Digital Lady Syd Reviews Topaz Black & White Effects 2.1
I first reviewed this plug-in with its initial release back in my Topaz B&W Effects Plug-In – A Real Winner! blog where I cover lots of things I still like about this plug-in. Behind Topaz Detail 3 and DeNoise 3, plug-ins I consider essential for any image, Topaz (for website link see my Tidbits Blog sidebar) Black & White Effects is my next most used Topaz plug-in – even more than Adjust. And black and white treatments are not the first thing I think about when using this plug-in – I think creative expression (as you can see by this and my related blog posts). It is a very easy way to adjust the tones and color effects without having to do more manipulation later in Photoshop, which is usually required with other black and white plug-ins. When I am stuck on what to do with an image and nothing seems to look right, I can almost always find the answer in Black & White Effects – it never ceases to amaze me what it can do with an image! The actual black and white effect creates very good results also. I loved the original version so to me the newer release is just a better and updated version of the original. It now supports very clear large thumbnail views of the large number of presets (over 200) that come with the program. It has a cleaner interface that is more in line with Lightroom (which I think has the best interface of any program) and its competitors.
The image above shows an example of how I like to use this plug-in. The Traditional Collection’s Warm Tool II preset was used as a starting point. In the Basic Exposure section only the Contrast and Brightness was changed slightly. The Adaptive Exposure slider was increased to 0.16 and the Regions was changed to 15.10 – these two sliders are usually where all the Topaz magic occurs when adjusting image exposure. In Local Adjustments, several different brushes can be applied to the image at different overall strengths. A Detail brush was used to paint over the cups, a Smooth brush was applied to the reddish hanging jacket and white sack, a Burn brush was added over the white sack to tone it down a bit, and a Dodge brush was used on the top cup to make it show up a little more. Only the Color brush was not used above, which can really give an image a very special effect. The final step in the program was to set the Overall Transparency slider to 0.35. For more info on the image processing, see Image 1 at end of blog.
WHAT I LIKE!
1. Price! Price! Price! This program has all the features of the other programs and is a great value if you are not specializing in black and white photography. All the bells and whistles are there. And the guarantee that you are will receive free upgrades – this is a no-brainer in my opinion. I got the upgrade for free and this guarantee is true with all their plug-ins. I do not know of any other software developers that offer this type of program. In fact recently, Topaz released a version 2.1 to add more depth to the program.
2. The Quad Tone section is, in my humble opinion, the major reason this program is better than the others. No one offers these Quad Tone sliders for changing the color combinations (except in Photoshop itself using an 8-bit flattened Grayscale, then to Indexed mode) – this is just plain unique! It also is one of the major reasons the unusual soft effects can be created quickly.
3. There is now a full screen window that shows all the presets on large thumbnails of your image. It makes it really easy to compare the various effects from the different presets. And it will also do this on your own My Collection presets and your Favorites. Very handy! If you do not want to do this, a larger thumbnail will appear with the effect applied to your image as you slide over the list of presets.
4. One little feature it now has, and that I love, is the ability to leave each panel open so you can go back and forth without opening up each section every time you want to adjust a slider. Lightroom has always had this capability and it can be very handy to have various panels open. This can be turned on and off in Preferences if you do not like it, but I think it is great feature.
5. The Overall Transparency slider (which maxes out at only 50% of the color in the image) – use this with the Localized Adjustments Color Brush and you can get some wonderful soft color effects on your images. This combination cannot be done near as easily in other programs.
Version 2.1 Update
6. My biggest complaint was answered – Topaz put in an Apply button so you can stack your effects. This allows you to create special Quad Tone presets and Diffusion setting presets that can be applied to an image after you have created your basic black and white image. What a great feature to have – now you do not have to go out of the plug-in and re-enter – it can all be done at once!
7. Another great addition – I particularly love the Silver and Paper Tone presets shown as drops of color at the top of the right panel in their new Quick Tools section. These can create some beautiful subtle changes to your image. And once again you can set up special preset effects just for this section to use after the original effect has been created. The Color Filter presets are very nice to have handy also.
8. They added many more variations in a drop-down list for black and white borders that makes this section much more functional. It still has a size slider to adjust how large to make it on the image. I will probably use it much more now.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE!
Topaz has been really great about adding new features to this plug-in, so it does not have too many things I do not like, but there are a few.
1. I have a problem with the Adjustment Brushes totally disappearing. This happens when using a brush tool(s) on your image, and you switch to another section to and change a slider in a any of the other section, like Diffusion Effect for example, leaving your brush panel open. When your return to the Localized Adjustments section the brushes will not appear even. This was a problem in some of the Beta versions and that was fixed but reappeared again in this latest version. Why let you keep the panels open if they do not work when you return to them? I have put in a comment on this in the forum so hopefully this will get fixed soon. This should be an easy fix for Topaz. The work-around is to totally close up the brush panel by clicking the little down arrow next to the number 3 Local Adjustments section (do not worry, your original brush strokes will remain), and re-open it up again. Your brushes will now start working again.
2. Wish they would put an Tone Effect slider for the Quad Tones section so just that area could be adjusted. This is available in Adjust5 and Simpify4. It would also be nice to have a Strength Slider active for the Color Brush, as it is for all the other brushes.
3. Watch out after applying an effect that used a Localized Brush – the brushstrokes are not reset after an Apply. This can really mess your next effect you are adding. Just be sure to reset the section if you do not want the same brushstrokes applied again. (This also happens in Topaz Adjust 5 and Simplify 4, but does not happen in Topaz Detail 3 with the Effect Mask.)
4. Still having trouble getting the correct basic settings back when using the image as a Smart Object – I cannot get them to stick. The Last Used preset usually appears from when the program was last opened. I feel this is the weakest point with all the recent Topaz plug-ins. If there are settings I really need to remember, I create a preset or create in Notepad a list of my setting to copy into a Note in Photoshop (sits with the Eyedropper Tool).
5. Little personal complaints here: I miss the old preset image that was on the top left. Sometimes the large thumbnails are just too much and stick a bit more than I like and it would be nice to have that choice back. That is just my personal opinion. Please make a larger Apply button at bottom like in the other programs. Another little request of mine. Please move the size icons back to the right – I do not like going up to the top of the middle of the image to increase to 1:1.
I guess I am sounding a little critical in this blog, but this is such a good plug-in that I would really like it to be perfect. I know Adjust is Topaz’s best known plug-in, but this B&W Effects has the ability of being one of the best ever created with just a few tweaks. There are some other really nice features too. There is now a Curves Tool section and a nice selection of curves to choose from in a drop-down list which other programs do not offer – this is very handy if you are not liking the way the image looks and need to add some quick contrast. It still has the Diffusion section where the Softness, Diffusion and Diffusion transition can be adjusted gives a slight softness to the whole image – add the detail back in a specific area by using opening the Localized Adjustments and selecting the Detail Brush. This is a wonderful addition to your images and also appears to be unique to B&W Effects. Usually this is found in a color effect plug-in. Another add-on that has been included is a Zone Mode (click the Z at the top right which changes the navigation window into a histogram). By clicking on a number underneath, you can see by different colors which areas are part of that zone on your image. Since I am not into black and white and the Ansel Adams effect to that extent, it is probably not a feature I will use a lot, but many people will find this extremely useful.
If you have other Topaz plug-ins, you will find they all have very similar interfaces and the learning curve is pretty quick for this plug-in. As you can see from my selection of images and previous blogs, I really like the artistic flair this plug-in can add to an image for a needed pop. It is especially strong with the vintage feel. Since I own the other plug-ins and I have been comparing results, I cannot find any areas that Topaz has missed for those interested in doing straight black and white conversions.
……These begonias were just ending up too bright for my taste. To tone it down subtly, as a last step this image was opened up in Topaz Black & White Effects II using a preset I created in the first version that I call SJ Vintage Feel (all my old presets were moved upon updating). This preset contains these settings for Basic Exposure: Contrast 0.06, Brightness 0.06, Boost Blacks 0.26, and Boost Whites 0; and Finishing Touches: Silver and Paper Tone – Tonal Strength was set to 0.64, Balance 0, Silver Hue 12.29, Silver Tone Strength 0.85, Paper Hue 43.90, and Paper Tone Strength 0.38. The Overall Transparency slider was set to 0.55. It gave the soft feel that I needed with just a few clicks. This is something that I cannot do as easily if at all in the other black and white plug-ins. See Image 2 below for more details.
…..Another image from the Native American Festival. These beautiful leather purses being sold by a vendor looked a little overcome by color in the original RAW image. But by using the Black & White Effects plug-in, it becomes much more interesting to view. For the post processing in this image, all I did was click the reset button down at the bottom of the right-hand panels. Then I just went into each section and adjusted each slider until I liked what I saw. One section to look very closely at is the Adaptive Exposure and Regions sliders in the Adaptive Exposure section – these two sliders will give some very good results (this is true with any Topaz filter that has these sliders – always check them out). See Image 3 below for more info.
These beautiful pink dahlias were so easy to process. It was hard to decide which version to present but this was basically created by combining a very rich texture with Black & White Effects. I used a preset I had created called Hawaiian Morning uses my favorite Quad Tone section to get the results that are always spectacular. See Image 4 below for preset settings if you would like to them. The Black & White Layer was set to a Hard Light blend mode at 75% opacity so the original image is still preset.
To create my rather dark sepia toned image, Black & White Effects was applied to the image layer and also to one of the texture layers. The Platinum preset was applied with a Diffusion effect added, and then used a Detail Brush to bring back the fairies face. Another preset was applied to add a Quad Tone effect to the image for the nice sepia feel. See Image 5 information for more details, including my preset settings. A colorful texture was added in Photoshop on top of the fairy layer, and another of my old presets was applied to it to give it a similar color tone.
…..I took some artistic liberty on this image of the Towers at Westminster Abbey in London. I wanted to make the picture look different from what everyone else has. My first step once in Photoshop was to go to Topaz B&W Effects 2 and just added Traditional Collection High Pass I with the Creative Effects Diffusion – Softness slider at .16 and Diffusion slider at .14. Then three textures were added to get the final effect. See Image 6 info for more.
Bottom line – if you want a black and white plug-in, this is a fabulous way to go without spending so much and you get all the added color options. This program is one of the most powerful in the Topaz line-up in what it provides and the new upgrade just gives it a fresher look. It is still a solid contender as a black and white plug-in. It is definitely worth a second look if you want to add some creative aspects to your images. Check out my related blogs below – there are many different Quad Tones settings you may like. Definitely try out the trial and see what you think!
Sorry for the long post, but this is really that good a plug-in so I felt it needed to be reviewed thoroughly……Digital Lady Syd
Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs – check them out to see how I used this plug-in in different ways:
Digital Lady Syd’s Rule No. 7: Check Out Your Local History
Clowning Around with Topaz!
Where Am I?
Hibiscus Flowers – I Love to Photograph Them!
Black and White Effects on Outside Art
Cleaning Up a Messed Up Photo
Topaz Black and White Effects Quad Tones Are Great!
The Art Corner: Painting and Sculpture by Tassaert
Sunny Preset for Topaz Black and White Effects
Quad Tones in Topaz Black and White Effects Plug-in
Image 1: Topaz Detail 3 using the Overall Medium Detail II preset was applied – a layer mask filled with black was added and the mugs were painted back. Next Topaz Black & White Effects 2 was applied using setting discussed above. Kim Klassen’s Return texture (sign up for Kim’s newsletter and get several of her beautiful textures including the Return texture used in this image) was added with a 78% layer opacity – a white layer mask was added and the center of the image softly painted back into view. Next French Kiss Artiste Breeze texture was set to Overlay and 53% opacity. 2 Lil’ Owls Bonus Texture 4 (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link) was used as a border in white that was placed around the image. A Curves Adjustment Layer was the last step to add some contrast back into the image.
Image 2: This image actually used Topaz Detail 3 twice and localizing the effect on the flowers. Also some leaves had to be added to cover some rather ugly tissue paper that was sticking up. Three textures were stacked: 2 Lil’ Owls Mosaic Set Destine texture was set to Soft Light at 100% opacity, Kim Klassen’s Cloth & Paper Texture Florence set to Soft Light blend mode at 47% layer opacity, and French Kiss Artiste Avril texture set to Overlay blend mode at 29% opacity. A Curves Adjustment Layer was applied and the Auto button clicked to get the good colors. Then the Black & White Effects plug-in was applied as stated above.
Image 3: This image was very simply processed. Just used Topaz B&W Effects 2 to begin with using settings under image, then added a slight S Curves Adjustment Layer and painted out the two purses in the middle to add focus. Next a Levels Adjustment Layer was added with the middle tab set to 0.65 and the Output Levels set to 41 to soften the image just a little.
Image 4: I bought these dahlias to plant in my yard, but before I did, I took their picture using a kid’s bent white poster board for a background. It was then easy to add a painterly texture to the image without any distractions in the background. Mellisa Gallo’s Painted Textures 2 for 5 Friday Spring Sky texture was added. The Dahlia layer was duplicated, moved on top, and set to Soft Light blend Mode at 100% opacity – this removes all the white areas so the texture shows through. A Levels Adjustment Layer was clipped (ALT+Click between layers) and the Output Levels were set to 0 and 229 to lighten the image a little. Next I used created darken and lighten layers to dodge and burn on the flowers (see my The Best Dodging and Burning Technique! blog). A composite layer was created on top (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) was placed on top where Black & White Effects was applied. (Here are the settings I used: Adaptive Exposure: Adaptive Exposure 0.41, Regions 26, Protect Highlights 0, Protect Shadows 0, Detail 1.11, Detail Boost 1.09, and Process Details Independently; Quad Tone: Color 1 Region (R1/G1/B12) at 15.08, Color 2 Region (R63/G78/B85) at 143.9, Color 3 Region (R216/G211/B129) at 227.5, and Color 4 Region (R255/G254/B237) at 255.0; Vignette: Vignette Strength -.039, Vignette Size 0.83, Vignette Transition 0.58, and Vignette Curvature 0.70.; and Transparency: Overall Transparency 1.00.). Once back in Photoshop, in the Layer Style Advanced Blending section, the B Channel was unchecked which gives a bluish tint to the whole image. The layer was set to Hard Light blend mode at 75% opacity.
Image 5: Once out of Lightroom, Black & White Effects 2 was applied using the Platinum preset and changing Adaptive Exposure slider to 0.42. Next the Diffusion section was opened and the Diffusion slider was set to 0.79. In the Located Adjustments, the Details Brush at 0.50 opacity was used to paint detail back into the fairy’s face and hair. These settings were applied. Next a Quad Tone preset was applied and set to an Overall Transparency of 1.00. (Here are my SJ_Quad_DkB_Gr_Yel_Wh preset settings: Color 1 Region (R1/G1/B12) at 15.08 ; Color 2 Region (R63/G78/B85) at 143.9; Color 3 Region (R216/G211/B129) at 227.5; and Color 4 Region (R255/G254/B237) at 255.0.) Back in Photoshop Kim Klassen’s Framed texture was added on top and set to Soft Light at 100% to get the slight edge around image. Next Kim Klassen’s Abstract Texture was added and taken into Black & White Effects 2 where my SJ Partial Color Look preset (one of my favorites) was applied. (Here are the settings for this preset if you would like them: Basic Exposure: Contrast 0.10, Brightness -0.02, Boost Blacks -0.10, and Boost Whites 0.50; Adaptive Exposure: Adaptive Exposure 0.64, Regions 50, Protect Highlights 0.02, Protect Shadows 0.02, Detail 2.28, Detail Boost 1.00, and check Process Details Independently; Quad Tone: Color 1 Region (R16/G15/B11) 7.46, Color 2 Region (R79/G78/B68) 83.33, Color 3 Region (R159/G156/B143) 164.2, and Color 4 Region (R255/G254/B242) 255.0; Film Grain: Grain Kodak TMaxPro 100, Grain Contrast 1.25, and Grain Size 32.50; Vignette: Vignette Strength -.058, Vignette Size 0.92, Vignette Transition 0.28, and Vignette Curvature 0.11; and Transparency: Overall Transparency 0.67). This layer was set to Soft Light blend mode at 43% opacity.) Now just a Levels Adjustment Layer and a couple text layer using free Radium J and Batik Regular fonts.
Image 6: The three textures used in the image were: Melissa Gallo’s Painted Textures Winter Storm set to Linear Burn blend mode at 42%, Taupe Canvas set to Linear Dodge at 48% opacity, and Confetti set to Color Burn at 60%. These textures were all obtained from her specials such as Black Friday or 2 for Friday specials.