Anything Photoshop or Photography

HDR Effect


Image of Memorial Gardens in Ormond Beach, FloridaThis week I thought I would just show a quick image that used Nik HDR Efex Pro 2, one of the 7 plug-ins in the now free Google (Nik) Collection. I do not do much HDR shooting anymore, but here is an image taken a few years ago that used 5 bracketed shots. If you like to shoot HDR, I would definitely check out this software – it is different from both Lightroom’s and Photomatix Pro’s HDR results. I had done a previous review years ago (see my Digital Lady Syd Reviews Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 blog) and still love the plug-in as much as before. So here were the quick steps that got this effect:

  1. From Lightroom, all the images were selected and opened in Photoshop as individual files.
  2. Next the plug-in was opened in Photoshop by going to File -> Automate -> Merge to HDR Efex Pro2 – press the “Add open file” and then the Merge Dialog button. You can click the check box for Create Smart Object so you can go back in and adjust effect. (Can apply plug-in from LR by going to File -> Export with Preset -> Merge to HDR Efex Pro2.)
  3. Check Alignment if images not shot on a tripod. Same with Ghost Reduction – move slider at bottom to show image that shows image with movement that looks best as in clouds or trees. Always check Remove Chromatic Aberration.
  4. Now just presss Create HDR – a tiff file is created.
  5. The Default preset is automatically applied to the image. Now the fun is going through all the presets and see which one(s) look best on the image. Experiment with the sliders on the right. Tone Compression is the amount of HDR effect seen – set all the way left there is no HDR effect. Method Strength slider goes from very weak to very crunchy looking. All the other sliders can create some nice effects. If you find a combination you, just create a preset by pressing the (+) sign in the Custom section on the left. The above image used the Deep 2 preset to start.
  6. Note this image is now set to 32-Bits/Channel – this is a huge file and lots of PS effects and actions will not run on it. I change it to 16 or 8 bit mode so I can do things as in the next step. Go to File -> Mode -> 8-Bits/Channel. This causes the file to be merged down and the Smart Object is rasterized. (If you duplicate the Smart Object and rasterize the layer, turn the eye off the bottom Smart Object layer, and now change the mode, select Don’t Merge Layers, the Smart Object info can be retained in the layer that is turned off – sort of a hassle, but it can be done.)
  7. Here is a tip from one of my favorite Photoshop people, Scott Kelby, which he offered in his videos on this plug-in. Apply the HDR effect and then take the resulting effect into Nik Color Efex Pro 4 (another wonderful plug-in and is included in the download bundle) and select the Glamour Glow filter set to the default preset. He says it is the magic that really pulls the realistic HDR effect together and does not look over-the-top. That is what was done above.

To finish up the image, the waterfall was blurred so it looks a little more like a long exposure. (See my Smoothing Out Those Waterfalls blog on how to do this.) In this case, two Motion Blur layers were created since the water flows in a couple different directions. Also the slight blue chromatic aberration edging in the small sky in the upper left was removed by using the technique in my A New Look at Chromatic Aberration blog – worked beautifully. That is all that was done.


Here is an image that used the Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 plug-in that was done a while back. Just another good example of how this looks. I really like the effect in the skies. This image used Grannys Attic preset.

Hilton Time Share on the Big Island Hawaii********

The London of Parliament image taken several years ago used both the free Nik HDR Pro Efex 2 and free Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 (see my Make an Ordinary Image Interesting Tidbits Blog for info on how to do this.)

Image of the Parliament Building in London, England********

Here is another example using the previous version, Nik HDR Efex Pro – I really liked how this image turned out – it the used Grannys Attic preset, but it had some different parameters in the first edition, which was also very nice.

Image of a craggy tree in HawaiiHope you will download this Google (Nik) collection of plug-ins – you will not be disappointed. As far as the HDR Efex Pro 2 goes, as Scott Kelby says, try it as it has a little different look from other HDR software and you might really like it. This is true of all their plug-ins – give them a try. I have always loved the Nik plug-ins – they run very smoothly even on older computers. When used with a Smart Object, the settings are preserved, even the control points that are used to localize the effects, so you can go back and adjust later. Sad to see this is probably the end of this plug-in but at least everyone now has a chance to use it. Have a great week experimenting!…..Digital Lady Syd


HDR image of Flagler Beach, FloridaImages in this blog are of my local Flagler Beach, Florida, and were taken with my Nikon 10-24 mm wide-angle lens. This week I decided I should address this new technology that is only in Lightroom CC. Since I have not been shooting HDR for a while, it is not something I use that much. I have always used Photomatix and Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 plug-ins for my HDR images, so this is definitely an interesting update for Lightroom. Many die-hard HDR fans are not liking the results. My take on this process is that it is very good and it comes with Lightroom so you don’t have to buy it. I will probably use it when I can.

So I am going to go through my Lightroom workflow real quick so you can see the screenshots for each step. The actual shooting using bracketed images to create an HDR image is a huge topic that I am not covering in this blog. It is recommended that you first do the Merge to HDR before doing any other changes in LR, especially the Adjustment Brush changes.

1. Need to first highlight each of the images to be merged into HDR. My images selected were using Exposure Compensations of -2 1/2, -1/2, and +1 1/2. Adobe says you only need to use 2 images, but some people say noise appears unless 3 are used. Apparently 3 images are enough to get good results, even if you have more bracketed.

2. Right click on one of the selected images and choose Photo Merge -> HDR. The following dialog will open showing the basic merged image.

Screenshot of Lightroom's Merge to HDR dialogI decided to use all three HDR Options even though a tripod was used to shoot these images. Always use the Auto Align to be sure they are lined up correctly. Use Auto Tone to bring in the information for the light and dark tones from each image. Only need to use Deghost when you have some sort of action in the image. This could be people moving around or, as in this case, clouds and waves that can be moving quite a bit so the High setting was selected. By checking the Show Deghost Overlay, you can see where it deghosted. I believe it was quite windy when I took these images, so that is why the plants on the right foreground were deghosted. With each change selected, the image updates.

3. Click the Merge button when all settings are correct.

Screenshot of the Lightroom HDR Merged imageAbove shows the expected rather flat merged DNG image. The DNG file format is the same as a RAW file – it is just Adobe’s file extension for RAW files. I do not usually save my RAW files as DNGs, but use Nikon’s NEF file format when I import. This is really just personal taste.

4. Apply settings to really pop your image.

First adjust the Exposure slider which now can be set between +10 to -10. The normal settings are from +5 to -5. Now since the blacks and whites are making the image so flat looking, set these. To get the best Auto blacks setting, hold SHIFT and double-click on the word Blacks – it will now be set at the position to get the best effect. You can still adjust it more if you do not like the results. Do the same for the Whites slider. Then add some Clarity and Vibrance to finish up. See the image under Step 6 to see the settings along with the HSL settings.

5. Use Lightroom’s Adjustment Brush to Dodge and Burn localized areas. Screenshot of areas to Dodged using Adjustment Brush in LightroomThe Adjustment Brush was used to some Brightening to very localized areas – the waves and some of the rocks. Above is a screenshot showing these areas as painted as a red overlay on the the image, and the brush settings used to get these results. Just a little Exposure was added (+0.47), some Clarity, and Sharpness so the waves show up a little better. Note that in this case the brush was set to a 100% Flow, but I do not always do this. For a more gentle effect, use a lower Flow amount and build up the effect as needed.

Screenshot of Burning in Lightroom using the Adjustment BrushAbove the Adjustment Brush was used to add some Darkening or Burning effect to some localized areas – only the Exposure was set to -0.39 and a few parts of the sand were darkened. You can see the white dot that shows where the dodging was added before. Just click on it to further adjust the dodging effect.

6. Adding HSL slider settings.

Screenshot showing Lightroom's Basic settings and HSL Luminance settingsHere are the settings used for the Basic settings and the HSL Luminance settings for this image. I did not feel it needed anymore changes to the colors other that the Oranges and Blues adjustments. Overall the image looked pretty nice and balanced to me.

Below is another image created using the HDR process in Lightroom. I am really pleased with the lack of noise in the image – the DNG file was very sharp, but the colors still needed a little tweaking. Some overall sharpening was done to the image in Lightroom and an Adjustment Brush was used to even out the shadows in the dark window shutter behind her. Also two Radial Filters were applied – just decreased Exposure slider for the darker vignette effect, and then increased it slightly to get the face and body lightened slightly. In Photoshop some clean up was done using the Spot Healing Brush and Clone Stamp Tool to remove a restraining rope that ran in front of the umbrellas. Also a final Curves Adjustment Layer was applied to just add a bit more contrast in the blacks. This could have been done in Lightroom as well.
Image of a lady painting the parasols at the Magic KingdomThat is about all there is to it! It is very easy to do and by having the Lightroom sliders available, it is easy to adjust just the way you want. You can still work on the image in Photoshop or add some special effect presets in Lightroom. Lots of options. Hope you try out this new command, and try out shooting some HDR if you have not tried it yet. I believe it can really take your image to a higher level of detail and color. Chat at ya next week!…..Digital Lady Syd

How to Get That Creative Painterly Look

This week I decided to give a few examples of how I am getting the beautiful painterly look on images. This is the part of Photoshop I love the most – the creative part. And this is where I can take advantage of some wonderful plug-ins and textures that are now available.

I did not start out creating this fantasy painterly looking image, but I like it more the more I look at it. This image used just a basic cloud texture and Topaz (for website link see my Tidbits Blog sidebar) Simplify 4 to get this dreamy effect. The image uses 5-shots taken along the road to Flagler Beach, Florida. I have always loved this house – it just looks like a Florida beach house to me. The HDR tone-mapped image was created using Photomatix Merge to 32-bit HDR in Lightroom and the resulting Tiff file was then processed. Once opened in Photoshop, Topaz Detail 3 was selected where the Lighten preset was first applied, and then the Overall Medium Detail II preset with the sky painted out to keep it smooth looking. Shadowhouse Creations beautiful free Puff Clouds texture was added in Normal blend mode at 100% opacity. I added a layer mask and painted out the clouds and started getting this really dreamy look by only removing the clouds from the house. Next Painted Textures 2 for Friday Seafoam texture was added and set to Overlay blend mode at 50% opacity. The last step involved creating a Composite layer of all the layers (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) and applying Topaz Simplify 4 Painting V preset to it. On a New Layer above, a Mixer Brush was used to blend in the rough edges of the clouds and give an overall painterly look. A Curves Adjustment Layer was added and the Blue Channel Curve was moved to get the color of blue in the image. That was it! Not real hard but definitely a very abstract artsy look. This was a lot of fun to create!

Tips for Getting the Painterly Look:

  • If you like to get a quick painterly feel, Topaz Simplify 4 cannot be beat! The nice thing is that once you apply the filter, even though it may look somewhat canned, you can always use Photoshop’s Mixer Brushes, layer masks, and various textures to make the image your own look – that is exactly what I did on the image above. Topaz Adjust also has several presets that can also give a very nice base painting look. See my blog Digital Lady Syd Reviews Topaz Simplify 4 for more information on this blog.
  • I cannot say enough about using the right texture. Most of the sites I listed have either free or fairly inexpensive small sets to try out to see if you like what they do. Try different textures, and when you find a few you really like, put them together in a special file so you can get to them quickly when needed. (Click on Categories Textures for several links on this topic.) If you like what the color is doing to an image at a particular blend mode, leave it in place. With a layer mask you can paint in localized areas of texture.
  • Photoshop’s Mixer Brushes just cannot be beat for getting some really nice artistic results. They are great for hiding that very contrasty background, or for smoothing out edges, or blending colors that have too sharp a transition. The pink flowers below have the whole background smoothed to get rid of a very contrasty green garden behind them. On a separate layer, a larger sized Mixer Blending Brush was used to fill in the dark contrasty areas, then a smaller size was used to smooth edges. You can always erase areas where you make a mistake since the Mixer Brush strokes are on a separate layer. A couple things to remember when using the Mixer Brushes is that (1) in the Options Bar be sure you are set to Sample All Layers and turn off the layer eyeball if you do not want to pick up color from some of the layers; (2) the Blender Brush is probably the type to be used the most and should be set to a higher Wet field in the Options Bar to work easily – at least 20% and up to 100% give really nice results; and (3) the larger the brush, the longer it takes to lay down a stroke so keep it under 75 pixels if you can. Also take History Snapshots every now and then (or add a Padlock to your base image so you cannot paint on it) so if you get on the wrong layer, which is easy to do, you can go back to a previous step without losing all your previous painting. If you want to add color with a Mixer Brush, just click on the “Load the Brush After Each Stroke” icon (5th one over) in Options Bar. Make corrections with layer masks and apply them (right click and choose Apply Mask) as you go along. Create clone and paint on layers above and merge down (CTRL_E) – then use a Mixer Brush to blend. See my blog Adobe Photoshop CS5′s Mixer Brushes for lots more info on how to use them.
  • There are a couple other ways to get a really nice painterly effect. The brilliant Russell Brown has developed two scripts panels to use  inside Photoshop that guides you along as you paint. The oldest is called the Adobe Painting Assistant which has different download links for CS6 and CS5 versions – just keep scrolling. The newest panel is the Adobe Watercolor Assistant Panel that can only be used with CS6.  These are all free downloads at this link. The Watercolor Painting Assistant takes some practice to get a really nice result, but it will give a beautiful result. See my blog Dr. Brown’s Painting Assistant Panel for CS6 and CS5! and Think Pink! Rally for the Cure Pink Rose for more information on the older and more user-friendly Painting Assistant Panel.
  • The last effect that has proven to be a real hit the last couple of years is the new Oil Paint filter in Photoshop CS6, although it can be added to CS5 by using the Pixel Bender Panel. See my blog Photoshop’s CS6 (and Pixel Bender’s) Oil Paint Filter for more information on how to use this filter. It is a lot of fun and easy to do!

To create this painterly effect, the pink Belarusian flowers were brought into Photoshop and cleaned up. A New Layer was created and Fay’s Signature Watercolor Smooth Blender Brush was used to smooth out the whole contrasty background.  I have looked at lots of painting tutorials and Fay Sirkis tutorials make the most sense to me. If you are a member of NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professionals), and you should be if you love Photoshop – best value and site for Photoshop nuts, Fay has several great webinars on line there and you can download all her brushes. Here is a link to a great article on her unique technique where she shows how she made one of her Monet Blender brushes – if you want to give it a try – Fay Sirkis: Painting Magic, Adobe Photoshop CS5. Next Kim Klassen’s Cloth & Paper magicfilm3 texture, which is a black scratched up texture, set to Linear Dodge blend mode at 56% opacity was added – it gives just a touch of texture without losing all the strokes from the Mixer Brushes. The Sharpen Tool was applied to the center of the two main flowers to draw the eye and a Darken Layer was added and set to 56% to emphasize edges. (See my The Best Dodging and Burning Technique! blog for more info on this.)
The painterly effect in the Flagler Fishing Pier image was created using a solarized preset and some soft painting with the Mixer Brush. Just had to get out and do a little shooting even though it was major chilly and windy at the beach. The original image was created from 5 images put together using Photomatix 32-bit Merge to HDR for Lightroom. Once in Photoshop I added two New Layers and added my Cloud Brushes SJ Clouds 1 brush (layer set to 60% opacity) and SJ Clouds 11 brush (layer set to 35% opacity) at 5000 pixels. A New Layer was added on top and filled with black, set to Soft Light, and the opacity set to 23% to increase the overall contrast of the image. (Check out Mark S. Johnson’s  Photography Site Photoshop Workbench 374: Creating Dramatic Lighting with Blend Modes on how to do this.) A Curves Adjustment Layer was added and Auto button pressed to get a nice contrasty image. Next Topaz (for website see sidebar) Adjust 5’s Solarized Dreams III preset was applied with Detail Strength set to 0.82 and Detail Boost set to 0. A New Layer was created and Fay Signature Watercolor Smooth Blend Mixer Brush was used to smooth out details in the foreground sand. A Selective Color Adjustment Layer was used and the Blues Cyan was set to +17 and Yellow to +24 – the layer mask was converted to black (CTLR+I inside the mask to invert) and the sky was painted back with a soft white brush. Another Selective Color Adjustment Layer as added to make the sand look the right color in the foreground – Yellows Cyan was set to +100, Magenta -14, and Yellow +1, and Greens Magenta +19. Next French Kiss Artiste Fauve Rainbow texture was set to Hard Light blend mode at 28% opacity. A Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer was clipped (CTRL+click between the layers) and Saturation was set to -100 to remove the color from the texture but leave the canvas look. This is one of my favorite textures to give a real painted appearance to my images. A Levels Adjustment Layer was added and the center tab set to .85 to add just a little more contrast to the midtones. I really was surprised how painted this image turned out.
This image uses Topaz Simplify 4 again and textures to get the painterly look. I decided to show this image as it is a favorite technique of mine to use the power of good textures to give that painterly effect. The basic image was very nice with to begin with and probably would have been fine with just the Lightroom tweaks, but I thought it would make a beautiful painterly piece. Topaz DeNoise was run on this image since it had a 2000 ISO setting. On a duplicate layer Topaz Simplify 4 was applied using the Watercolor II preset – in the Localized Adjustments section, the pink and white flowers were lightly painted back to bring back some detail but leaving the background with a very soft look. Once back in Photoshop the detail was still not strong enough so the DeNoise layer was duplicated and placed on top of the Simplify layer. A black layer mask was added and the flowers were softly painted back using a white low opacity brush to add a bit more localized detail to the image. Two beautiful textures from Melissa Gallo at Painted Textures were added on top: 2 for Friday Set 2 Creamsicle at Hard Light blend mode at 74% opacity, and Cyber Monday Set 1 Winter Wheat set to Linear Light blend mode at 78% opacity. On the top texture a Layer Style was opened and on the Blending Options page, the B channel was turned off. One of my new favorite textures is by French Kiss – Studio 3 White Wash – it was added using the Overlay blend mode at 65%. All of these textures are really great for getting the painterly effect. Once all these textures are added, you really have to try different blend combinations and opacities. It is not at all unusual to have to add a layer mask and paint out areas that are not working right. In this image I added a layer mask to the white wash texture and painted out just a little bit around the edges of the flowers to get them to stand out a little. In fact I had actually added a different top texture and decided I did not like it and started looking for a different texture when I came up with the white wash texture. I had to back and add a Mixer Brush layer to get rid of some distractions in the original image once the textures had been added and it looked bad. If you do not like the way the painterly effect is flowing, it probably is not quite right and you need to walk away and come back again later – it really is a work of art you are working on.

If you just want a nice painterly brush texture on top of the whole image, check out my Getting a Nice Painterly Landscape Effect with Topaz Simplify and Texture for a short workflow – this gives a nice finishing look to an image if there is not enough of a painterly effect already.

I hope you got some new ideas for creating that artsy look. Check out some of my related blogs for more examples and resource links that might help you along. This was a lot of fun to put together this week and I hope you enjoyed it!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Digital Lady Syd’s Rule No. 6: Try Something New!
Photo Art Compositing For Fun
Digital Lady Syd’s Photo Art Workflow
Using Topaz Simplify for That Artistic Feel!
Using a Couple of My Textures
Simplifier and Simplify Filters
Topaz Adjust Using Painting Venice Preset – Beautiful Effect!
Topaz Simplify and Lens Effects Saves an Image!

My Version of Photoshop Tennis!

I really love taking photos but I am slowly realizing that once in Photoshop, I end up with something entirely different than what I had in mind! There is an older book, Photoshop Secrets of the Pros by Mark Clarkson, where players “pass images back and forth making changes as they go” for a set number of rounds, ie., Photoshop Tennis. This book first got me thinking about doing radically different effects to images. Last week I did a blog on Digital Lady Syd’s Photo Art Workflow where I basically showed what I do to give a different feel to an image. This week I am continuing with that theme showing other options to get more of that photo art look. The images are also examples of what happens when I start playing around with different combinations of effects in Photoshop – I am never quite sure what I will end up with. I also downloaded and tried Photomatix Pro’s new program Merge to 32-bit HDR this week so that was part of the first two images’ workflow. This image of the Ormond Heritage Condominiums (located where the old Hotel Ormond used to reside in Ormond Beach, Florida) was first processed as a five-image HDR shot using Merge to 32-bit HDR. The really neat thing is that if you already own Photomatix HDR Pro 4.2 and Lightroom 4.2, you can download it for free from the link above. All you do is select all the HDR images in Lightroom, go to File -> Export and select Merge to 32-bit HDR (or just right click and go down to Export and select the program). A dialog opens where I chose the following: Preprocessing and Merging (Align Images, Crop aligned result,by matching features, and include perspective correction) and Remove ghosts; and Name Merged File: Combined file names and check Stack with first selected photo and Scale pixel values to fixed range. The images are processed very quickly and a TIFF file is placed back with the original images, just as if you had done this in Photoshop’s Merge to HDR, except Photomatix never opens up a program – it all happens inside Lightroom. What a cool little program from Photomatix! The above image was mainly processed in Topaz photoFXlab (see sidebar for website at my Tidbits Blog) plug-in using Topaz Adjust presets. See Image 1 settings below for more info.

When adjusting the crop on the top image in Lightroom, I got a quick look at what a small crop would look like. Basically I just liked the way it looked – the frosted light of the lamp post and the comfortable porch balconies make you want to sit outside and enjoy the view and weather. The only thing done on this image in Photoshop was using Nik Color Efex Pro 4 and stacking a bunch of filters: High Key, Sunlight, Detail Extractor, Dark Contrasts, Bi-Color Filters and Image Borders. It just works!
This image was also processed in Lightroom using PhotoMatix Pro’s Merge to 32-bit HDR. I then did my adjustments on the resulting TIFF file in Lightroom. In Photoshop I decided right away to use the new Topaz photoFXlab program where Topaz Simplify and Topaz Lens Effects were used from the Plugins tab. See settings for Image 3 for the exact info on how this was applied.
Here is the same image with exactly the same settings as in the image above except for the framing, but the twist is that a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer was clipped to the Vivid Light texture and set to a Difference blend mode at 71% opacity. I loved the way it looks like as if it is being drenched in some bright light – almost a spooky feeling. I am glad I did not stop with just the image created above as I think I like this one better – there may be more of a story in this image.
The next two images show an example of starting with a night photo taken with my point-and-shoot camera at the Gold Lion Cafe in Flagler Beach, Florida, and turning it into a really interesting almost wintery looking sketch. I did not exactly plan this result. The night image is definitely what it looked like that night as I sat topside and listened to the ocean waves rolling in. But I really like the final image with the artistic pop added.

Here is the image with a more photo art feel.

Both images took a lot of manipulation but the second one used the Layer Styles dialog to get the beautiful color out of it. See Image 6 settings below to see how this was done.

As you can see, if you stick to the basic workflow, which all these images did, but add in that new tool or different feature (like the Layer Style Blend If sliders or the new Lookup Adjustment Layer or a unique crop or blend mode combinations), you can get some very different and interesting images and end up in a totally different spot. As always, every time I work on images, it is always completely consuming and lots of fun – otherwise, why do it? Tennis anyone?…..Digital Lady Syd


Settings for Image 1: Once the Tiff image is taken into Photoshop after making Lightroom adjustments, the background layer was duplicated Topaz photoFXlab plug-in was opened. After duplicating the layer, the Mask tab was selected and the plain sky was deleted. A new cloud image was load using +From File and placed under the top layer. A stamped layer was created using +From Stack and Topaz Adjust was opened up and Photo Pop preset was applied. In the Brushes tab, detail was increased throughout the image. PhotoFXlab was exited. The background was duplicated again and put on top in Photoshop. This layer was taken into Topaz photoFXlab again and Topaz Adjust’s preset Painting Venice was applied. Back in Photoshop a black layer mask was added and the bright areas of the image were painted in to add depth to the trees in the image. ShadowHouse Creations You’d Be Surprised texture was applied using Overlay blend mode at 34% opacity. Finally a Curves Adjustment layer was added. My frame layer style (see DLS Free Layer Style Frames) was added sampling colors from the image.

Settings for Image 3: Duplicated layer in plug-in. In Adjustments tab used these settings: Temp -4, Tint 23, Sat -12, Exp 1.80, Contrast -8, Dynamics 49, Sharpness 51, and Shadows 22. In InstaTone tab image from 500 px of an orange leaf from Aliona Shewtsova and set the layer to Saturation blend mode at 74%, which really brought out the colors. Next a +From Stack stamped layer was created. In Plugins tab Topaz Simplify was opened and the BuzzSim preset was applied as is. In the Adjustments Tab these settings were used: Temp -17, Contrast -5, Dynamics 87, and Sharpness 3. Layer opacity was set to 83%. Stamped using +From Stack. Plugins Tab used Lens Effects and applied Vignette Selective section-Soft Olive Green preset with these settings: Center on right side of slide, Vignette Strength 0.21, and Opacity 50%. Exit plug in. Exit Topaz photoFXlab. Flypaper Apple Blush taster texture was applied using Vivid Light blend mode at 100% opacity. A Curves Adjustment Layer was applied with the individual channels being adjusted to bring out the colors I wanted. My thin double edges layer style was applied (see DLS Free Layer Style Frames).

Settings for Image 5:  After basic color adjustment in Lightroom (just a single shot), this image was opened in Photoshop CS6 and Nik Color Efex Pro 4 plug-in was opened. These filters were stacked:  Midnight using Neutral Color Set set to 65% Overall Transparency; Bi-Color Filters using the #1 Color Set; and Photo Stylizer using Cool Silver, Style 1, Strength 38% and Overall Opacity 61%. Back in Photoshop Sarah Gardner’s Blush Ginger texture was added and set to Overlay blend mode. The new Lighting Effects Filter in CS6 was used to add some soft light to the center lantern lights – the Spotlight effect was used at an Intensity of 7 and Ambience of 60. A Color Lookup Adjustment Layer set to Abstract and Gold-Blue and the layer was set to a Screen blend mode at 64%. OnOne PhotoFrame (see sidebar for website at my Tidbits Blog) Emulsion 02 was added sampling a dark color from the image for the color.

Settings for Image 6: After applying the same Color Efex Pro filters as Image 5, the image was opened up into Topaz Simplify and a Sketch preset I had previously created was applied so that the lines looked pretty much like a black and white sketch. (To create, use Mode Edges; Colorspace RGB and all sliders in Simplify section – set all to 0.00 except Details Boost 1.00, Remove Size 0.08, and Remove Weak 0.10; Adjust section – Brightness 0.00, Contrast 0.73, Saturation 1.40, and Saturation Boost 1.92; and Edges – MonoEdge Normal, Edge Strength 5.00, Simplify Edge 0.22, Reduce Weak 0, Reduce Small 0, and Flatten Edge 2.28. To adjust the sketch detail and darkness, adjust the Simplify Edge slider.) Now here is the tricky part – a Layer Style was added by double clicking on the layer and in the Blending Options dialog, the Blend If section is used. On This Layer, the black tab was split by ALT + clicking on the tab the split tabs set to 0 and 164 – the white tab was left at 255. On Underlying Layer, the White Tab was split and set to 0 and 72 and the Black Tab left at 0. It looks really weird but it gave me the color effect I liked. This layer was set to Lighten at 100% opacity. A composite layer was created (CTRL+SHIFT+ALT+E) and using Select -> Color Range, the white was selected. CTRL+Backspace to delete the white from the image. Two layers were created underneath the top layer and using Best Mcbad Watercolor Brushes 22 and 30, a watercolor sky was created using blue and light pink. A Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer was added to increase the saturation in the Yellows. A Curves Adjustment Layer was added to increase contrast. This image used different settings for the Lighting Filter – Intensity 5 and Ambience 93 – only wanted a slight glow since it is daylight. Some clean up was done. My Layer Style (see DLS Free Layer Style Frames) was added to frame the image and that was it! Whew!

My 100th Post! – My Favorite Things About Photoshop

Since I have reached this major milestone, I decided this week I would show a few examples of what I use the most in Photoshop and what is the most fun for me when using Photoshop. In some of these cases, I will be mentioning certain products or people but that is mainly because I really like what they do – they do not know me. Also, no external plug-ins will be discussed here.

Several things were done in Photoshop to process this image of a sailboat model of the USS Constitution located at The Casements in Ormond Beach, Florida. The most important is that a 32-bit tone-mapped image was created in Photoshop’s Merge to HDR, saved as a TIFF file, and then brought into Lightroom 4.1’s Develop module using the sliders to bring out all the details. This now makes Photoshop’s HDR processing on par with several of the other HDR software programs. The TIFF image goes back into Photoshop to finish up using another one of my favorite tools – Puppet Warp – to straighten out the extreme warping in the original image (it was actually applied twice). It was a difficult image to work on since it has a square glass encasement and the horizontal louvered blinds in the background. Just using the arrow keys is sometimes enough to push and pull the image pins the correct amount and Puppet Warp works much better than Lens Correction or the new Adaptive Wide Angle filters for me. Puppet Warp can be used in a Smart Object for readjusting later if needed.

I am slowly really getting into textures – they just do so much for a boring image. The texture above was created using one of the best panels you can apply to Photoshop and that is Dr. Brown’s (may be the top Photoshop guru of all time and works for Adobe) Paper Texture Panel – biggest time saver for anyone that likes to experiment with textures! This is one feature I use all the time and can’t believe I used to go through my textures individually to try them out. To really enhance this process, create a folder on your desktop that contains several sub-folders to place copies of your favorite textures. He recommends keeping these folders to around 20 textures as it takes a while to load if it is much bigger. I have sub-folder on textures I created, my favorite textures I use all the time, and a few on textures I have downloaded or bought. You can switch folders very quickly in the panel. This image used Paul Grand’s Scratches Texture and Gavin Hoey’s beautiful grunge frame 1. I am also putting a plug in here for my favorite texture guy, ShadowHouse Creations, who offers all kinds of beautiful textures for free, and I use them all the time. I reference his textures in many of my older blogs.

Those wonderful brushes in Photoshop! My very first blog featured the above image where I actually used a Photoshop Mixer Brush to paint in the petals of the flowers. This is still one of my favorite painted images – the Oleander flowers in the original were not near as pretty. The background was a Karen Sperling texture called 08Sperling (I believe this now has to be purchased – not sure how I got it) that added was a very delicate complement to the image. She is actually a Corel Painter Master and does some wonderful things in that program.

Totally indispensable! The last step I always do before I save an image. A few months ago I viewed a short video tutorial at Kelby Training called Mastering Curves: Adjusting Tonality by Ben Wilmore, another great Photoshop guru, who teaches how to use Curves correctly. (I have found the Kelby Training tutorials to be the best you can find on every aspect of photography and photoshop.) The basic thing to know about Curves is that by selecting the hand tool in the top left of the adjustment panel and dragging straight up in the image it lightens it up, and down darkens it. If you get two dots close and rather flat on a Curve line, you will lose detail.  A black layer mask can be created to target just the areas you want changed. It is a pretty simple technique but can improve an image quickly. Also you can save Curve settings if you want to apply them again. The image above of the beautiful birds in the Spring at the Rookery used several Curves Adjustment Layers to match the tones for the composite.

I have been using this Double Edge Frame layer style a lot on my images – gives a nice clean look with colors that can be sampled from the image. Also plain black borders can easily be created. To download this layer style for free or directions on how to create it, see my blog referenced above. There are many other uses for layer styles that I love, but I use the frames the most. Also a couple textures were added here with Dr. Brown’s Paper Texture Panel.

I love the way you can go back in and fix your settings if you do not like the way they look. Most of the plug-ins I use have Smart Object capability and this is why I use them. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone back into Nik’s Viveza 2 and adjusted my control points! Just another great Photoshop feature. The image above of the Hilton Time Share swimming pool on the Big Island in Hawaii used Smart Objects for both the Nik HDR Efex Pro using Granny’s Attic preset and Viveza 2. Also two Curves Adjustment Layers were used.

I could go on and on about all my favorite features I love. The above are some of the ones I use the most. I thought about writing on the new Defringe section in Lightroom 4.1 and Adobe Camera Raw that works wonders on this problem – better than any of the noiseware software available for controlling the ugly fringe problem. The new sliders in both are much improved and both now do a great job on reducing noise too. Also the Graduated Filter is much improved. Back in Photoshop I love being able to use LAB mode to sharpen some of my images selectively. Content-Aware tools cannot be beat but I still use the plain old Clone Tool the most. And the improved Sharpen Tool is fabulous for those little areas that need a detail boost. I even love the Color Replacement Tool that hardly no one uses! And all the blend modes just add so much to an image. Needless to say, there is a lot to like about Photoshop and so many ways to do things. I guess the real fun is learning new ways to use it and that is why I blog! Hope you have enjoyed some of what I have learned these past couple years!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Reviews Nik HDR Efex Pro 2

I am a big HDR fan. There is always a big discussion about which is the best application – the NAPP Photoshop Guys RC Concepcion loves Nik HDR EFex Pro, Matt Kloskowski swears by Photomatix Pro, and Scott Kelby love Photoshop’s HDR. As you can see everyone is all over the place on this issue. Several people have felt that Nik has a very steep learning curve and it is hard to get good results easily. Even with the first version of HDR Efex Pro, I have not had many problems getting good results. Therefore, I was pretty excited to hear a new version had come out. All the images in this blog have been processed using this new version.

The above image was taken at the Halifax River (Intracoastal Waterway) at Fortunato Park in Ormond Beach, Florida. The skies had been building all morning and we did have a big drenching in the afternoon. I had been wanting to try some HDR imaging with my wide angle AF-S Nikkor 10-24 mm 1:3.5-4.5 G Ed lens – for some reason I have not tried this. I love the results I got above using 5 images between -2 and +2 bracketed. For all the steps and settings used to create all the images, see information listed under “Steps and Settings for Each Image.”

What I Like!!!!

1.  Sliders corresponding to the new Adobe Camera Raw sliders have been added in the Tonality section which makes it very user friendly. Temperature and Tint sliders have also been added.

2. The new Graduated Neutral Density section is proving to be very handy to even out the tone in landscape images. I have used it several times now – it can have a very nice subtle effect.

3. HDR Method section gives you more flexibility than you had in version 1.0.  You can now adjust individually the Depth, Detail and Drama of an image.

4.  The Detail in the images is really good – seems better than other programs I have used.

What I Don’t Like!!!!

1.  (UPDATED) The Smart Object issue that included the problem of ending up with an 8-bit image and no changes appearing after applying the plug-in is no longer an issue! Nik has released a new update – Version 2.002. (If you had bought an earlier version, be sure you have this new one applied now.) This will create a 32-bit image with the Standard CS6 version (they suggest using Photoshop CS6 64-bit compatible version due to the high memory usage) and I am no longer having Smart Object issues. Thank you Nik! I feel much better about recommending this plug-in now.

2.  They have deleted several of the presets I liked – Clean City 1 and Clean City 2, for example. I cannot seem to figure out if there are equivalent ones in the new version, but so far I am struggling with this. When I compared Granny’s Attic preset from version 1 with version 2, I had trouble seeing how the settings have anything to do with each other. I wish they would put a list of equivalent presets together for those of us who were familiar with the old version.

3.  Personally I miss all the method drop down choices we had in version 1.0. Again not sure how to recapture some of those settings to apply to the upgraded version.

4. If you opened HDR Efex Pro 2 up from inside Lightroom, then when saving your tone-mapped image there is no choice where to save it – it goes back to the one with the original HDR images. Small nag here.

5.  I am slightly concerned about all noise I am encountering when using the program, especially in the sky area. Using the Noise Reduction Luminance slider in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw should help reduce noise issue.

Here is great link to Nik’s Support Page that discusses various questions about HDR Efex Pro 2 – scroll down for the page for more information on this plug-in.
This image was taken under the Granada Bridge in Ormond Beach, Florida. This time the HDR settings were created using just the Default setting and going through all the sections. A preset was created at the end to retain the information. See Picture 2 for detailed steps and settings. This took a good amount of adjusting to get the look I really wanted but it did come around. I might mention that it is a good idea to go through the On Demand Video Lessons Nik has presented on how to use the program – they give you a good overall feel for the program.
This is all that is remaining of the beautiful old Hotel Ormond that was torn down after a fire in 1992. Once again in this image Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 was accessed from Lightroom.  Since you can’t save the settings down as a Smart Object, there is no reason not to do this from Lightroom where you can continue processing the TIFF image with Lightroom sliders before going into Photoshop. See Picture 3 below for further processing information.

This shot of the pennant on top of the cupola in image above gave me real problems. Five images were taken into Nik HDR Efex Pro from Lightroom and some really horrible white filled in edges around the pennant wrought iron pieces appeared. It looked awful and totally unsuitable to process. Therefore I decided to take the image into PhotoMatix Pro 4.1.1 (the major competitor) to see if those marks were also visible in that program – oddly enough, no problem! Also, in Nik HDR Pro Efex 1.0, there was no problem. This really disturbed me since I really like Nik products and this should not be happening. I took the image back into HDR Efex Pro and this time choose a different image to use for deghosting. This seemed to be the magic bullet – once this was done the image turned out much better. You can still see there is some white around the point in the HDR Efex Pro image. See the comparison of the tonemapped TIFF files below with Nik HDR Pro 2 on the right and PhotoMatix Pro 4 on the left.

This may look pretty bad, but it actually was fairly easy to clean up. Since the detail and color is so much better in Nik’s HDR, I decided to stick with it even though the other program did create a little better tonemapped image in this case. Also, there is more noise in the Nik image and I am not sure why that happened. Imagenomics Noiseware was used to clean this up some. The PhotoMatix image also had quite a bit of noise in it. For more info on processing, see Picture 4 below.

Bottom Line

Since it is a Nik product you know it is good. Not sure I see that much difference with the first version, but I imagine as I work with it more, I will find more things I like about it. Nik has great webinars on their site and they will be doing several on this new software, so I should be able to get more information on how to use it effectively and will pass it on. I use Nik a lot for my HDR processing, but sometimes I will use one of the other HDR software programs to get the look I want. At this point that is all I can say. It is reasonably priced with its major competitors, it was and still is a fine program! I can’t say enough good things about how quickly Nik responded to the major issues this plug-in had – that in itself makes using their plug-ins great!……Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
HDR Using Photoshop Merge to HDR and Nik”s HDR EFex Pro and Silver Efex Pro? Wow!

This and That – Just Having Some Fun!
Nik HDR Efex Pro Example
Keeping Focus Where You Want It Using Focal Point 2 and Color Fill Adjustment Layer

Steps and Settings for Each Image

Picture 1: I accessed the program from inside Photoshop for this image. The settings for Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 are listed here:  Settings for Nik HDR Efex Pro 2: Started by applying Granny’s Attic preset. Tone Compression:  Tone Compression slider  65%, Method Strength  35%: HDR Method: Depth  3rd dot, Detail  2nd dot, and Drama  4th dot; Tonality: Exposure  6%, Shadow  100%, Highlights  73%, Contrast  65%, Blacks  95%, White  0, and Structure  28%; Color: Saturation -54, Temperature 0, and Tint 0; Selective Adjustments: 3 control points spread across lower water with same settings, Exposure  34%, Contrast  -1, Saturation  0, Structure  -100, Black  0, and Whites  57; Vignette: Lens 2, Place center in lower middle, Amount  -2, Circle – under little c, and Size  67%; Graduated Neutral Density: Upper Tonality  -0.51 stops, Lower Tonality  0.44 stops, Blend  61%, Vertical Shift  -30,and Rotation  0, and Levels and Curves: Film (EV+0). Created preset SJ ICW Ormond Beach. As you can see, there are a lot of things that need to be adjusted. In this case I wanted to take the plug-in through its paces so everything was tried out. To get this image to look like it does there were several other steps that had to be taken: Nik’s Color Efex Pro 4 was used to add stacking the Cross Processing filter set to Method 802 at Strength 29% and overall opacity slider set to 80%, and Polarization with Rotate set to 106 degrees, Strength of 200%, Highlights 50% and overall opacity slider set to 68%. A layer mask was created to paint out some of the sky that got over-processed.  A Curves Adjustment layer was created to add some additional contrast to the image. Imagenomics Noiseware was added set to the Landscape preset, and Nik Viveza 2 was used to add some sharpening to the far shoreline and smoothing out of the foreground water. A new layer was created to sharpen the shoreline more using the Sharpen Tool. Finally a layer style from Wow-Frame 09 was used to finish up the image. This was not a really quick image to process but the final results look like the extra time was taken to get a beautiful result and the Nik HDR Efex Pro2 worked like a charm.

Picture 2:  First the five images were opened in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 from Adobe Lightroom and these settings were used.  Tone Compression: Tone Compression  68%, and Method Strength  63%; HDR Method:  Depth 3rd dot, Detail 2nd dot, and Drama 3rd dot;  Tonality:  Exposure  -11, Shadows  41%, Highlights  -100%, Contrast  -19%, Blacks  100%, Whites  53%, and Structure 51%; Color Saturation  11%, Temperature  0%, and Tint  0%; Selective Adjustments – no control points placed;  and Finishing:  None used. After saying OK, the tone-compressed image is brought back into Lightroom as a 16-bit TIFF file. This is really great since you can now adjust your images more with Lightroom’s sliders – in this case Contrast (-20), Highlights (+29), Shadows (-20), Blacks (+43), Clarity (_45) and Vibrance (+35). This is also when the colors were adjusted individually to bring in the correct color: Luminance:  Red (-9), Orange (+46), Green (+20), Aqua (+100), and Blue (+19) and Saturation: (Red (+11), Orange +35), Yellow (+33), and Blue (-13).  The Lens Correction section was used to select the lens and check Remove Chromatic Aberration. Finally the image was taken into Photoshop CS6. The image just looked bland to me so this time Topaz’s new photoFXlab was used to bring out the contrast – layer duplicated in plug-in and with the InstaTone tab and 500 px selected, Memory Drift by Richard Baxter was applied to the image inverted in the Masks tab and just clouds painted in. Then another duplicated layer was created this time InstaTone 500pxx Swinging by Miles Story was applied – the clouds were painted out in the Masks tab. Now the layers were stamped (+From Stack) and in Adjustments tab these settings were applied:  Exposure  .27, Contrast 1, Dynamics 17, Sharp 0, Highlights  -50, Shadows 16, Whites 0, and Blacks -8. Stamp again and paint in detail in distant shoreline and houses with Detail Brush Strength set to 0.29, stamp again and smooth clouds using Brush Strength of -.59 on clouds, stamp again and desaturate using Brush Strength of -0.51 on clouds and set layer opacity to 88%, and stamp again and pain in a little saturation into the sky and burn the center and horizontal lines of bridge. Noiseware was applied and it was done.

Picture 3:  In Lightroom image was opened up in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 using these settings: Started with the Structured 1 preset; Tone Compression:    Tone Compression 64%, and Method Strength  81%; HDR Method:  Depth  4th dot, Detail  4th dot, and Drama  5th dot; Tonality:  Exposure  41,  Shadow  -31, Highlights  20, Contrast  27, Blacks  100, Whites  97 , and Structure  80; Color:  Saturation  34,  Temperature  -6, and  Tint  2; Selective Adjustments: Two Control Points in clouds set the same, Method to -59, White  59, and Structure  -100; Finishing: Vignette – Black Frame 2, Amount  -41, Circle under a, and Size  72; Graduated Neutral Density – Upper Tonality  0.02 Stops,  Lower Tonality  0.54 Stops, Blend  91, Vertical Shift  -100, and Rotation  0; and Levels and Curves  – N/A. After processing in HDR Efex Pro 2, these Lightroom sliders were used:  HSL: Luminance – Red  -13, Orange  -59, Yellow  -96, Green  -33, Aqua  -24, and Blue  -11; and Saturation – Red  -2, Orange  43, Yellow  19, Green  6, and Blue  -26. The Profile was set and Remove Chromatic Aberration was checked in Lens Correction section. Nik Viveza 2 was used to sharpen the flag and body of the cupola. Imagenomics Noiseware using Full (weaker noise)  preset. My layer style for the frame was used and colors sampled from the image (see DLS Free Layer Style Frames blog).

Picture 4:  The pennant image was taken into HDR Efex Pro 2 from Lightroom. These settings were applied: Started by applying Bright 1 preset. Tone Compression:  Tone Compression slider  56%, and Method Strength  27%: HDR Method: Depth  3rd dot, Detail  2nd dot, and Drama  2nd dot; Tonality: Exposure  11%, Shadow  -17%, Highlights  49%, Contrast  44%, Blacks  71%, White  53, and Structure  16%; Color: Saturation 0, Temperature -2, and Tint 0; Selective Adjustments: 5 control points with 3 spread across sky and all set to Saturation +37, 1 placed on the cupola set to Saturation -27, and one placed on the pennant with settings of Exposure  6%, Contrast  0, Saturation  59, Structure  49, Black  0, and Whites  -42; Vignette: set to Off; Graduated Neutral Density: Upper Tonality  0.33 stops, Lower Tonality  -0.23 stops, Blend  40%, Vertical Shift  -20,and Rotation  -24; and Levels and Curves:Neutral with points set at 15 over and 15 up, 9 over and 14 up, and 13 over and 0 up. In Lightroom the image was cropped, the Lens Profile set, Removed Chromatic Aberration was checked, Exposure set to +0.39 and Contrast to +63. In Photoshop the Nik Color Efex Pro 4 plug-in was opened using these filters stacked: BW Conversion using BW Conversion set to Filter Color 53 degrees, Strength 73%, Brightness -16%, Contrast 49%, Shadows 31%, Highlights 32%, and overall Opacity 58% – two control points placed on pennant and red cupola area so color really showed through; Pro Contrast: Correct Color Cast 15%, Correct Contrast 47%, and Dynamic Contrast 96%; Vignette: Color black, Shape 2, Adapt Edges 52%, Transition 77%, Size 20%, and Opacity 26% with center placed on pennant; and Image Borders: Type 1 at Size -54%. A Curves Adjustment layer was applied to increase contrast in image. Imagenomics Noiseware was set to Stronger luma noise preset. Unsharp Mask applied to just the lettering and pennant with Amount 64, Radius 11.7 and Threshold 3.

Using Topaz photoFXlab to Replace Skies

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