain their layers in Photoshop once the plug-in is applied. It would be wonderful to have that flexibility. I will definitely be trying out more effects and hope to bring you some new ways to use this plug-in in coming posts. In the meantime, try out the program, especially if you already have some other Topaz plug-ins on your computer. They have a great discount going until the end of the month. …..Digital Lady Syd
Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Using photoFXlabs v1.1
Using Topaz photoFXlab to Replace Skies