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DIGITAL LADY SYD REVIEWS PERFECTLY CLEAR

Scenic image from Guana Cay in the Outer Banks in the Bahamas
I finally purchased Perfectly Clear – had the free plugin but never the whole program. It takes a very different direction from the regular Photoshop plugins like Nik, Luminar, OnOne and Topaz Studio. I think that is one reason I have not been sure what to think about the program. I ran the it (along with some of the other plugins for comparing) on some of my pix to see what results it gave. The Bahamas Guana Cay image above is an example of using Perfectly Clear. Their website says there are 175+ Tools, Features and Presets. Several tutorials on how to use the product are at the website. And if you get stuck, click on a Question Mark in the interface and the website opens for more information since no software manual is available.

The major difference between this plugin and the others is that it is mostly preset and slider driven and no masking is available to remove parts of the effect. If you want to do a quicker type of post-processing, this is the program. What is also very different to me is that it seems to correct the Exposure using the Intelligent Auto preset when the image is first opened into the program and before any settings have been changed. Normally I would say this is a bad thing, but it usually makes the image look better right away. The preset can be changed quickly by just selecting other presets or adjusting the individual sliders in the Tone section. One tip is that by hovering over each of the presets at the top, different descriptions on what type of image to use it on are presented – very handy.

What I Do Like about Perfectly Clear

    1. This program has several very different sliders – I am sure they are similar to sliders in the other programs, but the interface makes it very easy to see where to make your adjustments. Below is a screenshot of the settings used on the image above. (Click on Screenshot to see settings larger in Flickr.)

      Screenshot of Perfectly Clear settings for Bahamas image

      For example one of my favorite sliders is located in the Preprocessing section and is called Image Ambulance. I believe this was in their earlier versions, but it is new to me. What it does is act and look like an Exposure Compensation button on your camera. How cool is this? My image ‘s EV can be adjusted very quickly if it needs just a slight change. I really like the visual effect of this slider. Also check out the Color section’s Color ReStore which adds richness to the blacks and a Fidelity slider which gives accurate colors in the image.
    2. It has an overall Strength slider at the top and when reduced (or increased), all the sliders applied move in their proportional amounts. It does seem to use Smart Objects so the sliders can be readjusted easily.
    3. The Portrait section is very unique and very good. I have tried this on a couple images – see my model below with a cinematic effect added. Luminar 4 and On1 both have many similar sliders – each of their sliders vary somewhat – but Perfectly Clear’s portrait sections are a little different. The Makeup section is really nice. There is even a Catchlight slider for the eyes with 5 different types to apply. Skin Correction section has different presets like Blemish Removal and Shine Removal. The slider settings for Perfectly Clear are shown under the model’s image to give you a chance to see what they look like (click on Screenshot for larger view in Flickr). I am not a retoucher so there are some areas that need a little more work. Photoshop was used to even out the coloring with Nik Viveza – really helped me with the arm skin tone. Overall the results were very good with the adjustments Perfectly Clear provided.


Cinematic Effect on an image of a model


Screenshot of Perfectly Clear's portrait filters

What I Don’t Like about Perfectly Clear

  1. No Masking capability in the program. The effect is applied to either the whole image or not at all, except where the portrait sections are being used. And there is no layer capability which would help in this regard. One trick I did learn is that you can select just a portion of your image in PS and then take it into Perfectly Clear to work on just that portion of the image.
  2. Would like to add all my personal Color Lookup (LUT) files to the program. They sell a lot of them if looking for a particular style but are fairly expensive.
  3. I have not figured out how to reset all the sliders if I do not the like the original results – not sure it is an option since the program is preset run basically. Still it would be nice just to start from scratch. You can save out your own preset which is great if you do find settings you like.
  4. Has limited options – great for people who just want to pop in and adjust a few things but I like to adjust things in different ways and that is hard to do. And there are not  many creative type filters like Topaz is known for – pretty much standard filters here.


Image taken at Iolani Palace State Monument

This image of the grounds at Iolani Palace State Monument in Oahu, Hawaii, also used Perfectly Clear as a starting point. The plugin definitely added in some exposure and color. Back in Photoshop I added an Orton action to get the soft final look. (Want to know how to do it? Look at my How to Create an Orton Effect blog from a while ago – all the simple steps are there.)

Bottom Line

I like the fact that when on sale, it is a fairly inexpensive software. It is both a stand-alone and a Photoshop plugin – and is probably a good choice for those who do not want to bother with settings in the standard type plugin. It does have batch processing capability. It does have the Looks (LUTs) capability. It does have great Exposure presets and sliders. Am I glad I bought it? Yes – when on sale, it is a bargain. If you do a lot of portrait images or selfies, this program would be great for fixing up faces quickly.

I have not watched all the tutorials so I plan on doing this soon. I would like to do a blog on some techniques that can be done with this plugin. At least I hope you got a feel for what this software does do – Perfectly Clear has a 21-day trial version and some very good deals going on right now. Check it out and see what you think. I was pleasantly surprised how much I liked this software!…..Digital Lady Syd


WHAT ABOUT THIS TOPAZ STUDIO 2 UPDATE? NOT BAD!

Image of a moth on a Zinnia flower
Well I missed last week due to some traveling and it was a busy one for Topaz (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link). Since I have always been a huge Topaz fan, I knew this would be a good update, and to be honest, when I first heard about it I had my doubts. But having worked with the program on a few images, it is really good and a much needed update. I have been spending my time just getting up to speed on what they have changed in the interface. They now have a much better way of adding filters – no more Apply step – just filters stacking as Effect Layers, a lot like the other plug-ins have begun doing. This is probably the biggest change. So lets get started and dive deeper into what is going on with this software update. (For what was used in the image above, check Image 1 Info at end of blog.)

First off: who qualifies for a free update? From Topaz website “If you own Studio adjustments with total list price > $99.00, you’ll receive Studio 2 for free.”  “If you own Studio adjustments with total list price <$99.99, you’ll receive store credit for the adjustments you do own.” I received an e-mail indicating I qualified for an update, but if you are not sure, go to Topaz Help Center -> Studio -> Topaz Studio 2 which opens the Topaz Studio 2 Frequently Asked Questions – go down to question 4 where a link will tell you if you are eligible. Otherwise there is now just a one time payment and Topaz Studio 2 will contain all the filters that were available in the original Topaz Studio, which as I see it, is a good deal anyway you do it.

What I Like about Topaz Studio 2:

  • They now have official Effect Layers in the program and no longer is an Apply button needed before you add other filters! Best news and brings Studio 2 up to date with all the other big guys out there.
  • AI Clear is still in the program! Definitely one of my top 5 plugins ever! (And that is saying something for me!) In my opinion, used with Precision Detail (which is also included in the program), they create the most incredible detail.
  • Other filters that are provided: Impression (another fabulous totally unique program by Topaz – no one else has anything like it), AI ReMix (another totally unique filter), Precision Contrast, Texture, Glow, Motion Blurs (one of my favorites – get some really unique effects with it), and Color Theme (which allows you to change 5 major colors in the image) along with all the standard filters one would expect with this program. Shortly Topaz will be connecting up all your original plug-ins into the interface.
  • The masking tools are much smoother and better than ever. I have always felt that Topaz has the best masking tools of any program (runs much smoother than Lightroom’s brush), and they are promising more improvements in this area shortly.
  • Much cleaner interface. The filters are broken down into three sections: Essential, Creative, and Stylistic. Within each section, the filters are now listed alphabetically which I find very handy. Just click the Favorites heart icon to have a list with just your favorite filters showing. Can now see the recent filters applied also. All the Looks (previously presets) are no longer listed by specific plug-in but alphabetically in one group or specific styles like abstract for example.

What I Don’t Like about Topaz Studio 2:

  • I was originally upset that my presets were not present. If you go under Help -> Migrate custom TS1 Presets, they are immediately brought into TS2. Originally you could only do this once, but as of yesterday, it is okay to do it again if you created a recent preset in TS1 and want to bring it into TS2.
  • Can only save the layers as a .ts2 file if you want to go back and tweak the filter settings. If used in Photoshop as a plugin, the settings will not be retained so you better save your changes as a new Look (preset) if you want to use it again. The Save Look icon is in the top right of the interface.
  • Would love to see a Color Lookup Table filter.

These changes are coming soon: plug-in support – in other words, all the Topaz plug-ins you previously bought that are listed as the Plug-ins in the top Menu Studio 1 will soon be available within the new TS2 interface. To find out what was recently updated in the interface, go to the Topaz Help Center -> Studio -> Topaz Studio 2 -> Topaz Studio 2 Changelog (open see all articles to find it). As of yesterday they added a Histogram which is located in the lower right corner of the interface, filter presets (the ones that are in the drop-down menus in the individual filters) available – noticed my personal presets did not show up, just the Topaz ones. They say these are their priority items: Plug-in support, Custom Filter Presets, Image Navigator, Texture Names (now none are shown – update – now named), and Texture Management. Then Masking updates will be coming out. I am pretty excited for the masking update as this is such a great part of most Topaz plugins.
Elephant image from the Washington National Zoo in Washington, DC
Below is a short video on how I used Topaz Studio 2 to create this effect and show you how to create a mask. Both the Elephant and the Guitar Man images are in the video. See Image 2 below for the actual settings for the Studio filters in the Elephant image. See Image 3 at end for Guitar Man info.

As you can see this is definitely a more modern plug-in interface and using the plug-in is much more user friendly than Studio 1. I was initially worried that this was not going to be a good update, but it has definitely exceeded my expectations. If you do not qualify for the update, which I am sure many of you do since Topaz has been around a while, give this new software a spin. It has a 30-day trial and currently they are running a $20 off sale until August 9th. Here’s a great tip for you: if you miss this offer, watch one of Topaz’s live webinars as the presenters always give a good discount for a week or so just for watching.

Image of a man playing the guitar

Bottom Line:

If you are a Topaz fan, this is a no-brainer. The update is definitely a good one and once our older plug-ins are attached, it will be a great one. If you are new to Topaz, you will be in for a big treat. Since I consider myself a creative, this software comes with Impression and AI ReMix along with Textures, AI Clear and many other sliders that make regular filters something quite spectacular. Lots of fun with this program so check it out.

Hope everyone is having a great summer. I am excited Topaz has updated Studio and I know they are working on some more wonderful programs to help create some amazing pictures. Have a great week!…..Digital Lady Syd

Image Info:

Image 1 Info:  First did a little tone adjustment in Lightroom before opening this image in Photoshop. The background layer was duplicated and this layer was opened in Topaz Studio 2. These filters were applied in Studio: TSO2 – AI Clear: default settings; Precision Detail: Overall Small Detail 0.35, Overall Medium Detail 0.32, and Overall Large Detail -0.74 and Boost -0.08; Midtones 0.18, Shadows -0.13, Highlights -0.52, Black Point 0.24 and White Point 0.07; and Color Overlay: Color #dfd698 and used Color mask – selected just the flower and the butterfly and it evened out the background color. Applied and back in Photoshop a New Layer was created to paint over a few areas that needed smoothing out. Darken and Lighten Curves Adjustment Layers were used. Two textures were added using the free extension called Adobe Paper Texture Pro (Alice was added set to Overlay blend mode at 91% layer opacity and Aquarius set to Darken blend mode at 68% layer opacity – the moth and flower were painted out in a layer mask to remove texture from them. A Levels Adjustment Layer was used. Next a Color Lookup Adjustment Layer using On1 Landscape5 preset at 83%, and the last step was a spotlight effect on the moth. The text is a font called Ramland. Notice I do not just use Topaz. I like to use several different types of plug-ins to get a look I like. But Studio does have a lot of great filters to get a good start look.

Image 2: The Elephant image used another preset I created called SJ Wildlife Look. It contains all the filters in the video but I will list the settings used in the blog image here. Topaz Studio 2 – AI Clear: default settings; Basic Adjustment: Exposure 0.14; Blur: Blur Type Gaussian, Amount 0.31 and Preserve Edge 0.22 – not a Gradient Mask was selected, flipped and Applied, like in the video, to remove effect from foreground and lower elephant – then the Brush was used to mask the effect off the rest of the elephant; HSL Color Toning: Opacity 0.66, Orange Saturation 0.45, Yellow Hue -0.06, Sat 0.45 and Lightness 0.18, and Green Hue -0.45, Sat -0.58 and Lightness 0.01, and Details 0.22 – this image was a little more green than the video image which had more yellow tones to it; Texture: 3rd column/6th row, Brightness -0.07, Contrast -0.21, Detail -0.37, and Sat -0.06: Vignette: Strength 0.99, Size 0.56, Transition 0.99 Roundness 0.13, and brown color (#261f1c); and Curves: Used a very slight S curve. Back in Photoshop the Liquify Tool was used to slightly increase the Elephant’s eye so you could see it. The eye was selected using the Quick Mask Tool and then the Exposure Adjustment Layer was used to bring out the contrast of the eye just a bit. On a New Layer the Blur Tool at 100% Strength was used to slightly blur the tree stump behind the Elephant’s trunk. That was it.

Image 3: Guitar Man image used a Look (preset) that I created from the filters I put together. Here are the basic settings if you would like to try them out. Impression: Stroke Type05, Number of Strokes Low, Brush Size 0.57, Paint Volume 0.02, Paint Opacity 0.56, Stroke Width -0.08, Stroke Length 0.18; Basic Adjustment Filter (note these will be different depending on your image): Exposure 0.45, Clarity 0.81, Shadow -0.56, Highlight 0.23 and Saturation 0.73; Color Theme: all new colors listed left to right. #474545 (Lightness 0.28), #57776f (Lightness 0.47), #3f2cc7 (Lightness 0.78), #6b9af7 (Lightness 0.97), and #d7d7f7 (Lightness 0.97); Brightness Contrast set to Opacity 0.71 and Color Burn blend mode, Brightness -0.47, Contrast 1.39, and Saturation 1.37; and AI ReMix: Opacity 0.18, Color Marker preset, Style Strength Low, Contrast 0.69 and Saturation 0.64. Note that several of these filters used masks to remove the effect from his hands or the actual guitar. Unfortunately Studio does not retain the masks for you, and you would not want it in a Look anyway since each image is different. But definitely do some masking to get a pleasing effect with this combination of filters. When I did this effect in the video, I just pulled back the amount to something below 50% and added another AI ReMix filter using A Neon Rise style on top with a lowered opacity (22%) – no other changes. Last step in Photoshop was to add a Curves Adjustment Layer. I created in Topaz a preset called SJ Abstract Look using all the filters but the top AI ReMix Filter.


LUMINAR FLEX – EXACTLY WHAT IS THIS?

Image of a Queen Emma plant
I am a little late discussing this software, but I only recently got a chance to really try it out. Luminar (for website link see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog) Flex is basically a spin-off of the bigger program, Luminar 3, meaning your images are not being pulled into a catalog for sorting. Basically it just contains the filters. Currently it is a free program so if you own Luminar 3 or Luminar 2018, please go download it. Why? See the quote below from Skylum that pretty much sums up what is happening and why you need to download it:

“We’re fully committed to our desktop editing and organizing platform in Luminar 3. But we’ve heard from many current customers and several others that they want just our editing tools for enhancing their images when working in other apps.

Our goal is to develop Luminar as a comprehensive platform which will become your go-to photography tool. With your support, we’ll be there soon.

Current workflow – Both Luminar Plugin and Luminar 3 with Libraries offer plugin options for popular photography software.

Future workflow – With the next major version of Luminar, you’ll find plugins available only in Luminar Flex. The plugins workflow will be removed from Luminar with Libraries.”

It looks like Skylum has decided to create different modules, not unlike what On1 (for website link see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog) has done with the Develop vs. Effects modules. I do not see this as a real problem since I do not use Luminar as a Raw Processor, even though their Develop filter is in Flex, to categorize my photos like Lightroom does at this point. I may decide to do this down the road, but at this point I mainly use Luminar 3 as a plugin with all their beautiful filters.

This macro image above is of a Queen Emma Lily plant, possibly my favorite bloom in my yard – you certainly notice them from the street. Luminar Flex was mainly used on this image – Accent AI Filter, Golden Hour, Advanced Contrast, and Detail Enhancer filters. A High Pass sharpen was used and Nik Viveza 2 was used on the front petal.

Both programs interface with most of the major programs including Lightroom and Photoshop. The Workspace names appear to have been renamed, but seem very similar between the two. Flex opens up with the Image Aware workspace but that can be changed by going into the the drop-down.

The major difference between the two programs at this point is with the new Accent AI 2.0 that is available with Luminar 3 but not yet with Flex – it is coming later this year (Flex is still using just Accent AI). Is this a deal breaker – not a problem since Luminar 3 still is supporting its filters but down the road it will probably only be available in Flex.

Regarding the Looks (presets), those made or used in Luminar 3 or Luminar 2018 are all compatible with the Flex, even the ones downloaded from other sites. You can either reinstall your custom Looks packs in Flex, or manually copy items between the Luminar Looks folders.

*****

Image of Lake Rowena at the Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando, Florida

This image was taken on the water’s edge of Lake Rowena at the Harry P. Leu Gardens in the heart of downtown Orlando, Florida. Hard to believe such a tranquil place is located in all this hustle and bustle! And yes, Luminar’s Flex was used – landscapes are Luminar’s specialty. These filters were used to get this soft cool effect on a very hot day: The first layer contained the wonderful Accent AI Filter and AI Sky Enhancer Filter – both set pretty high, just a little Golden Hour Filter and Foliage Filter, the Saturation and Vibrance Filter (toning down the color a little), and the Brilliance and Warmth Filter – then on a 2nd layer above, one of my favorite filters called Image Radiance was applied. To see if I liked the filter on this image, it was placed on its own layer and the Gradient was used to remove the effect off the clouds which had gotten way too soft. One thing to watch with the Luminar filters is they tend to over-saturate the image so in PS the Saturation/Vibrance Adjustment Layer was added and the Saturation reduced to -17, even after adjusting it in the plugin. I think I could have pulled up a chair and just enjoyed the view from this point for a while, but the flowers were waiting!

*****

Image of the center flowers in a Red Bromeliad

About all I can say is “Thank You Mike Moats” for teaching me many years ago how to do this! If you like macro photography, he is the guy to learn how to do it right! This was taken using Aperture Mode set to ISO 200, F/7.1, and -1/2 EV with my Nikkor 60 mm Lens with a Bower 0.5 x High Resolution Digital Lens with Macro added to the lens. This center of a Neoregelia Bromeliad image from the Gardens was also taken into Luminar Flex and just a few filters were required to get this effect: Foliage Enhancer, Structure, Brilliance/Warmth, Top and Bottom Lighting (to reduce the top reddish bromeliad color from the actual bromeliad), and Details Enhancer (just using the Small slider) filters. Topaz (for website link see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog) new DeNoise AI was used to remove some of the noise (this plugin is incredible and now AI Clear is included with it. This is pretty cool -first set the Remove Noise high to 0.72, Enhance Sharpness to 0, and applied; then added a mask and painted back with a small brush set to 30% just the areas that needed a little detail brought back like the centers of the blue flowers. Got both the sharpness and noise removal at once!) Not much else was done but to add a spotlight effect in the center. This was definitely a Tiny Garden inside a Big Garden! Here is how the interface looked for this image (click on image to see larger in Flickr):

Image of Luminar Flex interface

Bottom Line: Flex is definitely here to stay since it will be the only way in the future that Luminar’s filters can be accessed using Photoshop, which is what I like to do. I love Luminar’s filters because they are unique, and in a sort of odd way, their results always make me happy. I like it when my photos make me smile so that is probably why I am a big fan. Please check Luminar Flex out – it is much more than just their Sunrays and AI filters – very easy to use and the program does not make your computer go into crazy mode to apply them. It is so exciting to have so many choices and new ways of applying effects being available to us Photoshop nuts who totally love this! Have a great week!…..Digital Lady Syd

 


TOPAZ SHARPEN AI – GOOD OR BAD? AND YES, FREE UPGRADE FOR TOPAZ INFOCUS OWNERS

Image of a Tigress at the Jacksonville Zoo
Recently Topaz (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) released yet another new AI (Artificial Intelligence) filter called Sharpen AI – this comes as a real surprise since just a a while back JPEG to Raw AI was released. What is interesting about this new release is that it was actually based upon the older Topaz Infocus filter. And if you already own Infocus, you get the new Sharpen AI automatically. I love Topaz for this – they do honor their company commitment that if a filter is upgraded and you own it, you get the upgrade free! See section below for info on how to do this as there appears to be a lot of confusion with this. Let’s start by showing what Sharpen AI’s interface looks like and does. I have added several sections so if you are not interested in all the details, you can skip through some of them. Above is the lovely Siberian Tigress named Dorcas at the Jacksonville Zoo – what a lovely creature she is!

Sharpen AI Interface

Sharpen AI And AI Clear both improves an image’s sharpness and reduces its noise. There is a difference with how they each deal with noise reduction. In AI Clear the noise is adjusted by clicking on Auto or the Low, Med and High buttons. So one of these settings must be chosen. Click on the image below to see the settings more clearly in Flickr.

Interface of the AI Clear adjustment in Topaz Studio
In Sharpen AI, there is an actual Suppress Noise slider and it can be applied at any amount and with any of the three modes that can be selected. Therefore there is a lot more versatility. Click on the image below to see a larger view of the interface for the Sharpen AI plugin in Flickr and the settings used on the Tigress. The left side is the original image with no sharpening at all and the right side has Sharpen AI applied. If you look closely, the eyes are definitely sharper in the Sharpen filter and some of the hairs around the face are subtly sharper. (The image above was enhanced with Sharpen AI. In Topaz Studio’s Precision Detail was applied to whole image and Impression applied to just the background, and in PS Lighten and Darken Curve Adjustments Layers to add contrast.)

Image of Tigress using the Topaz Sharpen AI plugin
There are three modes that can be tried on the image before applying it. I like this since one may not work as well as another. I am finding that the mode I thought I should use is not always the best one.

Sharpen Mode – this setting is supposed to only sharpen the things you want and brings out the detail in your image – Topaz says it “only sharpens the good stuff” and I guess this is where the AI comes in. It figures out what needs to be sharp in your image.

Stabilize Mode – it is supposed to be best when used with moving objects or low light situations. It “stabilizes” the motion blur that results.

Focus Mode – Topaz says it “rescues a blur within ten pixels” so that a slightly out-of-focus shot becomes much sharper. If part of an image is in focus, like the eyes, but the nose is not, this mode will fix that and bring the nose in focus also.

The Remove Blur slider is the main slider to adjust any of the three modes. They advise against setting it to 1.00 but I use 0.70 quite a bit. It can make the image look too crunchy but that may be okay if you are just using this filter for just the eyes. (See next section for more on this.) As noted above the Suppress Noise slider will reduce the noise in the image and is set to 0.50 as a default. I am also finding that this can be reduced to give some better results if you do not need the noise adjusted. Add Grain slider is only needed if the Mode over corrects your image resulting in an unnatural surface smoothness or loss of too much detail – some texture can be added back this way. It is probably not something that needs to be used often.

How to Use the Sharpen Filter

I usually use this filter from Photoshop since I like to tweak the results once applied. It also is much easier when using the masking as I am describing in this section. I am also finding that the Focus mode fits my problem areas in photography – many people also like the Stabilize mode. One of the best uses for Sharpen AI is to apply it so the eyes so look really sharp, then go back into PS and add a black layer mask to everything but the eyes. Paint them back with white at any brush opacity to make it look good. I have not tried this on a person pix yet but saw this demonstrated with great success.
Image of a Guereza Colobus Monkey at the Jacksonville ZooThe Guereza Colobus Monkey above used the Focus mode with Remove Blur at 0.70, Suppress Noise at 0.30 and Add Grain at 0 (therefore more sharpening and less noise reduction smoothing) on a layer in PS. In PS a black layer mask was added and just the monkey and foreground was painted back for sharpening. Click on screenshot to see large in Flickr.
Screenshot of Monkey image showing original and Sharpen AI filter applied
Other work was done in Photoshop like using a Lighten Curve to lighten him up a little and the palm shadow was added to take the distracting background away (see 15 Shadow Mockup Overlays by andshesbrave). I am often sharpening the whole image and then masking out completely the other parts of the image in the PS with a 100% white brush or using a lower amount set to reduce part of the effect in the mask. Also Blend If sliders could be handy here.

Below is an example of a landscape hand-held from of all things a bus! Sharpen AI really pulled out all the rigging lines that I have never been able to get clear – this filter saved my image – it may not be the best I have ever taken, but it sure is one of my favorites from Scotland. The filter made the image usable and that is probably the key to what makes a filter a good one. All your images are not going to be that great but some definitely have more meaning and need to be saved of those precious memories.
Image of a sailboat in the Highlands of ScotlandAbove, this whole Scottish image was sharpened, probably a bit too much – used settings of Processing Mode Focus, Remove Blur 0.70, Suppress Noise 0.80 and Add Grain 0. Then back in PS a black mask was added again and just the sailboat and its lines were painted back which made them very sharp. Using the Focus mode sharpened these lines up beautifully – never have been able to do this with any other product. AI Clear could not help this image. Then I took the image into Topaz Studio where Precision Detail was applied just to the boat. Several other clean up and color toning steps were done but the sharpening on the boat makes this image.

I am finding it is best not to use both AI Clear and Sharpen AI on the same image. It will usually over sharpen the image and add artifacting. You can add other forms of sharpening like using the PS High Pass to sharpen or the Sharpen Tool on special areas with either filter. Just be sure to localize your sharpening when doing this. The Monkey above also had a High Pass added at the end of my workflow but it was only added selectively where the foreground elements needed just a bit more sharpness. In other words, this filter does not do it all, but it is a great place to start, especially if an image needs a little extra help.

What is the Difference between AI Clear and Sharpen AI?

The big question is “Why do I need this filter?” To be honest, I rarely used Infocus so I was as perplexed at this as everyone else. And now that AI Clear is such a fabulous product, is it needed? Let’s address AI Clear first. Since Topaz fixed AI Clear back in October of last year, I use it on almost every image I post-process. I think a lot of people feel that way – I have yet to find another filter that does what this one does in just a couple clicks. It is fast and easy to apply from either Lightroom, Photoshop, or Topaz Studio. It almost always improves an image’s sharpness and reduces its noise.

It seems to me that Topaz Sharpen AI should be used for images that have what I consider bigger issues. Topaz claims it is a great asset for shots taken when hand-holding the camera. “The machine learning training process allows it to understand the difference between detail vs. noise. This means that it can selectively apply sharpening to just the image features it perceives as detail.” On landscapes it brings back detail in all parts of an image while removing noise. Sharpen AI is both a stand-alone (which will only accept Tiff, Jpeg and Png files but plans to add Raw file capability are in the works) and a plug-in that can be accessed by Lightroom, PS and Topaz Studio. NOTE: A big tip is to be sure the Automatically Update Preview is set to No or else you and your computer will be going crazy as it keeps updating the filter! The Stabilize and Focus modes in Sharpen AI are not contained in AI Clear – they originated from the original Infocus techniques. It is not fast at processing and can be down-right slow when saving the final settings to the image – this depends on the size of the file you are using. The Tigress image took 2 minutes to save on my computer which has a pretty fast processor. I did run the Shake Reduction filter in Photoshop (remember when we thought this was the greatest filter ever????) for comparison and it is not even close to either Sharpen AI or AI Clear – we have come a long way with this technology.

Topaz describes the subtle differences between the two programs by saying: “AI Clear’s main detection is noise whereas Sharpen AI’s main detection is to recognize blur.  This makes Clear optimal for noisy images and Sharpen more effective for a bit more blurry images.” I believe this is true with my experience using both programs. Sharpen AI does not have batch capability – it is too computer intensive at this point while AI Clear does have the capability.

If you already own Topaz Infocus, Here is how to Upgrade to Topaz Sharpen AI:

Not sure if you own Topaz Infocus? Check out your Topaz Labs Account for purchased products – should be able to tell if you had this plugin originally.

1. Download a trial version of the program and load it on. It should say you have a 30-Day Trial at the top of the program.

2. Now click on the Help Menu and select Update Ownership which should be the second item in the drop-down list. Just click on it and it will remove the Trial information.

If having problems with the above (and hopefully you do not have to do the following steps), here is the info direct from the website forum:

Log into your Topaz Account. Click on Coupon either on the left side of your account page or under Account > coupon then click on the coupon tag. Next go to the Stand alone > Sharpen AI menu at the top of the page and select Sharpen AI. Once on the page, scroll to the bottom and find Buy Now. Once you have the cart it should show the price minus the coupon. Then check out normally to purchase. Finally, download or if you are using a trial go to the Help menu > Update ownership (in the program) and it will change from trial to normal version.

Bottom Line

I am starting to like the Sharpen AI better the more I use it but no way am I getting rid of my AI Clear! Sharpen AI is very slow and I can get fairly similar results with AI Clear and a little Precision Detail or Precision Contrast in Topaz Studio – that is when using an image that is in pretty good shape. If your image does not have that really tack sharp image result (and many of mine do not as seen in the sailboat image), Sharpen AI may really be the answer for you. I believe that as time goes on, Topaz will be updating this plug-in, like they did with AI Clear, and it will be a much faster and better product. In the  meantime, I am going to continue using it to see when it is best for my own images. I know this is not a definite answer, but I trust Topaz and believe they will improve this filter to where it will be a no-brainer to use it (like AI Clear is for me right now). I do believe Topaz is going in the right direction with all the AI plug-ins and are working very hard at staying on top of this new technology. Kudos to them for that! I will continue to keep you updated on all their new products – I love the Topaz products. They fit into my workflow very well.

Hope you download the trial to try Sharpen AI out at least and if you own Infocus, definitely download it and check it out. Have a good week! …..Digital Lady Syd


WHAT IS TOPAZ’S NEW JPEG TO RAW AI?

Image of some pink daisiesI am with most of you – say what?????? I knew Topaz (see my Tidbits Blog for website link) was working on some new software for JPG’s but this one is a real surprise. I have been working with the stand alone program for a couple of weeks, but it has taken a while for its wonderful capabilities to sink into my head. So this is what is going on…..it is somewhat similar to AI Gigapixel which I totally love and AI Clear which I can’t live without. (See my The Best New Software Around – Topaz A.I. Gigapixel! blog.) JPEG to Raw AI (J2r) uses similar machine learning technology to recover lost detail in jpg files and convert them to a dng or tiff extension. This will open up the Raw Converter in Photoshop or gives better slider capabilities in Lightroom.

There is not a lot of info released on this software yet so their website seems to be the best resource to find out more info and where a trial version can be downloaded. Below is a rundown of what Topaz is saying about their product.

Why Use this Program?

  • Topaz states “There’s also enhanced dynamic ranges as shown by deeper shadows and enhanced highlights.” This is important and to me and is the best way to see results from applying the software. The program basically helps clean up jpg issues from smart phones, especially from some of the earlier versions, and older digital camera shots that just created jpg images.
  • J2r uses the ProPhoto RGB Color Space that Lightroom uses. Most jpg files contain the sRGB color space which has very limited color choices. With the ProPhoto color space there will be better saturation and vibrance without any visible artifacting in your image.
  • When an image is run through the program, it goes from 8-bit mode to 16-bit mode. This removes banding and converts the image from 72 dpi to 300 dpi, which usually results in a more normal sized file. I personally really like this. I hate opening up Image Size in PS to find out my image is at 72 bit resolution and 72 inches tall! Also, changing the resolution and downsizing in PS can be tricky.
  • Artifacts in some jpgs can ruin an image and can be accentuated by post-processing, especially when sharpening. Topaz says “This program will remove these artifacts while preserving natural image features.”

The image above is one of my recent phone shots taken at a local Lowe’s Garden Shop using an older Android phone. Below is a before close-up of the  original out-of-phone jpg on the left and the converted to a dng file on the right. It is a very subtle adjustment, but look carefully at the lower green leaves to see more detail in the shadow areas of the dng file and a little more definition in the bright areas of the lower right petals. Even the yellow centers seem a bit more defined. In PS Topaz Studio’s AI Clear Adjustment was applied (I use it on just about every image). The final post-processing for the image above used a clean up layer, a little fine line dodging and burning (see my The Best Dodging and Burning Technique! blog using John Paul Caponigro’s technique), a Curves Adjustment Layer, and a painted in vignette.Comparison of JPG vs DNG

I have had a bit of a problem figuring out why some of my images improve when run through the program and some not so much. One of the engineers explained in their presentation:  “While it will remove noise/blur and recover some detail, you’ll see most of the benefits when you try to edit the photo. Viewing a well-exposed high-quality JPEG before and after running it through J2r may not show a huge difference, but your editing capacity for that same image will generally go up.” After working with the program quite a bit, I believe this is very true. Since I use PS more creatively, I may not notice color shifts or tone changes as readily as many photographers who are looking to improve many of their less desirable images. Below is another example of what this software will do – this time a Casio QV-2900UX, a 2.1 Megapixel camera with a 8X zoom creating only jpg images, was selected. I was pretty impressed with the results – the image on the right is the original jpg file, the middle is the image after running through AI Gigapixel, it is still a jpg file, and on the left is the dng file. It definitely has a lot more detail – I thought it was a little crunchy for my taste but then realized it was little flowers showing up. Who knew they were there? On the sky to mountain line, there was some fringing going on after AI Gigapixel was applied.
Comparison image of the three programsFor the final image below, the fringing was removed by just painting on a new layer over with a small sized Clone Stamp. There was no fringing anywhere else on the image. A gradient map was added with blue and cream tones set to Soft Light blend mode at 71% opacity, a spotlight effect on a few of bright areas of the telescope domes, and Topaz Studio’s AI Clear at default settings. Overall the image turned out really nice and so much better than when I first post processed it back in 2004. We’ve come a long way!Image of telescopes at Kitt Peak, Arizona

What is the Difference between AI Gigapixel, AI Clear and JPEG to RAW AI?

Here is a quote from Celeste during the software release of their new product and pretty much sums up what Topaz is doing here. “While each of these products uses Artificial Intelligence to improve the quality of your photos, there are a few distinct differences. Gigapixel uses AI to enlarge your photos while preserving detail for printing. AI Clear uses AI to reduce noise and sharpen. JPEG to RAW uses AI for a variety of different purposes – it does reduce noise and sharpen, yes, but it also helps to restore details lost in a compressed JPEG, enhances shadows and highlights that are lost in a JPEG file, prevents banding, and reduces blockiness. There are distinct disadvantages to a JPEG file, and the AI for JPEG to RAW was specifically trained to restore the things that were lost when the JPEG was compressed. While they all have their advantages, JPEG to RAW is going to be the best for improving your compressed JPEG file!”

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Below is a screen capture image using Snip It that is from the Old Faithful web cam in Yellowstone National Park on January 31st in the early morning- I had never seen bison in the cam camera before and it looked spectacular! There appears to another geyser erupting in the background and Old Faithful was spewing pretty steadily so there was a lot of mist in the air. The screen shot was run through JPEG to RAW first to create a dng file (_edit is added to the end of the file name so you know this program was used). A Tiff file should have been selected, but I was not sure what I was doing. Then I ran it through AI Gigapixel set to 4 times creating a Tiff – Gigapixel puts the _output suffix on the file name.

Bison grazing at Yellowstone National ParkI will tell you what else I did but it is not pertinent to the new program so skip this paragraph if not interested. Next PS was used to open the image and ACR opened up where some changes were made. No sharpening was done at this point. Then it was opened as a Smart Object in PS and cropped. Lucis Pro was used to sharpen the bison – black mask and just the bison painted back. I imagine I could have added the sharpening in ACR. A Color Look Up table was applied – one I created to just create a sketch effect. Now the real magic came with using Topaz Studio – AI Clear (set to defaults and Exposure -0.08, and Clarity 0.48). Next the Edges Adjustment was used – this can really sharpen up an image and worked great on the bison (Edge Tone Dark, Edge Strength 0.15, Suppress Weak Edges 0.21, Suppress Small Edge 0.02, Edge Thickness 0.16, and Edge Resolution 1.00).  Precision Detail Adjustment was added (Overall Small Detail 0.30, Overall Medium Detail 0.43, and Overall Large Detail 0.36-used a Gradient Mask set in middle of the image so sky was not affected, just the middle ground and foreground); and Impression Adjustment used the default settings (set Number of Strokes to High, Stroke Color Variation set to 0.25 and Spill 0.32). To recreate a better mist effect, on a separate layer a fog brush was used to fill in where the screen shot lacked mist and several Grut Cloud brushes (the best around by far) were used to enhance this soft effect.

Okay, here is the original so you can see what a difference this made – all three programs – J2r, AI Gigapixel, and Topaz Studio – helped create the above.Original image of Yellowstone

Bottom Line

This is definitely a program that you should try out. Be prepared to have a bit of a wait if processing a large jpg through the program. It is not as fast as Gigapixel. I do believe that I am seeing some changes, even though they may be subtle, and I know that Topaz will be adding capabilities to the programming so it will be even better in the future. (Don’t forget, if you buy it, all updates are free forever!) They are definitely the cutting edge leaders in AI technology for photography and they have not let us down yet. So I will be trying out more images with the program and plan to write more as I learn. In the meantime, try out the 30-day trial on some of your images and see what you think. And let the Topaz team know if there are having problems, they are always very interested in knowing about them. In the meantime hope everyone is thawing out after this horrible cold spell that came through the US. Have a good week!…..Digital Lady Syd


WHAT ABOUT SKYLUM’S AURORA HDR 2019?

Sleeping Quarters at Castille de San Marcos in St. Augustine, FloridaLoving this new version of Aurora HDR (for website link, check sidebar at my Tidbits Blog) – it really does add an extra HDR boost to an image without taking it over the top like some of the older HDR software can do. I feel like the image above (taken at the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida) represents what this software does best – sharpens up the image for spectacular detail and color – and much of it occurs just on opening up the image in the program. Skylum states “Skylum’s Quantum HDR Engine harnesses the power of AI for a more streamlined editing experience than ever before. It reduces burned-out colors, loss of contrast, noise and unnatural lighting caused by halos and unstable deghosting.” As far as I can tell, this appears to be true. Aurora HDR 2019 seems to be very different from the Aurora HDR 2018 – the images appear to be brighter and more color visible in the new version. And very little post-processing was done to get the above result. This program can be used as a Photoshop or Lightroom plugin or as a stand-alone program. See below the original RAW file before LR and Aurora HDR 2019 changes were done.

Original Raw File for above image
In Lightroom some Basic Panel and HSL Panel Luminance and Saturation changes were done. Then in Photoshop, duplicated the Background layer and opened Aurora HDR 2019 as a PS plugin. I am not one to use presets (now called Aurora HDR Looks) a lot, but Aurora HDR 2019 comes with a new Collection (previously called Categories) named Randy Van Duinen Looks and the Night Tungsten Mix Look was selected – totally opened up a rather dark image. Check out all the looks in his Collection – they seem to be really nice. (I also noticed that most of the original presets from 2018 have been replaced with newer versions – I believe this is due to a realignment of several of the panels, especially the HDR Basic Panel.)

Trey Ratcliff is a major proponent of Aurora, actually helping to design the program with Skylum, and he says 70% of his RAW processing in Aurora is done with just a single image – he finds no difference when three bracketed images are used or just a single RAW image. I personally find this amazing! I am now just mainly using it with the best HDR bracketed shot I have and am getting really good results also. He states that both the Windows and Mac versions are exactly the same. I did find an instance when this was not true – in the new Adjustable Gradient Panel (based upon the older Top and Bottom Toning Panel) does not have the ability to set a point and be dragged out to blend the look on your image. Instead Windows still has the Blend, Horizontal Shift, and Rotation sliders – it is sort of hard to tell where the Top and Bottom effects start and stop. The really good news is that Aurora 2019 has moved the Highlights and Shadows sliders out of the top HDR Basic Panel into this Panel. Now the highlights can be protected in the clouds or shadows lightened in the foreground areas much easily. This is a big improvement to me. The new HDR Smart Structure slider in the HDR Enhance Panel analyzes the scene and applies structure in areas where the details are not in the sky, for example, so that it is now applied locally instead of globally.

To finish up the post processing, a layer mask was added to the Aurora layer and in the Properties Panel, the Density was set to 47%. In the mask a few of the details were painted back individually to sharpen them up (the newspapers, hanging clothes on the bed and cups.) Nik Viveza 2 was used to add a little vignette to the image, but this could have been done with Aurora. That was it. This rather dark image was totally sharpened and brightened up with Aurora HDR 2019! I particularly like the texture effect on the walls. Trey does say that interior architecture images, which are difficult to adjust due to the bright outside and dark insides, are much improved with this version of Aurora HDR.

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Image of a tree in Oahu, HawaiiHere is an example of a different kind of image from Waimea Valley in Oahu, Hawaii – the original was all in green tones which was also nice, but I wanted to give it more of an engraved feel. In this case the image was turned to black and white using one of PS’s new Profiles called B&W Red Filter. Then a few adjustments in the Basic Panel were done before going into PS and duplicating the Background layer for opening in Aurora as a plugin. I wanted to show the difference using the exact same settings in Aurora HDR 2018 and 2019 – it is quite a noticeable change. Settings used in Aurora were as follows: Bottom Layer: HDR Basic: Contrast 27 and Smart Tone -24; and AL1: Dodge & Burn using Lighten at Size 28 and Strength 24% -painted over the foreground limbs to get some depth and detail onto the tree branches. Set to 54% opacity.

Aurora 2018 vs Aurora 2019 image comparisonIt seems to apply more contrast to give a more crisp HDR image in the update. Then additional settings can be applied. Sometimes just opening the image in Aurora HDR 2019 is all you need to do. The Aurora HDR 2019 image was taken back into PS where a layer mask was added to the Aurora layer. In the Properties Panel, the Density was set to 53% and just the foreground bright branches were painted back to restore the Aurora effect a little more. A Curves Adjustment Layer was added for more contrast. Topaz Len Effect’s Diffusion filter was applied to just soften the outside areas a little leaving the focal point very sharp. (This step could have been done in Aurora with the Image Radiance panel.) The blue tone was created setting a PS Color Lookup Adjustment Layer set to Foggy Night at 50% layer opacity. (This all could have been done in Aurora 2019 – they now have 11 LUT’s that can be applied, and the PS LUT’s can be accessed and applied to your image inside Aurora).

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Image of sailboats at Camachee Cove MarinaThis image was mainly post-processed in the Aurora HDR 2019 stand alone edition, but had to be opened in Photoshop as there is no way to remove lens spots as far as I can tell. Used the Adjustable Gradient Panel to give the balanced feel to the top and bottom. I really love how clean the image looks with no noise at all. It would probably look pretty good in Aurora HDR 2018 even – the program has always been very good. In PS a Color Lookup Adjustment Layer was added using my SJ Darkly Bright, which was created in my video a while back and it really added a color pop to the image. (See my How To Use and Create Lookup Table (LUT) Files blog.) Last step was a slight vignette effect using Nik Viveza 2.

Overall this updated version seems to be a real winner! It does run a little faster and has a lot of nice improvements, especially for us Windows users. If you already own the program and use it a lot, it should be one you will want to update. If you like the HDR look but have never used Aurora HDR to see what it will do, you definitely need to download the 14-day trial and see what you think. I have always liked the program as it seems to always sharpen up my images just a little, especially when I have not used a tripod, and it reduce noise wonderfully. For me these are both really big deals. Hope this has give you something to try out to see if you like it – I do not think it will disappoint you! …… Digital Lady Syd


THE BEST NEW SOFTWARE AROUND – TOPAZ A.I. GIGAPIXEL!

Image of an egret's eye I know I am a major Topaz groupie – been beta testing with them since almost the beginning and cannot seem to get enough of what their team does for us Photoshop users. They have created some of the most remarkable software – totally different from what I call the “big boys” in the field do and it never lets me down. Now they have come out with Topaz (see website link at my Tidbits Blog sidebar) A.I Gigapixel, a stand-alone program, and it is what I consider a major software phenomenon – a 30-day trial version can be downloaded through my link. What it mainly does is enlarge any image using “artificial intelligence” to fill areas of your image to upsize them. At first I thought, why do I need this? Well the above image is a great example. This egret has been upsized 600% in Topaz A.I Gigapixel to make the bird eye image go from a size of 777 pixels X 670 pixels (2.59 inches X 2.233 inches) at 300 ppi to 4662 pixels X 4020 pixels (15.54 inches X 13.4 inches) at 300 ppi. The eye looks sharp and you can even see the feathers on the head. Below is what the original image looked like before any editing, cropping or upsizing. The size of the image was 14.293″ X 9.493″ at 300 ppi – almost the same size as the new image above.

Make Small Details in Image Main Focal Point in Cropped Version

Original Egret Eye Image
It has been suggested that this can be done with a panorama that has some details that would look nice printed out as individual images. Once the image was upsized, it was post-processed like normal in Photoshop. In this case a Curves Adjustment Layer for contrast was added along with a Color Balance Adjustment Layer and an Exposure Adjustment Layer for the eye color. That was it – not much to it.
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Copy Out a Frame in a Video to Make a Sharp Image for Printing

Image of some kids having fun in Oahu, Hawaii Above is the final image from Oahu, Hawaii, after doing edits in PS (added Camera Raw Filter, and a Curves Adjustment Layer) to the upsized image – definitely something that would look great printed out. Image size is now 20 X 11 inches at 300 ppi or 59.5 megabytes. Below top image was taken from a rather low res video – I ran it through my video player (I like the free VLC media player – it lets me play my videos without converting the file type) and stopped at this frame. Used the Windows Snipping Tool to save it down as a jpg. When opened in PS, the original image size was 17 X 10 inches @ 96 ppi or 4.5 megabytes. Below are close ups of the kids showing the original and underneath, the image upsized 400% with A.I. Gagapixel for detail comparison.

Original close up image of kids in Oahu
Close image of upsized image of kids in OahuIf you look closely, the faces are a little bit clearer, the palm tree in the background is a lot sharper, and the fronds at the top of the image are a lot clearer. If you look at the finished image, the fronds look really incredible. A.I. Gigapixel fills in areas with pixels it thinks need to be added – Topaz says the program does 1 -2 million operations per pixel when it is analyzing the image.

To Increase Size of a Favorite Image from Internet or from Your Social Media

I love to find images from old famous painters or photographers for slideshows on my computer (Windows 10 capability). So many web images have very poor quality so running it through A.I. Gigapixel creates some really nice results. Here is an example of how this can work. The original image of the Waterloo Place image from London, 1899 has a size of 89 KB (600 X 438 pixels) and 72 resolution. (See image below.)

Image of Waterloo Place, London, 1899

After running the image through A.I Gigapixel (see below) and increasing it by 600% to 1919 KB, it is so much smoother and much less grainy. It was enlarged by 600% for a size of 12 X 8.76 inches (3600 X 2628 pixels), which is large enough to get a nice print. No changes were done to this image but the Reduce Noise and Blur was set to Moderate in A.I. Gigapixel – it really improved the atmospherics of the image. If you have a relatively clean image, this is not needed.

Image of Waterloo Place, London, 1899, after being upsized using Topaz A.I. Gigapixel

I am sure this program will continue to grow and get better, and they promise that if you buy it, all the upgrades will be free. This same process can also be used if you have textures you created or bought that are older or just not that large, this program can be used to bring them up to the new large size photo standards. Also, downloading a thumbnail from your social media can be run through A.I. Gigapixel to get a good result, even if the image is only a few kilobytes large. I have not tried it on my phone images, but I am sure it will really help. Topaz has a really nice video called Topaz Live Training: Introducing A.I. Gigapixel that takes you through several images. They also show how to use this A.I. Gigapixel with 3D so it definitely has some cutting-edge uses.

I will try and do a video once I have learned all the tricks. I only downloaded the image a couple days ago and I can already see lots of possibilities. Give it a try if you are like me and have lots of old photos on your computer that could use a little help or would like to really zoom in and get a nice high resolution image of a part of a favorite shot. Have a good weekend!…..Digital Lady Syd


INTRODUCING THE FREE TOPAZ STUDIO

Image of The Eye in LondonAs you all know, I am a huge Topaz Labs fan so I have been busily figuring out what can be done with the new Topaz Studio. To link to the download, go to my Tidbits Blog sidebar which goes directly to the free download and other info on the different adjustments. I will keep this link going since Studio has it owns Topaz site. I am not ready to do a full review so I will just go over what I have learned and pass on a few thoughts. It appears to be a wonderful upgrade to their original Topaz photoFXlab from several years ago (and which I have always thought was one of their best releases). Studio acts as a hub for all the programs from Topaz you already own. It can be accessed as both a stand-alone program or as a plug-in for Photoshop and Lightroom. Studio is a basic RAW editor that contains several features similar to Lightroom or PS Camera Raw. JPG, TIFF, and PNG files may also be opened in the program. The heart of the editing lies in the various “adjustments” that are applied individually to create an overall original image effect. The London Eye image is an example of combining several of their adjustments to get the final image effect. (The Adjustments applied and saved in a preset are: Basic Adjustment, Precision Contrast, Radiance, Dehaze, Bloom and Posterize, then Reduce Noise and Vignette were applied on a separate layer.) There are also a myriad of presets on the left side that can be selected that contain several adjustments to apply in one click. This is very similar to the original photoFXlab. But now if a feature is not one you like, it can be deleted from the preset.

For starters, the program offers free adjustments to apply to your images. These 10 effects are:  Basic Adjustments (similar to photoFXlab Adjustments section), Blurs, Brightness/Contrast, Color Overlay, Dual Tone, Film Grain, Image Layer, Posterize, Tone Curves, and Vignette. Sounds a bit like Lightroom or Camera Raw doesn’t it? If you do not own Photoshop or Lightroom or know someone who does not, this is a great way to process RAW files and it is free download. The program adjustments work from the top down as opposed to bottom up like Photoshop layers. The adjustments actually look like layers, but you are unable to apply them as a group of layers as in PS, but you can create your own presets to use the same settings over again.
Image of Hillsboro Lighthouse in Pompano BeachThe Adjustment Pro Pack contains another 14 adjustments to apply more unique effects to the image. Each adjustment can be downloaded individually and  tried out for 30 days before buying. Definitely take advantage of this trial period to see how you like what Topaz is doing with this program. The Pro Pack has some really handy effects such as: Abstraction, Black and White, Bloom, Color Theme, Dehaze, Edge Exposure, Focal Blue, HSL Color Tuning, Precision Control, Radiance, Reduce Noise, Sharpen, Smudge, and Texture. I like the Precision Control Adjustment which is a contrast adder and is a lot like Clarity with the miracle Micro slider and also a pretty nifty Color slider. It is too bad it is not in the original set as it is a really nice effect. Reduce Noise takes some really good info from the Topaz DeNoise program that is so fabulous. And in Sharpen, the Lens Deblurring section is very similar to their Infocus plug-in and works wonderfully. Each of these adjustments can be duplicated and applied more than once. I believe Topaz tried to take some of the best from each of their plug-ins to make editing an image must faster. The image above is of the Hillsboro Lighthouse in Broward County, Florida, and used the Recital 001 preset in Topaz Studio. The image below was used in the stand-alone version of Studio – used Topaz ReStyle plugin’s Rusted Gray and Light Blue preset and then the Basic Adjustment. Quite a different feel to this image that was taken on a very overcast day.

Image of South Lake Worth Inlet in Southern FloridaOne of the best parts of the program is their Masking features. If you own Topaz Texture Effects 2 or Topaz Impression, the brushes and masking is very similar – but with a difference. Now the mask can have more than one way to localize the effect. Therefore the Gradient and Spot masks can both be used on the same mask or also add in the Brush or Luminance Mask – very nice! This way the adjustment can be localized to just one small area of the image. And they are using their Edge Aware technology that I have loved for years. I am missing the Burning/Dodging, Saturation/Desaturation/ and Smoothing/Detail brushes from the photoFXlab and a few of their other plug-ins like Black and White effects, but hopefully they will be added soon.

If you want to just jump right in and start using the program, check out a short video called Topaz Studio Welcome and Walkthrough by Heath Robinson of Topaz. He goes over the program interface very thoroughly. But to learn a little more about how to use the actual adjustments, check the video Intro to Topaz Studio by Greg Rastami – he gives some great ideas on how to actually use the adjustments on all types of images – very helpful! I know Topaz Labs will be coming out with many more videos as they are pros at getting their fans up to speed on their products. There are also short videos on each adjustment in case you need more info on how to use it.

As stated above, you can  still get into your regular Topaz plugins by going to the Menu Bar and selecting Plug-ins to further enhance the image. If you do apply a plug-in, it will duplicate the image in the Workspace at the bottom and now you have to finish adding effects onto the new one – there is not way to know what plug-in was applied by looking at the list in the left panel. I have had a few problems with this if I get too fancy and apply too many plug-ins. Just be aware of this. I know the Topaz group well enough to know that they are definitely working on this issue. The program is automatically updated when new versions are ready so no more downloading and executing new versions – that alone is a great new feature! Another drawback at the moment is that they do not have any tools for removing distractions like a Healing Brush Tool or Clone Stamp Tool – apparently this is going to be included in one of the next updates so watch for this. Below is a succulent plant that uses one of my presets called SJ Colorful Plant Effect that was uploaded to the community and can be found  from the preset search section of the program.

Image of a succulent plant leavesConsidering that this is a free program and it is hugely complicated, Topaz has really done a fantastic job! It is lots of fun to fiddle around with all the different adjustments and try out other presets – I can see that they will be fine-tuning this program as it continues to grow and will be a real contender in the RAW field down the road. Lots to check out and some incredible effects can be created! I will be using the plug-in more in the future and try to keep everyone updated on all the new software additions. In the meantime I would suggest you download it and enjoy! ….Digital Lady Syd


DIGITAL LADY SYD REVIEWS LUCIS PRO 6.0.9 (NOW AFFORDABLE!)

Image of a painted Tri-Color Ginger PlantUpdated Blog as of 8/10/18 due to bad links and inaccurate info. This week is yet another Photoshop plug-in that I am really excited about using. If you have followed plug-ins for years, you know that Lucis has had some of the best effects ever made. Lucis Pro 6.0.9 has been reduced in price and that makes it very manageable. I had to get it! Now what to do with it? The Tri-Colored Ginger plant taken in West Palm Beach used this filter at the end of the workflow. Marilyn Sholen, a Corel Painter Elite, had suggested using it either at the beginning or the end of your workflow.

Below is the original (left image).  For middle image, the plant was selected using Topaz (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) ReMask. Topaz Impression’s Cezanne II preset was applied to just the selection, one of my Corel Painter textures was placed underneath, Nik Viveza 2 was used to emphasize the center focal point, and a Black and White Adjustment Layer was used to just adjust the tone of the image. Topaz ReStyle was used to add more of a pink color palette (see right image) and a Darken Detail layer was created to emphasize some of the lines in the plant. For final step to get image above,  Lucis 6.0.9 was applied and the colors really popped nicely.  (Settings used – Enhance Detail:  Red Channel 199/Green Channel 155/Blue Channel 203.  Mix with Original Image 39% Processed and 61% Original.) For more info on how to perform other steps, see Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs below.
Different stage of painting this image.

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Here is another example of the result that can be achieved with this very good plug-in. This image is of the Drawing Room in the 55-room mansion of Henry Flagler that is called the Flagler Museum or Whitehall. Wonderful place to visit!

Image of the Drawing Room at the Flagler Museum (Whitehall)In this case Lucis Pro was applied close to the beginning of the post-processing in Photoshop, right after removing a little noise and the ropes at entrance to the room. (See image below for original as brought in from Lightroom.) Then Lucis Pro was applied using these settings: Enhance Detail Channels – Red 51737/Green 44631/Blue 35165 – large numbers due to the fact the image was in 16-bit mode; Mix with Original Image – 43 % processed and 57% original. This really brought out the detail in all the small items in the room without making the image look crunchy. I found this pretty incredible! The effect can be as subtle as you want. The results look pretty subtle here, but at 100% magnification, the difference can be seen very clearly.

Original image of the Drawing Room at Whitehall

By clicking on the support tab at the Lucis website, there is a nice PDF Users Manual that can be downloaded with the plug-in which takes you through all the different sliders and what they mean. For me, to get the best results:

  1. Click the Split Channels box on.
  2. Uncheck the Display Composite box.
  3. Adjust the Enhance Detail sliders for each channel to get a good black and white result in each channel. The Smooth Detail sliders are kept at 1.
  4. Turn on the Display Composite Image checkbox. Sometimes the colors will look really bad at this point. If there is a color shift that you do not like, move the Assign Original Image Color slider to 0% Processed/100% Original.
  5. Go back and adjust the Enhance Detail sliders in each channel to make the colors and amount of details just right.
  6. If the results are a little over-cooked, adjust the Mix With Original Image slider which will pull back in some of the the original image.

There are several other sliders and fields in the interface that I did not use but the manual does a good job of explaining all their functions.

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Image of a white gardeniaThis beautiful white gardenia was taken at the Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando, Florida, and was my first attempt at using this plug-in. I did not want too much color in the flower, only a touch. (Settings used: Enhance Detail:  Red Channel 129/Green Channel 125/Blue Channel 95.  Mix with Original Image 70% Processed and 30% Original.) It is not that important that you understand all the mechanics going on under-the-hood, just experiment with the sliders and the image will eventually look really good. This seems to be a handy plug-in to use, especially when that little bit of extra detail is needed. I have even used this plug-in after applying my favorite Topaz Detail 3 – they work fine together. Here is another technique used to get this Lucis effect shown in my The Sculpture Called Reaching Tidbits Blog.

I just noticed I am not sure there is an option to try out this plug-in first which is too bad. I have always loved the Lucis filters but was unable to afford them. I am so happy they have reduced their price on this one as it is so much fun to use and does a very good job with both detail and adding a little color into an image. Hope you are enjoying the Spring!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:

Digital Lady Syd Reviews Topaz ReMask 5
Nik’s Viveza 2 Plug-In – A Hidden Gem!
Applying a Filter to Objects on a Layer
How To Use a Black & White Adjustment Layer to See Contrast In an Image
Digital Lady Syd Reviews Topaz ReStyle
The Best Dodging and Burning Technique!


DIGITAL LADY SYD REVIEWS TOPAZ TEXTURE EFFECTS

Image of the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse in AmericaI finally got a chance to review the newest plug-in from Topaz (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) called Texture Effects. The image of the oldest wooden schoolhouse in American was taken at St. Augustine, Florida. I really loved the way the plug-in added a soft pastel effect to the image. This was my second attempt at using this new plug-in and I really loved the effect. See Image 1 info at end of blog for post-processing and preset settings for this image. This preset was uploaded to the Community – to find it, just login to the Topaz site, click on the Browse icon on top right, and search for SJ in the empty field – it is called SJ Soft Pastel Effect.

As most of my blog followers know, I am a big fan of Topaz – they produce some of the most creative plug-ins that can be found in this highly competitive field. Once again Texture Effects is a great creative venture and since textures have been “all-the-rage” for the last several years, this fills a really nice niche for us Photoshop creatives! Topaz says there are 275 high resolution textures, borders and light leaks and seven collections (Earthy, Ethereal, Gritty Grunge, Lo-Fi, Pop Grunge, Soft Grunge and Vintage) with over 160 customizable effects.
Image of a Tricolored Ginger Plant
The image of the Tricolored Ginger Plant above shows a pretty standard result to expect with this plug-in right “out of the box.” The Distressed Contrast preset was applied and only an additional Border section was added to the preset. I really love the vintage illustrative effect that was created rather quickly. By adding sections like the Dust/Scratches, Light Leaks, and some of the Border options, a definite vintage flavor can be achieved. But it does not have to have a vintage feel. For more info on the above, check out Image 2 at end of blog.

Image of a Swinging Chair in St. Augustine, FloridaThis Cottage Garden shop image (no website link could be found) on King George Street in the old historic district of St. Augustine, Florida is a bit more realistic. The same preset was used as on the first image but with some tweaks. See Image 3 for post-processing details and changes to the preset.

What I Like About Topaz Texture Effects

  1. It is pretty cool to be able to download other people’s presets to see how they put their effects together, even though I do not like to access the Cloud info.
  2. Totally love the fact that an effect can be started from scratch and there are various effects that can be combined – you do not even have to use a texture!
  3. Love that textures that I already own can be added to my images. Also light leaks, dust/scratches, and borders can be added. More on this below.
  4. It is great that there is a mask for most sections provided so the individual effects can be localized. A section can added several times to a stack, so if you want two different Light Leaks, for example, two different Light Leak sections can be chosen with totally different settings.

What I Don’t Like About Topaz Texture Effects

  1. Don’t like logging into their Cloud each time to see all the other effects, and it seems I have to manually do this as it does not remember me even though the box is checked. . On the positive side, they have included a nice selection of their own presets to use so logging in is not always necessary. It can take a while to populate the presets once the Browse icon is clicked since the default is to load both the Community and Local presets – that’s a lot of presets!
  2. Wish more than one Spot could be added in the mask areas. I know, use the brush in the masks – just would be a nice to have. And wish a section could be dragged up and down without losing the layer mask previously created.
  3. Wish the black and white drops that change the paint color on the mask brush could be connected to a short cut key like X that Photoshop uses to switch between foreground and background color. It would make it much faster to paint in ore remove an effect in the mask.
  4. Sometimes the plug-in will crash on opening – just try it once or twice again and it will probably open correctly. I believe Topaz is  working on this issue. I have always been able to get it to open eventually.

If you want to just jump right in and start using the program, check out Topaz Labs blog called Topaz Texture Effects Quick Start Guide for some quick beginning tips.

Image of view from Edinburgh Castle in ScotlandThis image was taken from Edinburgh Castle in Scotland a while back – one of my favorite images to try things out on and Texture Effects worked great! Apparently I like the Diffusion section as I seem to add it in a lot. With the individual masks for each section or the overall image, a very localized effect can be applied. I have always loved Topaz’s diffusion effect which is available in several of their other plug-ins (Adjust, B&W Effects, and Lens Effects) and by painting out where I do not want the look, it comes out very unique. On the above, only the big puffy clouds and a little bit of the edges of the image has the diffusion applied. See Screenshot below to see how the mask looked and what the settings were to apply this. On the right is listed the sections that were applied to this image – several were reopened and tweaked some more to get the final result. (Click on image to open in Flickr for closer look.) To see original image, check out View from Edinburgh Castle on Flickr.

Screenshot of Topaz Lens Effects Diffusion sectionFor more post-processing info, check Image 4 below. What was cool with this image is that one of my purplish textures was used to give a cooler tone to the image. By adding the Dust/Scratches section, Light Leaks, and some of the Border options, a definite vintage flavor can be achieved. To see how Texture Effects looks on one of my funny bird images, check out my Tidbits Blog called Feeling Spiffy!

The sections that can be manipulated are: Basic Adjustment, Diffusion, Edge Blur, Edge Exposure, Film Grain, Posterize, Split Tone, Vignette, Borders, Color Overlay, Double Exposure, Dust/Scratches, Light Leak, and Texture. That means there are a lot of different effects that can be changed and very quickly. Many presets have a Basic Adjustment section at both the beginning and end of the stack – this is due to the fact that textures can reduce the contrast in an image and it needs to be added back in. Save as a preset the final result, and then save on line. If sharing a preset, be sure that there are none of your own textures or borders, etc., in the preset – it will cause problems when sharing if they are not available to everyone. Be aware that if a change is made to a preset, and then another preset is selected, upon return to the original preset, the settings go back to the default. The Texture Effects manual covers what all the sliders do and gives a great over-view of the plug-in.

To add additional effects to section (they can be added to Texture, Dust/Scratches, Light Leaks, and Borders sections), just click on the drop-down button at top right of the section. Try downloading my SJ Holiday Overlays which includes two .png snow files with transparency into the Dust/Scratches section by clicking on the upper right folder icon (it also takes .jpg files), name a new folder for your files, and add them (they can be deleted later here if they do no work out) – select in the Dust/Scratches drop-down to add a really nice snow effect to the image. When added as a texture they looked really bad so be sure to try different sections if one does not look right. Remember you can add the Dust/Scratches section again to add other types of effects. Some nice borders that can be downloaded and added to Texture Effects can be found at 50 free photo frames and borders. Some nice new free Light Leaks have been added by one of my favorite texture guys, Shadowhouse Creations – check out his whole site for great textures!

Bottom Line

Once again, Topaz has created a very addictive plug-in – I could play all day just adding different combinations of filters to my images. The idea may not be that original since we all have been adding textures to our images for a while. But they make it very easy to adjust opacities, blend modes, amount of detail, saturation and color strengths or variations both overall on the image or locally. Very powerful technology here. If you are at all into the creative aspect of Photoshop and love textures, this plug-in fits right in. To me, it very similar to my favorite ReStyle plug-in that I find indispensable! Personally I think I will use it a lot!

Hope you get a chance to download and try out Texture Effects. If you like other Topaz products, you will not be disappointed! See ya next week!…..Digital Lady Syd

Image Info:

Image 1: In Lightroom the Schoolhouse image used a new preset I received from Jared Platt (by subscribing to his newsletter) some nice Lightroom presets and this one is called Faded Warm Color. The doors and windows were sharpened with the Adjustment Brush. In Photoshop the Adaptive Wide Angle filter was used to straighten the building as there was a lot of distortion in the image. Since this filter was used, the Content-Aware Fill command had to be used to fill out the areas that were left transparent. On a stamped layer (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) Topaz Texture Effects was opened and a new preset was created by clicking on the far right icon that says New. I just started experimenting with each of the sections, adding and deleting them, until I found an overall effect I liked. This preset was uploaded to the Community – to find it, login to the Topaz site, click on the Browse icon on top right, and search for SJ in the empty field by the eyeglass – the preset name is SJ Soft Pastel Effect. (Here are the actual preset settings: Basic Adjustment – Brightness -0.49, Shadow -0.15, Highlight 0.33, Clarity 0.27, Saturation 0.31, Temperature -0.29, Tint 0, and Opacity 0.93 – no mask; Diffusion – Strength 0.57, Softness 0.38, Blur 0.39, Mask set to Brush – black with brush Strength 37, Brush Size 21, and Hardness 20 – painted out the area around the door and windows and some on the flowers; Split Tone Highlight Saturation 0.12, Highlight Hue 0.48, Shadow Saturation 0.07, Shadow Hue 0.70, Balance 0.63, and Opacity 1.00 – no mask; Vignette – Strength 0.33, Size 0.70, Transition 0.42, Roundness 0.66, Color Black, effect centered, Opacity 0.93 and no mask; Borders – the second row up from bottom on left – masked out the lower foreground area which had turned an ugly greenish color; Texture – ninth row down first texture – Size 1.00, Opacity 0.63, Blending Mode Saturation, Detail 0.07, Saturation 0.08, Color Strength 0.14, Color 0, and masked out the top left corner and bottom left corner that looked too reddish with black brush set to Strength 100, Brush Size 63, and Hardness 20; and Light Leaks – 2nd row from bottom and left column; Size 1.05, Blending Mode Color Dodge, Saturation 0.68, Color Strength 0.46, Color 0.45 – this section really gave the lightness in the trees to show where sun is.) A Curves Adjustment Layer was applied with just a little contrast added to the darker areas. On a stamped layer Nik Viveza 2 was used to emphasize my focal point of the front door and windows of the school. A clean up layer at the end and that was all that was done. I really like the soft painterly feel in this image.

Image 2: This plant was first processed in Lightroom using Dave Delnea’s Backlight 002 Horiz preset (his presets are some of my very favorites, especially since he has created some very nice lighting effects in them) and some Basic section subtle changes. Once in Photoshop, Topaz Detail 3 was opened and a preset called Small Detail for Fur by Blake Rudis (see his Topaz ReMask 4 Tutorial video which contains the settings for this preset) was applied – check out Blake’s website as he has great tips on how to use Topaz products. On a stamped layer, Topaz Texture Effects was opened and the Distressed Contrast preset was applied. Only changed the bottom Basic Adjustment (Brightness 0.11, Shadow -0.19, Highlight -0.29, Clarity 0.88-the high settings added the illustrative look to the image, Sat -0.39, Temp -0.14, Tint -0.02, and Opacity 0.79) and added a Border – third row down on right and no changes to settings. In Photoshop a Levels Adjustment Layer was used to slightly flatten the blacks in the image to enhance that vintage feel by setting the Output Levels to 15 and 255. Last step involved adding Nik Viveza 2 to slightly brighten and sharpen the focal point in the lower right center.

Image 3: In Lightroom Blake Rudis’s Tonal Contrast HDR 2 2 preset (could not find a link for this) was used and some color changes were done with the HSL section. No sharpening or noise reduction was used. Then opened image in Photoshop and duplicated layer. Added Topaz Detail 3 to get a nice sharpening effect using my preset called SJ Darken and Soften Green Background (Settings: Selected in Detail section only the Shadow: Small Details -0.65, Small Details Boost -0.65, Medium Details -0.76, Medium Details Boost -0.71, Large Details -0.80, and Large Details Boost -0.71; Tone section Exposure -0.36, Contrast 0.61, Highlights 0.18, Shadows 0, Whites -0.17, Blacks 0.03, Cyan-Red 0, Magenta-Green -0.03, and Yellow-Blue 0.27; Color set to Cool 1 preset in pop-out or Temp 0.10, Tint 0.03, Sat 0.10, Boost 0.) On a duplicated layer, applied Topaz Texture Effects. Here are the changes to Image 1’s SJ Soft Pastel Effect preset settings used to create the effect in this image. (Changed Basic Adjustment: Brightness -0.10, Shadow 0.84, Highlight 0.37, Clarity 0.79, Saturation 0.86, Temperature -0.07, Tint 0.17, and Opacity 0.96; Diffusion: Strength 0.29, Softness 0.30, Blur 0.21, and Opacity 0.58 – no mask; Light Leak – Bottom left leak – Size 1.25, Opacity 0.83, Blending Mode Pin Light, Saturation, Color Strength and Color all 0, and a mask was painted using Brush Strength of 33, Brush Size 7 but varies, and Hardness 0; Added a turquoise Color Overlay and set blending mode to Lighter Color, Opacity 0.120, Spot Mask and centered on hammock so only outside the circle was affected, Transition 0.62, Color Aware Strength 0.57 and Density 0.02. Created SJ Darker Soft Pastel Effect. Created SJ Darker Soft Pastel Effect.) Back in Photoshop a Curves Adjustment Layer was opened where a slight S-curve was used to apply a little contrast overall to the image. On a stamped layer Nik Viveza was used with 3 control points centered on the swing, balloons on left side and basket on bottom left. Only little tweaks to adjust the focal point correctly. Some clean up layers were added to cover light splashed over into the background. That was it!

Image 4:  In Lightroom Blake Rudis’s HDR Look Medium 4 preset was applied. In Photoshop I went right into Topaz Texture Effects and used the Winter Fairytale preset to start the effects on this image. (The changes to this preset are as follows:  Basic Adjustment – Brightness 0, Shadow -0.31, Highlight 0.25, Clarity 0.01, Saturation -0.38, Temperature 0.14, Tint 0, and Opacity 1.00; used one of my downloaded soft purple textures set to Opacity 0.18, Blending Mode Overlay, Detail 0.35, Saturation 0.96, Color Strength 0.77, Color 0.47; deleted the Light Leaks section; Color Overlay – set to a solid blue, Blending Mode Color, and Opacity 0.04; Edge Exposure – need to set all 4 sides so left side Exposure 0.35, Size 0.50, Transition 0, Color Strength 0.82, Color 0.76, and Opacity 0.83; top side – 0.23/0.50/0/0.82/0.76/0.83; bottom side – 0.21/0.50/0/0.82/0.76/0.83; and right side – 0.21/0.72/0/0.82/0.76/0.83; Diffusion – Strength 0.70, Softness 0.43, Blur 0.01, and Opacity; and added Split Tone – Highlight Saturation 0.12, Highlight Hue 0.07, Shadow Saturation 0.10, Shadow Hue 0.60, Balance -0.45, and Opacity 0.70. Created preset called SJ View-mask out diffusion; and in Mask section, used black brush and painted in some green highlights in the foreground trees, some red smokestacks and brown buildings just to add some interest.) The last step was to add a Curves Adjustment Layer in Photoshop to add just a little contrast.


DIGITAL LADY SYD REVIEWS TOPAZ REMASK 5

Had not planned on writing on this topic this week, but since I own Topaz (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) ReMask, thought I would put it through its paces. Along the way, a couple other tips popped up! This image took me several hours to complete, but was worth it. The colors in these Scarlet Macaws are incredible and perfect for painting. I call this guy “King of the Alligator Farm” as he was so noticeable and seems to enjoy everybody checking him out.

Topaz recently updated their selection plug-in to ReMask 5 and the results are really great. Remember, if you own this plug-in, it is a free upgrade for you. The major improvement for me is the Background section as shown at end of blog. Otherwise I found the program to be just like Version 4 and it still works very well. (See my And the Best Complicated Selection Tool Is?) It took practically no time to separate this image with a distracting green colored background and place it on my Corel Painter texture. In fact, in most cases you do not have to fill in the areas. Check out this short basic tutorial for version 4, that works the same with version 5, on how to create a mask fast – ReMask 4 Masking Hair. After computing the mask, I usually adjust the Recovery slider (revives color of foreground in weaker transparent areas) and the Layer Mask strength (determines the brightness of the mask) to get better results in my masks. Check out the Manual for how all the slider work. Below is a screenshot of the ReMask 5 interface.

Screenshot of ReMask 5.0 with macaw selectedYou need to go to Menu -> Preferences and check Enable Use-Layer-Mask to get a layer mask on image layer back in Photoshop. The final image used three different effects in Topaz Lens Effects: Fisheye to increase the head size a little (this work really good on bird images), Toy Camera Awesomeness I preset tweaking the sliders to get the rich color tones, and as a final step in this image using the Fog 1 preset which gives the final slightly faded feel around the bottom of the image to drive the eye upward. The basic workflow was the same one used in my How To Get a Painterly Effect for Wildlife and Birds blog. The biggest problem with this image was to get the focal point well defined on the face since the colors are so vivid and compete with the face.

ReMask 5 really selected the bird and feather edges very easily and without too much touch up in the resulting layer mask. I usually flip between the Mask view and the Keep View. The brushes in the plug-in are very sensitive so that you can really select the extra little spots needed just by tapping with the brushes – no real painting. To switch between the brushes use keyboard shortcuts “q” for to add back image, “w” to remove areas, and “e” to recompute the area. Zoom in close and tap away with the different brushes. Pretty easy. This is the basic trick to getting a really clean mask.

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Image of a Cattle EgretThis Cattle Egret took lots of steps so I will not go over all of them. Just wanted to emphasize that the same Topaz ReMask 5 was used to select him. In this bird’s case, it took a little more clean up in Photoshop to get it exactly the way I liked it. The Oil Paint Filter in CS6 was applied to just the bird quickly, then I hand painted more on the bird. The Fog Filter in Topaz Lens Effects was used on the left side of the image to soften the body effect. Below is how the Cut View of the mask appeared for cattle egret image. One of my Corel Painter textures was added to the image a couple times for the final result.
Screenshot of Cut View in Topaz ReMask 5

BACKGROUND SECTION

Two things have been improved: Topaz has included a new Background icon at bottom of column where you can open any image to add into the shot as a background, and it is now a stand-alone program that interfaces smoothly with Lightroom. The best use for the Background section would probably be for adding a new sky in a landscape (see below) or as a background to a portrait. Have Background choices of Transparency (the default setting), Solid Color or Image where you can select an image or texture from your computer. Click the orange icon and you get options to Move, Scale (keeps aspect ratio so you cannot stretch the texture) or Rotate the background. Press the yellow icon to swap out the chosen background image. There are several basic sliders to adjust the background to blend in with the masked area. Below is a screenshot of this section where I replaced a sunset type sky with some painted clouds. The down side is that if you are using the plug-in within Photoshop, you will have to save the mask with the new background down in a JPEG, PNG or TIFF file format – it does not save as a layered PSD file. I found this very confusing as you have to reopen your image with the other formats in PS and mine all appeared to be flattened. For me it is easier to just create the mask in ReMask, then add the texture in Photoshop where there are more options for manipulating the blend between the two layers. Still it is a pretty handy thing to have for use with Lightroom. Here is the link on Flickr to the original image. Screenshot of Topaz ReMask 5's background section

BOTTOM LINE

I still love Topaz ReMask and version 5 is even better. Definitely my “go-to” program for creating complicated selections. It is worth the time to figure out how quickly the selections can be made, even if just used as a starting point. You can always go back to the layer mask in Photoshop and tweak it some more. I usually have to. Have a good week!…..Digital Lady Syd


DIGITAL LADY SYD REVIEWS TOPAZ GLOW

Image of a little Native American Girl with headressThis week Topaz (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) released their newest plug-in, Glow, and it is once again so fun and unique! I will say right from the start that if you like plug-ins and filter effects in Photoshop, Topaz has the best selection to chose from. They are raising the bar with their new innovative effects to be used in your images. Topaz Glow is so unusual and I did not think I would like it that much – what can I do with it? But after using it for awhile and combining it with some of their other plug-ins, it is becoming one of my favorites. It brings out detail, color and lighting to get some very nice results. So lets see what we have here.

On the image above, of a beautiful little Native American child, is a good example of the use of color and lighting effects to get a lovely result, especially in the headdress area. First used Topaz Clarity’s Skin Smooth and Brighten II preset (these settings were adjusted: Dynamics Micro Contrast -0.36, Low Contrast -0.41, Medium Contrast -0.09, and High Contrast 0.19; Tone Level – Black Level 0.05, Midtones 0.06, and White Level 0.28) for a more natural skin look that this plug-in does so well. Next Topaz Glow was applied using one of my favorite presets, Mysterious I (these settings were adjusted: Overall Saturation 0.22; Red Saturation -0.63 and Red Lightness 0.23; Orange Hue 0.24 and Orange Saturation 0.62; Yellow Saturation 0.46; Blue 0.66; and Purple Saturation 0.68. Set to Multiply Blend Mode at 100% strength). This preset makes the image very dark as it uses a Dark Glow Type. By setting the blend mode to Multiply, the beautiful color and sharpening in the feathers of the headdress is achieved. A layer mask was added and with a soft round black brush, the face was lightly painted back so the filter did not apply to the face.  Several clean up layers were used and a Curves Adjustment Layer was applied to create a black vignette effect by just dragging the top right dot straight down to the .25 line. The face was lightened just a little bit more using the Camera Raw Radial Filter. That was it. There was not really much manipulation to get this nice result. And what is really nice is that the effect is apparent just in the rather straight lines of the image, but it does not look like just a neon application or over-sharpening of the image. Since there was such a drastic change done on this image, the original is shown below for comparison.

I am finding that using images with lines in the objects work well with this program. Glow can really bring out the details that you did not realize were present. I seem to prefer the effect on flowers and grasses,

Image of trees that were painted and taken into Topaz GlowThis image was done just a little differently. It was first painted in Corel Painter using oil brushes where several sources of this same image were used to get a very colorful and illustrative final result. In Photoshop Topaz Glow was added and the Mysterious II preset selected with a few changes. (Changed Secondary Glow to Dark and set Fractal Strength to 0.20, Red Lightness to -1.00, and Sharpness 0.27. Strength 0.82 and Multiply blend mode.) By using the Secondary Glow, the effect could be emphasized even more to create this rather illustrative effect. On a stamped layer Topaz ReStyle’s Dark Goldenrod Sunset preset (Detail Structure 0.50 and Sharpness 1.00) was applied. I was really please how Painter worked with Glow.

What I Like About Topaz Glow

1. Love the totally unique effects this plug-in creates! Like I said, at first I was not sure how I would use it, but once I got the feel for what the different collections (6 collections and 50 presets) are doing, it became much easier to figure out and get the subtle looks I like.

2. I have an older computer and this plug-in zipped along really nicely when adjusting the large number of sliders (over 70) that were required to get the effects I liked.

3. The results actually work very nicely with several other plug-ins I like to use a lot, especially Topaz Impression and Topaz ReStyle. Below are examples of each of these being used with Glow.

4. Having a duplicate set of sliders to use as a Secondary Glow makes it very useful to fine-tune an effect. I am using this more as I get used to what the slider do.

What I Don’t Like About Topaz Glow

1. There is not an undo function. It makes it a little hard to compare the old setting to the new setting. The company is promising this will be in the update for the program – which by the way, is always free to people who have purchased the program. Maybe this should go under What I Like…… hum! Also you have to go back to the preset list, click on a different preset, and and then go back in to the original preset and start over if you do not like some of your changes.

2. Wish Glow had a mask so the effect could be removed from parts of the image and remain on other parts. Right now you have to apply the effect, then add a layer mask in Photoshop and paint out the effect with a black brush in the mask, to localize the result.

3. Wish we had a few more blend modes to chose from – currently just Normal, Multiply, Screen, Overlay, Soft Light and Hard Light are available.

Image of my miniature mums and Boston Fern on my porchThese are my miniature mums that bloomed on my porch a month ago – they are my very favorite mums! What worked in this image are the lines in the flowers and fern that Glow emphasized. To create this effect, first in Lightroom Seim’s (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) PowerWorkflow Magic Portrait preset and Dave Delnea’s Backlight 002 vertical preset.  (If you want some spectacular lighting effects in Lightroom, you need to check out Dave’s inexpensive presets. These may be the best ones I have ever downloaded.) I like the effect of Glow and Impression used together, which is what this image did. The basic steps are as follows: On a duplicate layer, Topaz Detail 3 was applied using my preset (Medium Details 0.38, Large Details 0.16, and Contrast 0.30). Some clean up was done on a New Layer. Created a stamped layer (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) and Topaz Glow was opened – Wonderland preset was applied and set to Multiply blend mode at 66% opacity while still in the plug-in. Now you start to see the magical effect this plug-in can creates. Next Topaz Impression was applied on another stamped layer using the Monet II preset as is. A layer mask was added and some of the Glow detail in the flowers was painted back. One again a Radial filter was used to dial in the center right flowers which is the focal point of the image. A Curves Adjustment Layer was used to add contrast back into the image. Remember that when you apply lots of filters from these plug-in, you almost always need to add a Curves Adjustment Layer or Levels Adjustment Layer to bring back the contrast that gets lost.

Image of Disney Parking Lot Tram Another example of some of the effects you can get on an image. I created this preset and cannot figure out what preset I started using – even my settings are off a bit so I will try to reconstruct this and present another example. The nice webbing effect in the sky and the sleek colors in the front tram area are apparent. To me, this is the way it should look at Disney. The original of this is one is also shown below to give you a comparison. Also Smart Photo Editor using Burton’s frame and lowered effect so some color came through, and Violet Dream effect was used for the border.
Original Images before Topaz Glow appliedTopaz has included their really great color sliders which gives a lot of flexibility to making the image colors look correct. I almost always adjust these sliders in both Glow and Impression. Also I seem to prefer the Multiply blend mode, but discovered that by reducing the Brightness slider some of the other Overlay, Soft Light and Hard Light blend modes will work nicely. I also discovered that the Electrify slider can give some really crazy results so sometimes it needs to be reduced. Still exploring how all these sliders work together – lots of fun here!

There are a couple of things that can be done to make using this program a lot easier. First, check out the manual that does a pretty decent job of explaining all the sliders and what they do. (Go to Help -> User’s Manual) And what I consider is the best resource is to go to Topaz’s webinars website and watch their wonderful videos. UPDATE: Topaz has now posted a really good video called Introduction to Topaz Glow. I find it extremely helpful to know what the software designers were thinking when the program was designed and how others use the plug-in. For example, I learned that in the Neon Collection, if you do not like the non-natural colors in the preset, reduce the Edge Color slider by moving it left to get a more natural look. Or that the Heavy Metal presets look good on cars! Still working on that one. I believe Topaz does have some of the best instructional videos.

Bottom Line

If you love the special effects that so many of Topaz’s filters create, this is a definite “Yes” for you! It creates some very different results and works nicely with their other creative plug-ins. I have been having a lot of fun working on different types of images and will present more as the holidays get past. This is not just a neon filter, but lots of different effects that use the neon-type effect as a starting place. Topaz has once again created something totally different and for that I am grateful – no one else seems interested in doing this. It definitely adds something new in the “artistic” area to give more of a creative style to an image. Thank you Topaz!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Simply Glowing!


Digital Lady Syd Reviews Smart Photo Editor Photoshop Plug-In

Image of Harry Potter trophy and books from Orlando AirportIt has been a while since I did a review on a product that is totally new by a company I have never heard about but that is what I am doing! Anthropics Smart Photo Editor can be used as a Photoshop plug-in, although as a stand-alone program it is a fairly powerful photo editor in it’s own right. My interest is its use as a plug-in for all the special and crazy effects I love to use. This program definitely “fits the definition” with an incredible amount of variety! Even though I just bought the program, I thought I would pass along what I have learned, what I like, and what I do not like.

The top image was taken at the Orlando Airport at the Harry Potter Store using my Android. Here are the settings used for this image: Created a layer mask to mask the background. Then applied Soft colored texture 017 by andrewb2012 – applied it to just the background. Saturate and Glow was applied to just the trophy and books, and then applied Oil painting by Vivienne Li was applied to the whole image.  Applied Stacked photos landscape format 001 by andrewb2012. See the screen shots below for some of the steps used.
Image of painted treesThe tree  image was taken in Tennessee several years ago. It was first painted in Corel Painter and then in Photoshop the Smart Photo Editor was opened and just one preset called DJ Philip was used to give the final nice effect. (Here are the settings for the preset: Fade was about 2/3 of the way over, Merge 0.568, Filter 0.628, Radius 0, and Gradient 0.458.) The preset basically just darkened down the top part of image to direct the focus a little lower in the image – very subtle effect in this case. The results are added to your highlighted Photoshop layer by clicking File -> Save and Close.
Image of some Day LiliesJust another example of a very simple application of this plug-in – these day lilies were actually a very bright yellow but by taking this image into the Smart Photo Editor, an interesting effect could be achieved. The Bittbox-grungy watercolor01 border preset was applied. Back in Photoshop colors were tweaked a little more by using a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and then doing a little painting clean up.  Once again a very quick result that turned a rather ordinary flower image into something quite different. Below are two screen shots – the first showing the Effects Gallery and the second showing how a mask is created to selectively apply the effect.  Click on the image for a larger view in Flickr. Screen shot of the Effects Gallery for Smart Photo EditorScreen shot of masking in Smart Photo EditorJust have to remember that if an effect does not look right, you need to Cancel and then click the Effects Gallery icon again in the upper right to select a different effect. The right and left arrow keys will advance the grid right or left if you do not want to click the big arrows with your mouse. To see your original image, press F5 and to see what difference from the last effect press F6.

 What I Like About Smart Photo Editor:

1. The Effects Library with this wide variety of effects to apply to your image – there are Light, Color, Detail, Artist, Styles, Borders, Mood (weather effects), and Trendy effects that can be applied. It appears that the presets are obtained from the internet so when you open up the plug-in – thumbnails are created to show you want the different effects are. (See Gallery screen shot below.) A Search field aids with finding the effect you want. Also the best effects for your image appear first.

2. The ease with which the total effect can be applied – pretty much just a click or two for applying any preset. Also, there is a Favorites Recent Shortlists button that list the last 20 effects you used – very handy!

3. I really love the borders that can be applied. Ever since OnOne retired PhotoFrames, I have been at a loss to find really nice quick frame effects. This program fills that void.

4. That the program can be used as a photo editor for RAW files – you do not have to use it in Photoshop. It seems like an affordable way to process RAW files without owning the more expensive software to edit them. I checked this out on an image and it worked great with my Nikon camera NEF Raw file. There is an Image Treatment icon on the right side that has a whole bunch of basic image adjustment sliders like in ACR or Lightroom.

5. Can create your own presets for use over and over and can even upload them to the Smart Editor Community for others to use. Also, you can easily open up an existing preset to remove a border effect, for example, or add a different one in if you want to change it. This is really a cool concept!

What I Do Not Like About Smart Photo Editor:

1. Once an effect has been applied, as far as I can tell, you cannot try different effects on the original image to decide which you want. It stacks one effect on top of another one. I may be wrong on this, but so far I am having trouble doing this.

2. Sometimes it is hard to tell if the sliders are making changes when adjusted.

3. It is not easy to use the layer mask, but it actually does a pretty good job with a little practice – need to press SHIFT key to select other areas and ALT key will let you remove areas that got selected (turns it to the Erase From Selection button). I am not sure if the layer mask can be copied to another effect so you get the same mask unless you start out by selecting the Select Area button. Just not as easy as adding the layer mask in Photoshop and painting out what you want. Also I don’t believe there is an opacity slider for the brush so the effect is either in the image or not in the image.

4. Cannot be used as a Smart Object – not that big a deal but it would be nice to get back to your settings.

Bottom Line

This is a pretty good plug-in to get, especially if you need a quick effect for an image. The image can be adjusted using all kinds of regular photo effects for color, vibrance, detail, etc. It also allows Overlays and Underlays to be applied with blending modes and opacity slider. The price is reasonable, especially when bought just as a stand-alone program. I totally love the bordering effects so for me it was a no brainer – get the plug-in!

Image of fish from Epcot The Land rideThis image was taken while on The Land ride in Epcot, Disney World, Orlando, and the fish were just a rather plain white color. The Smart Photo Editor was opened and presets were applied. (The Texture my world preset by andrewb2012 was applied. Next applied Watercolor, texture & vignette 001 by andrewb2012 – Master Fade just past middle, Merge 0.631, 3 Way Combine 0.277, Exposure 0.535, and Saturation -0.151. Selected to add mask and painted off effect from middle fish.) Then in Photoshop just some Sharpen Tool to the eyes was applied. I thought this was a very interesting effect that took just a few minutes to create.

I would suggest you download the trial and check it out. If you download it, they have a very nice website with several tutorials and a community forum. I would suggest you watch this 2:46 minute video for a brief introduction to the program and one I found most useful before starting. It is called The Fisherman Enhancement (2nd video down) and goes through most of the main features quickly. Anthropics had a very good price offer going recently and I am sure they will be offering it again with the holidays nearby. I was pleasantly surprised how versatile this program is and will be presenting more of its effects in the weeks coming up.

Hope you get a chance to experiment with this interesting plug-in. It might be something that you will really like!….Digital Lady Syd


DIGITAL LADY SYD SPEAKS OUT ON TOPAZ IMPRESSION

Image of flowers using Topaz Impression pluginThis is not a formal review of Topaz (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) Impression due to some  constraints on my time right now, but I did want to give a quick shout out to them for creating for us Photoshop Lovers a new plug-in to fan our “flair for the artistic.” This is Topaz’s first attempt at making a painterly program – it is in a tough competition at this point since painting seems to be all the rage. I have had the opportunity to play around with this little gem for a few weeks and can say that once again, Topaz has a way of creating those little extras which makes you say – oh yeah, that’s really a nice feature!

Two things I really like about this program:

  • There is usually not really a lot that needs to be done to make the resulting image much better after applying one of the various presets they have created. I have played around with all the different sliders and settings, and find that adjusting the Stroke brush types is my personal favorite. All the Stroke sliders are really good so it is hard to choose a favorite from them.
  • My second really favorite item is that you can change the Hue, Saturation and Lightness of all the individual colors – this makes a huge difference depending on what colors you want to emphasize in the image. There are little red diagonal lines over the areas affected when hovering over each color with your mouse which is very helpful. (Something else I have never seen before.) Topaz has always been a leader in the way color is managed in their plug-ins. ReStyle set the bar very high for other software creators in this regard and Impression is continuing on with this tradition.

The image above was my first attempt at using Impression and I was totally surprised at how nice it turned out with very little manipulation. This image used one of their early Painting presets so the settings names do not match what was released but I know one of the new Painting presets is very close. I did set the image to Screen blend mode at 82% opacity – it gave a really nice finished look. I also used the Type 06 brush. Switch these brushes up and try different ones with the presets – you get some totally different results! The only other thing done after applying Impression was to use Topaz Detail 3 to sharpen up the focal points (the lower flower and secondary one is the pink and yellow one in the center). A black layer mask was applied (hold down ALT while pressing the layer mask icon in the Layers Panel) and just the centers were lightly painted back in. That was it!

Image of Clouds from my Front Porch with Topaz Impressions applied This little cloud image above was taken with my Android from my front porch here in Florida – got to love our skies! Used the Impression Pointillism II preset and made the follow changes to the preset: Stroke Brush Type 05, Brush Size 0.61, Paint Volume (Thickness) 0.27, Paint Opacity 1.00 (this really made the Impasto pop), Stroke Width -0.04, Stroke Length 0.11, Spill 0.14, and Smudge 0.05;  and in Color the Blue Saturation and Lightness were adjusted to give the sky a little more interest. These settings are a little rough since they were developing some of the settings for the program at the time this image was created. But the important thing is that by changing the brush types and those sliders in the Stroke section, some really interesting looks can be achieved. In the above I was leaning toward the bluish tones for the sky so that is what was adjusted. I even love the little stroke effects in the bushes in the foreground. Back in Photoshop there was not much extra work done except to add a selective color adjustment layer (Colors Whites – Yellow -7%, Neutrals Black +5, and Blacks Magenta +4, Yellow +9, and Black -7) – sort of  like adjusting blacks, midtones and whites in Levels. Last step was adding a Curves Adjustment Layer and a little more contrast into the light colors (pulled down just a little on corner at 3 – 1 in grid). I really like the results – especially just a little of the red tones peaking through the greenery. I had not even noticed that in the original image.

Image of some yellow daisies painted with Topaz Impressions plug-inThese daisies were taken on the Living With the Land ride at Epcot in Disney World, Orlando, Florida. I just love yellow daisies! I wanted to create an image reminiscent of Van Gogh’s Tournesols (Sunflowers) image although a Van Gogh preset was not used, but instead the Impasto I preset. In Lightroom Seim’s (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) Supertone EQ X preset and Hill and Lucas preset were applied. In Photoshop a little clean up was done to the edges and Topaz Impression plug-in was opened. These settings were changed in the preset: Stroke section: Brush Type 05 – for some reason I like this brush for the heavy painted look, Brush Size 0.61 – the larger the number the more painterly it looks, Paint Volume 0.76 – how see through is the effect, Stroke Width -0.34 – at +1 more of a scribble and -1 more realistic – I wanted a slightly realistic look here, Stroke Length 0.19, Spill 0.27 – set to 1 it will spill over the edge, Smudge 0.18 – I am using the very sparingly as it has a bit of the Oil Paint Filter look to it and I do not love that effect all the time, and Coverage 1.00 – do not care for the edging look at this time – if you reduce to less than +1 a Transition slider will appear; Color section Overall Saturation 0.17 and Lightness 0.06, Red Hue 0.29 and Saturation 0.10, Orange Saturation 01.0, Yellow Hue -0.10 and Saturation 0.11, and Green Hue 0.19; Lighting section Brightness 0, Contrast 0.92, and Vignette 0 – Light direction x-0.32 y0.60; and Texture section was left alone. After using the plug-in, I did a little clean up on a New Layer in areas that were a bit overdone, and added a Levels Adjustment Layer to bring back just a little contrast. The last step was on a stamped layer (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) where Nik Viveza 2 was used to just saturate that middle flower a bit to draw the eye to it. This could just as easily be done using Camera Raw’s Radial Filter. It was a really fun working on this image.

What I have done is to go to the Users Manual which downloads with the plug-in (go to Help menu and it is there), and look at what they say each of the sliders do. I made a sheet with what Topaz says they do, and then what settings I like to use for them until I get used to what they do. Like I said, they have done a nice job of creating presets, so they do give you some nice starting places for adjusting your images. The Topaz team said they are continuing to work on adding to this plug-in, so it is great to know they are listening to their clients. That is one reason I love working with Topaz, their customer service is excellent. Impression is totally fun and very addictive – I could do this all day! If you have a chance, download it and see what you think. I will be writing a more thorough blog on this in the near future once I learned some tricks to get great effects. Still learning so better get back to it!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
New Impression of Octopus and Seahorse


HOW ABOUT THAT UPDATE TO NIK ANALOG EFEX PRO 2?

Image of a horse in St. Augustine, Florida using Nik Analog Efex Pro2NIK has updated Analog Efex Pro to the 2 version and kept it free for all Nik collection owners. I am loving the results already. This easy to use plug-in is now even better!

The New Stuff: Nik has added several 6 new cameras called Tool Combinations – B&W, Color Cast, Motion, Subtle Bokeh, Double Exposure, and Multilens – each with presets. The biggest improvement is the addition of control points. The control point sliders for the Basic Adjustments section includes all 4 sliders for easy localized adjustments. Light Leaks, Dirt & Scratches and Photo Plate all have Control Points with a strength slider so the effect can be removed from certain object or areas. Motion Blur has an interesting item called Add Blur Point that allows you to set the angle of the blur and the strength by dragging the blue dot around or using sliders, and several points can be added. Double Exposure is another interesting filter – can either just click in your image and you get a square that superimposes your image on the original. By dragging out the corners of the square, the scale can be change and hovering near a side of the square, the rotation can be changed on the superimposed image.  You can also add your own image to superimpose – some really creative possibilities with this one. One of my favorite new features is the Multilens which allows you to divide your image into various different configurations (see last image)! The Lens Distortion Tool has a new Defocus slider which can be used to shift the image out of focus. The Bokeh Tool now contains both the elliptical style and a new linear style which acts like a Tilt Shift filter. There is now an “I’m Feeling Lucky” preset at the end of each Tool Combination – when clicked it completely randomizes all the preset filter settings from the selected Tool Combination. This is different from the Vary button at bottom of the right panel which makes just subtle changes to only the settings of the individual filter that is open (hold SHIFT while clicking to get greater variation). More choices are in the Dust and Lint styles. In the Film Type section all the styles have names which is helpful and two new groups, B&W Neutral with 15 styles and B&W Toned with 12 styles, have been added. Frames now has a very handy Scale slider and added 10 new styles to the Lightbox frame choice. I think that about covers it – a pretty big update!

The horse image was taken in St. Augustine, Florida on a recent beautiful day! First applied Topaz (see Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link) Detail 3’s Soft Dreamy preset on the background before taking the image into the updated Nik Analog Efex Pro2 – both are favorite plug-ins I use all the time. I wanted to show what a nice effect you can get without actually making the image look too vintage. Three control points were set for the Basic Adjustments section which included the Detail Extractor slider. Individual control points can be set throughout the image, just like in the Nik Color Efex Pro and Silver Efex Pro plug-ins – and when the layer is converted to a Smart Object before entering the plug-in, the control points are saved and can be adjusted later. Got to love this plug-in! Four control point in Light Leaks were added – only the texture strength can be adjusted and you cannot add a different light leak to the image, but it is still better to have the localized option. For this image a Lens Vignette, Film Type, and Levels & Curves were also selected. A New Layer was placed on top and the Sharpen Tool was used to just sharpen up the horse face and details. Last step involved adding my free Thin Double-Edges layer style – sampling colors from the image for the border.

Image of a roller coaster at Universal Studios-Orlando with Nik Analog Efex Pro 2 appliedThis roller coaster image was actually very much in-focus but I really liked the effect I got from using the Analog Efex Pro 2 update. This wonderful roller coaster at Universal Studios-Orlando is called Dragon Challenge Roller Coaster (for You Tube Video click here). The photo used Basic Adjustments, Bokeh to add some background blur, Motion Blur and two control points were added for more blur on the left track, and Direction Blur applied on the roller coaster, Light Leak set to 54% Strength, a slight light Lens Vignette, and Film Type using the Nikko2 preset – slider set towards Faded.

Image of view from Castillo de San Marcos in St. AugustineThis image is a view of the Montanzas River (technically part of the Intracoastal Waterway or ICW) from Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in St. Augustine, Florida. The settings used were: the Basic Adjustments with a control point on the trees to sharpen and brighten them even more; Lens Distortion set all the way left to Pincushion; Bokeh with the new Tilt Shift style set vertically over the Palm Trees and using a Blur Strength of 22% for the rest of the image; Dirt & Scratches Organic style with Strength at 26% just to get some vintage look, and a control point on the trees so they are still the main area of focus; Lens Vignette to darken edges slightly; Film Type using the new B&W toned Mijet2 preset style; Frames with Scale at 76%; and Levels and Curves where a Luminosity curve was created. I do not believe there is any other plug-in that can give this type of vintage feel to a photo so easily and quickly.

Image of a beach in Hawaii using Nik Analog Efex Pro 2 multilens effectThis last image shows what the Multilens filter can do – I really liked the results. This is a Puako Bay beach on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island in Hawaii that has been split and enlarged in sections with different focal points. Very different result and it was easy to do with this plug-in. The filters used were Basic Adjustments, Light Leaks, Film Type, Multilens, Frames, and Levels & Curves. It really looks like a vintage postcard to me. Note that if the Multilens images look in the wrong order, just click in the section and drag the little square around to set it correctly. Drag corners to scale and click near edge of square to rotate – pretty simple to and and lots of fun!

I loved Nik Analog Efex Pro when it first came out and I totally love Nik Analog Efex Pro 2! If you like a touch of the vintage feel, and it is really popular right now, this plug-in will probably give you any look you like. It is definitely in my top 5 plug-ins. If you have the Nik collection already, it is a free upgrade – just download the trial and it will automatically be added to your software for you. Okay, now I must get back to working on some more vintage images!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Digital Lady Syd Reviews Nik Analog Efex Pro
Topaz ReStyle with Corel Painter & Nik Analog Efex Pro


DIGITAL LADY SYD REVIEWS ALIEN SKIN SNAP ART 4

Image of a Golden Retriever lying on his back in the sunHappy New Year to everyone! Hope you have a wonderful year ahead and create some really spectacular images from your photos! Recently I have gotten interested in adding a painterly feel to my photos. Alien Skin’s Snap Art 3 has definitely been one of my favorite Photoshop plug-ins for doing this – not only for its ease of use, but also because it gives some great results quickly. (See my Digital Lady Syd Reviews Alien Skin Snap Art 3 blog). I was excited to hear the plug-in was being updated to version 4. Since I reviewed Snap Art 3 not that long ago and since it is the holidays, I am just going to do a fairly quick update for this version. Needless to say I love Snap Art 4. It is definitely worth a second look if you love the painterly effects like I do. To be honest, I do not see a whole lot of difference between the two versions except for the new interface, which looks more like Lightroom’s interface. The biggest change is that thumbnails are note created of your image showing all painting style variations in each artistic group – this makes it easy to choose a particular filter or effect for the image. Also the Background and Detail Masking Panels can be seen at the same time which is very helpful. F5 still resets the Background to some default settings, but I am not quite sure how this is determined. CTRL+R resets the Detail Mask so you can create new ones. The sliders and artistic effects are all the same as version 3.

The image above is of a beautiful golden retriever dog (similar to one I used to own) that was enjoying a nice sunny morning in Savannah, Georgia, in October. This is a great example of how subtly the plug-in can be applied, yet still get a nice painterly feel. In Lightroom, Trey Radcliff’s Dramatically Clean Chipmunk preset was applied before opening the image into Photoshop and the Snap Art 4 plug-in. I applied a preset I created from Snap Art 3’s Factory Default preset settings – still one of my favorites that is based upon an Oil Paint effect. To sharpen the details when using this filter, increase the Photorealism slider and decrease the Stroke Length slider. In this case, two Detail Masks were created to add back the detail to the dog’s fur and face. Pretty simply!
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Image of a bloom from an Elephant Ear plant
I am finding that I like to use this plug-in with other Photoshop plug-ins to achieve the look I like. In this Bird of Paradise bloom pix from my yard, a 5-image HDR was processed using HDR Soft’s Merge to 32 Bit HDR and returned as a 32 bit TIFF file in Lightroom. Some localized sharpening and Trey Radcliff’s Gradient Folding Colors preset was applied before taking the it into Photoshop. The layer was duplicated and made into a Smart Object before opening in Snap Art 4 (it is very helpful to use a smart object so you can go back and adjust the detail masks if needed), which achieved this beautiful painterly result using the Abstract Pastel preset – two detail masks used on the bloom where a little more Color Variation and smaller Stroke Length were used. Next Nik’s Analog Efex Pro plug-in was applied using only three of its filters that just popped the color: Basic Adjustments with Saturation set to 85%, Lens Vignette with amount set to -29%, and Levels and Curves with just a little RGB and Luminosity tweaking and an amount set to 67%. By combining these different applications, a very beautiful image was achieved.
********Image of Victoria Station using Snap Art 4 Colored Pencil effectThis image of Victoria Station in London uses Snap Art 4 Colored Pencil filter. First Topaz (see sidebar for website link at my Tidbits Blog) ReStyle’s Cambridge Battleship preset was set to Soft Light blend mode. Then one of Snap Art’s colored pencil presets was applied. In the Detail Masking panel, the Photorealism slider was set to 100 and the people were painted over to bring out detail in them. Created the frame back in Photoshop  by painting around the image edge on a New Layer with a Sponge brush, then opening up a Drop Shadow layer style where Distance was set to 0, Spread to 34% and Size to 5 pixels. This gave the cool dark edge effect in the border.

Check out Alien Skin’s website page for several useful tutorials, especially one called Chris Wieck’s Snap Art Tips. Well, that’s it for this post – just wanted to get this review done since I believe Alien Skin’s Snap Art 4 is a fantastic way to add some painterly effects to an image, or to totally change the image. This is in my top five plug-ins for Photoshop so that means it is pretty darn good! Lots of fun – and that, my friends, is the “name of the game!”

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Get Great Results with Alien Skin Snap Art 3 and Topaz ReStyle Together!!
A Day in the Sun!


DIGITAL LADY SYD REVIEWS NIK ANALOG EFEX PRO

Image of Lafayette Fountain in Savannah, Georgia, using Nik Analog Efex ProWell this was a most unexpected and very much appreciated addition to the Nik Collection since Nik had not given us any hope that they would be updating or adding to their plug-ins. If you own the Nik Collection already and have not gotten the update, just go over to Nik’s website and download the trial – it will automatically update and add the new plug-in into your software for free. Since I am not very familiar with some of the older film processing, it has been fun to try some of these looks on my images. The above image is of the top of Lafayette Fountain in historic Savannah, Georgia. All filters but the Lens Distortion, Zoom & Rotate Blue, and Light Leaks were used on this image – that means the other 8 camera filters (Basic Adjustments, Bokah, Dirt & Scratches, Photo Plate, Lens Vignette, Film Type, Frames, and Levels & Curves) were added! (Other than Lightroom basic slider changes and a Selective Color Adjustment Layer adjusting the Reds and Yellows for more yellow tones, there were no other changes but the plug-in.) Since I love adding a vintage feel to an image, I am finding this plug-in to be one I am using more than I thought I would! All my original images are shown in the Tych Panel at end of blog so you can get a feel for what this plug-in actually does to an image.
Toy Camera processing on gumball machines imageAll but the top image were taken with my cheap little point-and-shoot, which does not take the best images to begin with, and were then processed in the new Analog Efex Pro by Nik. It was a perfect match and I totally love the results. For the gumball machine image a basic Lightroom workflow was done and then in Photoshop the Adaptive Wide Angle Filter was used to straighten out the shelves a little. Since the edges got a little wonky, I added Kim Klassen‘s Serendipity texture set to Normal behind the image to fill in the blank edges with her beautiful brown texture. The last step involved add the new plug-in – opened up the Toy Camera presets and choose the fourth down, then just did a few adjustments to get the look I liked. Most of the changes occurred in the Basic Adjustments sliders and Lens Vignette tab. The Film was changed to the bottom middle one the Subtle group and a more Faded look was added. Not much to change here. For a quick overview of what each filter does, check out the Nik Collection Help link here.

What I Like About Nik Analog Efex Pro

1. It is totally creative and fun – what a big surprise since I was not even sure what these different type of old-time cameras did. Can make a boring image into something fabulous.

2. There are On Image Controls for most of the filters – very easy to adjust and set up in your image.

3. Love that you are not limited to the settings they want you to use for each of the camera categories. By going into the Camera Kit, you can add any of the other filters not used in the original camera preset. Totally creative use of the filters!

4. I love that they gave us Nik Collection owners the plug-in for free – totally made my day!

What I Don’t Like About Nik Analog Efex Pro

These are pretty minor gripes.

1.  It would be nice if you could apply some of the filters more than once. For example, I would like to add more than one Light Leak on the same image. At least they can be moved round inside your image but not rotated or resized. It would be nice to have more border choices too or to be able to adjust the width of the frames in this section.

2. Not real happy with the Vary button since you never know what the variation will be and what sliders will be changing – just have to hope a nicer one comes up next. It can be fun to try different looks within the filter by clicking on the Vary button and if you hold down the SHIFT and click Vary, all the filter’s settings randomizes for all the filters being applied. Luckily you can get back to the original settings in the History tab as long as you have not applied the plug-in first.

3. No control points. Nik says at this point that the plug-in does support U-Point Technology but they plan on adding it in later versions. It would be nice to have that.

I am finding that if I get settings I like, I am saving them down as presets such as SJ Toy Camera-gumballs. Since I have been using the Vary button a lot, this seems to be the only way to save those effects to use again. It is nice there is Smart Object capability which will save these settings, but you would have to open the original image that contains them by moving all the settings or writing down the settings and resetting to a new image to achieve the same look.

This guy below was an image taken at the wonderful Gulfstream Family Day in Savannah, Georgia, a while back. He really screamed vintage to me so he got it!
Image using Nik's Analog Efex Pro on an eagleThis image needed some major clean up since there were distracting feet at the top and a rope on his foot, and it just did not seem right to have this beautiful bird looking this way. In Lightroom just basic changes were done. In Photoshop the Patch Tool was used to get rid of a lot of the problem areas. In Analog Efex Pro the Wet Plate Camera 9 preset was used as a starting place. I removed some of the filters on the right by going into the Camera Kit and picking what ones I wanted removed and what I wanted added. This really is a trial-and-error process since every image I process comes out quite different when applying similar effects. The Wet Plate presets are quite lovely and I could have used several of them on this beautiful bird. The plug-in really is one of those that is just plain fun to use.
Image of cowboy on stilts post-processed using Nik Analog Efex ProA cowboy picture is definitely a worthy image for this plug-in! This guy was up on tall stilts greeting everyone coming into Family Day – what fun! Just the basic panel sliders and cropping were used in Lightroom before going into Photoshop. Then Analog Efex Pro was applied – not sure what I started with but the following filters were used: Basic Adjustments, Bokeh at 45% blur strength, Dirt & Scratches at 67% strength, Photo Plate at 31% strength, Lens Vignette left for darker edges, Film Type at 100% strength, and Frames. It does not seem to matter where you start if you plan on adding the filters you like and saving it as a preset. Very simple to use. That was all the changes made on this image.
Ferris Wheel at Gulfstream Family Day image using Nik Analog Efex ProThis may be my favorite image I have processed using the new plug-in. Again not much done in Lightroom except for a dramatic crop. In Photoshop I applied a saved preset I had used on my first image using this plug-in and saved the results at a preset. So you can compare how the strengths and filters varied, I have given you basic strength settings.  It started with a Vintage Camera preset and the Basic Adjustments, Bokeh at 88% blur strength, Dirt & Scratches at 82% strength, Photo Plate at 20% strength, Lens Vignette set to the right for a white edge, Film Type at 52% strength, and Levels & Curves dragging RGB curve down in midtones were added. The Camera Toolkit was used to get all the filters used. I added my own little edge frame as I did not like how the ones in the plug-in looked. I love the delicate colors in the final image!

As promised, here are the originals – don’t be too critical – my point-and-shoot is not the best, but as the saying goes – at least I got the shot! (Got to get my phone upgraded – on the to-do list!) It is pretty amazing what you can do with an imperfect image!Tych Panel of the original images from this blog

Bottom Line

This plug-in is definitely worth a second look. You can get similar results using Photoshop or other plug-ins. But Nik does such a super job of interfacing with Photoshop, and they make it so easy to apply the effects, that I think it is a real winner. I think the greatest thing is that Nik is back and gave us another great plug-in – we Photoshop Nuts have to be ecstatic! This plug-in is lots of fun and I am starting to see many uses for it. I am now going to get back to having some more Fun with the Analog Efex Pro plug-in – please excuse me!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Using Nik’s Analog Efex Pro on a Historic Statue


Digital Lady Syd Reviews Topaz ReStyle

Image of old Airstream RV that used Topaz ReStyleTopaz has once again come up with a very innovative plug-in that can quickly transform an image that is missing a certain look into something quite spectacular. I am finding it more and more fascinating the longer I work with it. The top image is what I call my psychedelic bus – would never have thought to add this color scheme to this vintage RV image without Topaz (for website see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog) ReStyle, but I really love the final look – much better than the original flat grungy colors and tones.
Image of a puppet and crafts using Topaz ReStyleThis image of some crafts at an Old Belarusian Village outside Minsk is a great example of the easy, dramatic change that can be made in an image to give a totally different look and feel. I love both images – the one on the left is the correct color scheme, but the one on the right is my favorite. The Muted Apricot preset was applied as a last step – and adds the contrast to pull the puppet out from the background and I like the color scheme better.

What I Like about Topaz ReStyle

1. The best thing about using Topaz ReStyle is that you can take an image into the program and see if you can find a little more interesting or better color scheme. Sometimes an image just needs a bit of punch with some different colors to get a really fabulous result. Also, you will be able to see if the image color and tone is correct just as it is. NOTE: To start with the  original image color scheme, follow the work-around steps in the comments at end of blog.

2. When you find a color scheme you think you like, you can click on the little camera icon and add it to a preview group where several different schemes for comparison. This can be handy as there are so many choices and so many categories to choose from. This can be quite addictive going through all the presets!

3. You can search for presets that are similar by clicking on a preset on the left that you would to find similar preset styles, and then click the fourth icon over on the Presets bar on the left. Can also search for dominant colors in presets by hovering over the color bar below the preview and clicking on the color you are interested in finding in other styles. This is a lot of fun to do and very easy.

4. There is a Texture slider in the Color section and in the Structure and Sharpness sliders in the Details section that are very handy. Just by adjusting these three sliders you can get some interesting results.

5. You can copy a layer mask from one section to the other – great new feature that would make a great addition to the Topaz Clarity plug-in.

What I Don’t Like about Topaz ReStyle

1. I wish there was a way you could tell which blend mode you are using once applied. I know they are working on a solution to this issue, like adding a letter in the icon or something else, but it is very difficult to tell if you have added a blend mode, and if so, which one. In their defense, it is highlighted when you open up the blend mode icon.

2. There are times on my system when the my preset settings do not look quite like what was applied – in my case a little over-saturated. I am still trying to figure out if this is my problem or the plug-ins problem. Not a major issue, but I would suggest checking out your preset results to make sure it is applying the colors correctly. Also be sure to give the program time to save the preset – it takes a while to create.

3. No Apply button. Since there is this great masking capability and are blend modes that can be used, it really needs an Apply button so a couple different effects could be locally stacked and masked.

Bottom Line

Topaz ReStyle is very easy to use and a very unique plug-in so if you like to give your images unique looks, this definitely is a plug-in you want in your arsenal of tricks. If you are a purist, this is probably not a good match – it definitely changes the feel and look of an image from what the camera captures. I would think anyone into graphic design would love this plug-in – the creative possibilities are incredible! Needless to say, this is definitely a plug-in I will use frequently.
…..Topaz ReStyle image of ICW in Ormond BeachThe image above is an excellent example of how a basic HDR image was changed into a heavily vintage feel by adding a different color palette to the major colors represented in the image. Below see how the image progressed from HDR to Painterly look to the above final image. That is what ReStyle does! HDR and Painted Image of ICW in Ormond BeachRight at the start you can tell that the highlights are much more accentuated by slightly changing the color palette from a cooler original version to a warmer look. Of course the HDR image is what the actual shot looked like, the painted version adds some color and softness to a rather cold image, but Topaz ReStyle really popped the shot! The actually interface that was used to create this effect is shown below (click on image to see large view in Flickr) where you can see what colors were substituted for the the ones in the image. Screenshot of Topaz ReStyle showing interface…..
This flower image below shows another comparison of what ReStyle can do – it is really amazing with just a few clicks what you can get. It is very similar to the InstaTone function in Topaz photoFXlab – one of my favorite features of that program. (See my Tidbits Blog InstaTone in photoFXlabs – Great Fun and Great Results! for more info on this.) Image of flower before and after using Topaz ReStyle…..
I have been taking some of my earlier images I thought looked pretty nice and trying them out. This image below is one of my favorites from my trip to Belarus and it used Topaz Simplify (click to see in Flickr). After applying the Soft Pearl preset with some slider adjustments, I got this completely different looking image – and still very charming!
Hidden Dacha in Belarus using Topaz ReStyle filter
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Many people are finding using this on a black and white image can give some wonderful results. Since I was intrigued by this suggestion, I tried one as shown below. This is an image of a little private cove on Spanish Cay in the Outer Banks of the Bahamas. The Peppermint Gray preset was applied – it gives the black and white treatment a bit of a cross-processed look. I really liked the effect. And applying them to a favorite texture can also make a major change in compositing an image.
Image of Spanish Cay with Topaz ReStyle treatment…..
Topaz is a really great plug-in company that is always trying to give us Photoshop nuts new options for making our images interesting and beautiful. And, as always, they give you free upgrades once you have bought the plug-in – I don’t know of any other Photoshop company that does this! They have very reasonable prices and often run great specials on their software. And check out their webinars – some of the best photographers are presenting for them and the videos are on their site.

If you are at all intrigued by this plug-in, it is definitely worth a download to try it out. I am finding it fits nicely in with other plug-ins as shown in my photos above, and not just Topaz plug-ins. It works best for me as a last step, but there are times I use it first to get a different feel before adding other effects. I especially like using it with Topaz Clarity – for some reason the natural sharpness from Clarity and then the color shaping with ReStyle makes a nice combination. Have fun trying this one out!…..Digital Lady Syd


Digital Lady Syd Reviews Alien Skin Snap Art 3

Got to say I love this plug-in! I had never used it before but I saw a few of Dave Higgins images where he had used this plug-in and I decided to check it out. Alien Skin Snap Art has been around for awhile – this is version 3 – but it never seemed to do anything more than I could accomplish in other plug-ins or in Photoshop itself. Now it has really increased its appeal and is definitely a great plug-in for us “creative-types” to keep in our Photoshop arsenal.

The image above was taken in the little town of Mir outside the beautiful Mir Castle in Belarus. (See one of my Mir Castle images on Flickr.) The Oil Paint Abstract – Soft preset was used as a starting point and then various sliders were adjusted to get the final result. (To see how the whole image was processed, see Image 1 information at bottom of blog.) You can very quickly go through the Factory Settings presets to get a feel as to which artistic media you want to apply to the image. The Favorites section is a good place to start as all the different artistic media is represented here. It is definitely worth the time to watch the short videos on Alien Skin’s website to learn how to use most of the sliders. Also Dave Higgins has two great short videos on how he uses the plug-in – one called Snap Art Review and the other is Snap Art Tutorial on Using Layers – I would recommend that you take a look at these as it gives you a feel how the program is set up and actually works.

WHAT I LIKE ABOUT SNAP ART 3!

1. Many choices for using different types of media – and you can save your own presets with the layer masks maintained in a special layers section. Very handy – and you can reset the layer masks by clicking CTRL+R if you do not want them applied to a different image.

2. What sets this program apart from the others is one slider I particularly like – the Photorealism slider that can be used on the whole image or in the Effects section for the layer masks. You can make just one part of your image more detailed and really direct the focus into that part of the image while the rest is left with a more painterly appearance. Also the Brush Size can be adjusted to add more emphasis. My other favorite slider is the Temperature (warm/Cool) slider in the Color Tab – along with the Saturation slider, they can really pop an image.

3. This program works seamlessly with Photoshop and is very fast loading. It uses the same shortcuts as Photoshop has set up so you do not have to learn a bunch of new key strokes. This applies to brush size, zooming, Hand Tool, Preferences, etc.

WHAT I DO NOT LIKE ABOUT SNAP ART 3!

1. Some of the presets are not real practical – really need to play in the program and set your own presets once you figure out what all the sliders do. I am still trying to figure out the Pencil and Sketch settings.

2. I find it hard to correlate the sliders in the Background tab to the ones in the Layers tab since they both cannot be open at the same time and the Layer tab Effects do not come up with matching numbers. It would be nice to have both areas open so you can adjust between the two sections. Update: Ben Wilmore just set me straight on CreativeLive in his Extending Photoshop using Plug-Ins video where he says that in the Layers tab the center tick mark is where the slider is set in the Background tab. By double-clicking on the slider white tab, it puts it on the tick mark. Move the tab right or left from that point to add more or less of the effect for each sliders. Still a bit cumbersome, but better than nothing at all.

3. Wish they had a reset button or keystroke command for the Effects section and the Mask Tool brush in the Layers Tab. The Effects section is reset by choosing No Change in the drop-down preset and the Mask Tool has to be manually set. You have to be careful that you are not using the old settings from the last item you did although it appears F5 or CTRL+R Reset (which resets the Background tab settings) does change these sections to their Factory Default settings. The actual layer masks can be reset or removed by pressing R.

A couple nice to know things are: Need to turn off the Duplicate Layer option in Preferences if using in a Smart Object – otherwise it adds the filter twice. This program interfaces great with Lightroom also, but you will not have a layer with your settings saved as you can with a Smart Object in Photoshop. Press the Spacebar to see your original image.
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This image was taken at a dacha in Belarus – the flowers are so beautiful there in the summer. This time the Pastel Sketch Factory preset setting was first applied. A layer mask was not even added – basically just stuck with the values given. In the Colors tab, the Brightness was set to 12, Contrast -11, Saturation 17 and Temperature 26. I am finding that the Saturation and Temperature sliders can work wonders on the images so check them out before applying the plug-in. See Image 2 info at bottom of blog for more info on post-processing.
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Another example of the beautiful treatment the plug-in can give an image. This was a really busy looking image, but by adding the Impasto – Landscape – Small Brush preset and then changing a few settings, the colors and tones look fabulous in comparison. Below is how one of the layer masks looks for this image (click on it to see a larger view in my Flickr account). By varying the Amount of the Layer Brush (in this case it is 27), you can paint a lighter strength in parts of the image. The fence was just lightly selected while the sunflower and background bench were selected with a larger amount of 58. See Image 3 below for more settings info.
As you can see this plug-in has a lot of great options and gives some really nice results. It is interesting that you never add a brush stroke to it other than strokes for a basic layer mask.
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Here is another example of how layers were used to direct focus to the center flowers. This image used the Factory Setting Watercolor preset and there were three layer masks with varying amounts of the brush effects. See Image 4 info at end of blog for settings used.

Alien Skin’s Snap Art plug-in has some great versatility and I believe it will work well combined with other plug-ins or the Photoshop brushes including the Mixers Brushes to get some great results. I plan on experimenting with it in this way in the future. Bottom Line: if you like the painterly look, it is a nice choice since it has so many choices. I found this plug-in to be totally fun to use and I believe I will be using it a lot in my future creative Photoshop endeavors. In the meantime check out the trial and see if you like it as well as I do!…..Digital Lady Syd

IMAGE INFORMATION:
Image 1: After just he general RAW processing in Lightroom, the Content-Aware Move Tool (it lives with the Spot Healing Brush) was used to move the dog into the image more. He was almost out of the image in the original. General clean up was done and a composite layer (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) was placed on top and turned into a Smart Object (right click on the image and select Convert to Smart Object). First Photoshop CC’s new Shake Reduction Filter was was run on the image using just three sample areas – one on the horse and driver, one on the trees, and one on the dog. It created a very subtle change. Next a Shadow/Highlights Adjustment was added to make the color more vibrant and sharp. (Shadows 19%, Tonal Width 39%, Radius 30 px; Highlight Amount 17%, Tonal Width 50%, Radius 30 px; and Adjustments – Color Correction +100 and Midtone Contrast +31) Now the image was ready for Snap Art 3. I created another composite layer on top and converted it to a Smart Object also before going into Snap Art. Once Snap Art is opened, the Background tab is active. The Factory Setting Oil Paint using the Abstract – Soft preset was first applied. Now you can play around with the five sliders – Overall Brush Size (this image used 63), Photorealism (59), Paint Thickness (52), Paint Stroke Length (69), Stroke Color Variation (70), Brush Style – Soft Brush in drop-down, and Random Seed 3258. This is a huge amount to adjust just to the overall image and you still have three other tabs to adjust – what a wonderful amount of options! The Color Tab was selected next where the Brightness (0), Contrast (-18), Saturation (30) and Temperature (Cool/Warm) (15) was set. In the Layer Tab is where the layer masks are applied – up to three layer masks can be added. To create a mask, the Mask Tool located in the bottom section – first icon next to Add/Erase – must be clicked. Click on the right side black arrow and three sliders appear so the brush can be set up painting the mask on the image. This image used Size (10), Feather (50) and Amount (21). Now just paint over any areas you do not want the effect appearing. To create the strength of the mask, adjust the Effect sliders – there is another drop-down here if you want to use them – there is a None choice if you do not want any effect on those areas! This image used just one layer mask painted over the horse, man and dog – wanted a little more detail in those areas. In the Effect drop-down, Detail was chosen (Brush Size (54), Photorealism (79), Paint Thickness (41), Paint Stroke Length (68), Stroke Color Variation (-47), and Brush Style – Default Brush)). To see the actual layer, press the right-hand black arrow across from Mask Layer 1. This is where you can add another layer. The last tab is Canvas and there are so many options that I am not sure how they all work – just click on all the little right-hand black arrows. This image was set to the Default Canvas Preset and Lighting Preset. The Vignette used different settings to get the lighter edges (Amount (74), Size (56), Softness (53), and Distortion (41)). The vignette settings can also be saved as a vignette preset by clicking on the icon next to the black arrow. The last step was adding a Curves Adjustment Layer back in Photoshop to add just a little more contrast. Loved the saturated color look!

Image 2: Very little processing in Lightroom – just the basic Lens Effect and Chromatic Aberration check boxes and a crop. Once in Photoshop, the Shake Reduction filter was applied – I am finding this tends to help any hand-held images you take. Shadows and Highlights did not help this image so it was opened as a Smart Object in Snap Art. The Pastel Sketch preset was used as a starting place. Most of the settings were left at the default except for the Color tab settings given under image. Back in Photoshop a layer mask was applied to the image and just the center of the red flower was lightly painted over to draw as a focus point. My free SJ-Painter Oil Frame was applied and transformed to give a nice painterly border. That was it!

Image 3: Once again very little processing in Lightroom. I did try to make the image very vibrant by adjusting some of the colors in the HSL panel. Once in Photoshop, the background layer was duplicated and a Smart Object created before opening up Snap Art. I first tried this as a Pencil Sketch but it just did not look good. Then I tried the Impasto section and the Landscape-Small Brush setting really looked nice. In the Layers tab three different mask were created – one for the foreground bench and stone steps, one for the flowers on the side and behind the bench, and one for the dacha itself and bench in front. The most detail was placed in the foreground bench, a little less for the flowers. Different amounts of masking was used on the dacha with the fence getting very little. See Dave Higgins videos on how to do this as reference above. Nothing else was done to this image – it looked great as it was in Photoshop!

Image 4: This image was first made very vivid in Lightroom by adjusting the Vibrancy and HSL sliders. Once in Photoshop Snap Art was opened as a Smart Object. In the Background tab the image was set to Watercolor from the Favorites Factory Settings. Then all the sliders were adjusted: Overall Brush Size 24, Photorealism 15, Paint Coverage 85, Paint Stroke Length 100, Stroke Color Variation 47, Brush Style – Dry Brush, and Random Seed 9809. In the Color tab only the Temperature (cool/warm) slider was changed to 26. In the Layers tab, the Mask Tool was set to a Feather of 50 and an Amount of 100 – this will apply the Effect section above changes at 100% strength to the main focus area, the center purple flowers. For the two purple flowers slightly behind and to the left of the main flowers, the Mask Tool Amount was changed to 17 and they are not as affected by the effects. Layer One Effects settings were: Brush Size 10, Photorealism 73, Paint Coverage 65, Paint Stroke Length 93, Stroke Color Variation 10 and Brush Style Default Brush. For a second layer mask the front little purple flowers were selected using a Mask Tool Amount of 100. Layer Two Effects settings were: Brush Size 76, Photorealism 52, Paint Coverage -36, Paint Stroke Length 93, Stroke Color Variation 66 and Brush Style Default Brush. The last layer mask covered the flowers growing up the brick wall using a Mask Tool Amount of 100. Layer Three Effects settings were: Brush Size 76, Photorealism -17, Paint Coverage -36, Paint Stroke Length 93, Stroke Color Variation 10 and Brush Style Wash. In the Canvas tab the Lighting was set to the Diffuse (warmer) preset. Now it was taken back into Photoshop where a Curves Adjustment Layer was applied to add just a little more contrast into the image.


Digital Lady Syd Reviews Topaz Clarity

Topaz Clarity is Here! I was surprised that Topaz (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) was coming out with a new plug-in and am finding that I actually love it! It is very different from any of their other plug-ins. So what are we talking about here? In a nutshell, this program provides two major features for your images: the use of Dynamic sliders to add contrast by using variations already in the image, and the use of  their IntelliColor Technology (keeps unwanted color shifts under control) by adjusting the Hue/Saturation/Luminosity of the image. I believe that Clarity does exactly what you expect a good plug-in to do – it takes a canned program’s limited capability and creates many more options, which is especially useful for that difficult image or for us “creative types.” This plug-in lets you create a very natural, sometimes quite stunning, look without any halos or artifacting (and that alone is a major accomplishment!). I am confident that I will use this plug-in on most of my images now that I have learned how to use it. The above is a farm located outside Minsk in Belarus. I have included the original RAW file images throughout the blog as I believe this is the best way to see what the plug-in can really do. See Image 1 info below for more on how it was post-processed, the Clarity settings used, and the before and after images.
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WHAT I LIKE!

1. The fact that the four Dynamics sliders are very similar to my very favorite Dynamics slider in TopazFXlab and Topaz Simplify. I believe it uses slightly different technology, but Nicole at Topaz Labs describes these four sliders as the original Dynamics slider “on steroids.” They do a great job of bringing out detail (using contrast instead of detail size) without looking unnatural. It has a really subtle sharpening feel to it. This alone is why this program is worth getting!

2. The Hue/Saturation/Luminosity sliders can be targeted to specific areas of your image easily. I like the Overall sliders at the bottom of each section that can give some very surprising results – sometimes just the thing to pop your image! And once again we get Orange (for skin tones) and Purple sliders which I really love. And if you have used Detail or photoFXlab, you know how good the IntelliColor technology is.

3. The addition of Color Range Brush and Feather Brush. I am still working on using these effectively, but so far they are proving to be quite useful. I like that certain areas of my image can be targeted by color(s) – saves a lot of time trying to get your selection in the Masks sections just right. The Color Range works very much like the one in Photoshop, which I use all the time. The Feather Brush is really nice since it now has the capability of softening or sharpening a selection’s edge as needed – once again similar to Photoshop’s Properties Panel for their layer masks. These are both great additions for the Masks panes. (And don’t forget this little Color-Aware Brush that is hidden with the Content-Aware Brush – it is becoming my favorite mask brush!) There is also a Gradient Tool Feature in the brush area that can be handy when working on your masks too.

4. I like that I can create more than one preset collection. I am finding it handy to have one that only addresses Hue/Sat/Lum Section changes and one for the Clarity Section changes. And you get previews for all of your own preset too!

5. The Dynamics/Tone Level section and the HSL Filter sections can be left open at the same time so that you can go back and forth between them to make adjustments very quickly. Small thing but really saves time. Unfortunately this is not true with the two Mask sections.

6. Overall Opacity sliders at the top of each section is proving to be very handy to use – works like the Layer Opacity slider in Photoshop or the Overall Transparency sliders in their other plug-ins. (This is different from the Overall sliders in 2.)

7. Maybe the best thing I like is that Topaz pushed the bar a little and tried something new. There is no one out there that I have found recently who is creating new plug-ins or effects to make your Photoshop experience a little better. Kudos to the staff for this!

WHAT I DON’T LIKE! (Not much)

1. It needs an Apply button so several different presets can be added since the Dynamics and Tone Level effects are so different from the HSL sliders effects. It would so nice to be able to stay in the program and selectively add the different section changes to the image instead of exiting the program and re-entering the plug-in for each change. My understanding is that they are trying to implement this shortly.

2. It can be a bit time-consuming to work on a mask that is at 1:1 – you have to keep hopping back into the Navigator pane to move the preview box to the next area to paint in. They need a toggle shortcut key or something else to make this easier. I left a request with the Topaz folks so hopefully this will be an option soon. On the good side, the Mask pane is much larger and easier to see than in their other plug-ins.

3. Would love to be able to copy the Clarity mask to the H/S/L mask and vice versa. Right now you have to create it again if you want the same areas selected. Possibly a shortcut key would be all that is needed here too.

4. This is a small nag, but when you zoom in on an image to mask out some eyes or something really small, the brush size is really hard to get to a reasonably small size. Some brush preset choices would be nice also, as they have in Black & White Effects.
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This image is actually of some beautiful bright red dahlias (see original below) that I planted in my front yard recently. Since I do not have an Apply button at this point, Topaz Clarity was actually opened three times, on three separate layers, by exiting, duplicating the layer, and going back into the program. For info on the processing and Clarity settings, see Image 2 notes at end of blog. No detail or color enhancers were required – it was all done with the sliders in Clarity. What was so nice is that it was relatively easy to give these flowers a totally different look without a lot of hassle. When playing around with HSL sliders in other programs, it is almost impossible to get two radically different colors on something that was one color to begin with – and make it look believable. Below is the original RAW file as it was brought into Photoshop (and yes, I did add a flower in the top right to balance out the image).…..
Below, this rather ordinary tourist shot taken of Umauma Falls on the Big Island is a good example of the results after processing with just Clarity, showing much improved color and contrast. This image would have been a great HDR candidate due to the large tonal range, except that there was no place to set up a tripod. Since I had the opportunity to get just a few quick snaps of this gorgeous waterfall, Clarity really gave me exactly the feel I wanted to accomplish in the first place. Considering this was a marginal hand-held, very shadowy shot, it turned out much more natural than an HDR tone-mapped image would have created!
See before and after close ups below. See Image 3 note at end of blog for more post-processing info. …..
The photo above is just a little bit of a change up here. This image, taken from Edinburgh Castle in Scotland, used Topaz Clarity and Adjust to get this slightly artistic effect. Clarity was again applied three times and Adjust once. I really love to combine several different Topaz plug-ins, especially in photoFXlab (check out its InstaTone tab to get some really creative results), to try out different looks. See notes for Image 4 below for details on how this image effect was created.
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It is hard to imagine that these beautiful Zinnias were adjusted using only Topaz Detail and Clarity, but it is true. I was really pleased at how I could get an almost illustrative look to the flowers by using Clarity. For more info on how this image was processed and my Clarity settings, see Image 5 notes below.

BOTTOM LINE:
Topaz Clarity is a great addition to the Topaz arsenal of plug-ins. I am not going to quit using Topaz Detail 3, my most used plug-in, just because of its release, but I am finding they work quite nicely together. This plug-in is definitely a great alternative to that over-the-top HDR effect that comes with too much sharpening, or even the over-application of Detail or Adjust. I think it would improve almost any kind of image you apply it on. It does take a few minutes to figure out exactly what each of the sliders will do. But once a combination is found, it is easy to set up a preset and use this as a starting point for your particular type of processing. And once again, you get it at a reasonable price and the Topaz guarantee that upgrades will always be free! Just another quality product from a quality company!

I will be doing more experimenting with this plug-in in the coming weeks and will share my findings, so stay tuned. Download a trial and give this new plug-in a try. You might be surprised at your results – I was!…..Digital Lady Syd

NOTES FOR POST-PROCESSING OF IMAGES
Image 1: No changes in Lightroom except cropping and checking Enabling Profile Corrections and Removing Chromatic Aberration. Once in Photoshop a preset I had created was applied in Topaz Clarity. (Here are the settings for my Very Vivid Sharp preset – Clarity Section-Dynamics: Micro Contrast 0.84, Low Contrast 0.56, Medium Contrast -0.31, and High Contrast -0.09, and Tone Control were all left at 0. In the Hue/Sat/Lum Section: No changes to Hue; Sat – Red 0.25, Orange 0.13, Blue 0.06, and Overall 0.17; and Lum – Red -0.81, Orange -0.09, Green -0.08, Blue 0.23, Magenta 0.33, and Overall -0.12. Then the Blue Lum was adjusted to -1.00 and Sat t0 0.22 to bring out the clouds a little more. See middle image below. Since I felt this whole look was a little too much, the layer was duplicated and this layer was taken into Clarity again. This time a preset I created with a more desaturated look was applied and the result is shown in the left image. (Here are these settings: Clarity Section-Dynamics: Micro Contrast 0.50, Low Contrast -0.42, Medium Contrast 0.03, and High Contrast -0.27; and Tone Level: Black Level 0.25, Midtones -0.37, and White Level -0.52. Hue/Sat/Lum Section: No changes to Hue; Sat – Overall -0.45; and Lum – Red -0.10, Orange 0.10, Yellow 0.10, Green 0.10, Aqua 0.10, Blue -0.10, and Purple -0.10) This gives a bit of spooky look to the image but the opacity of this layer was set to 28% to give the too bright effect a little softening. What an improvement to the clouds! Click on image for a larger view in Flickr.

Image 2: I did nothing in Lightroom except apply the Lens Correction Profile and check Remove Chromatic Aberration before taking the image into Photoshop. Cleaned up some spots on the flowers with the Spot Healing Brush and then into Topaz Clarity. First the Macro preset Flower 1 which changes only the Clarity Sections (Dynamics and Tone Level sliders) was applied. Then the Color Aware Brush (use eyedropper to sample the color first) was used in the Mask Section where the middle red flower was painted to keep the effect from applying on it. Since I wanted the opposite effect, the Invert icon was clicked so now just the middle flower contained the Clarity settings. Said OK to apply this to image and duplicated this layer. Entering Clarity again, the Reset button was clicked to start over. This time I wanted the three small flowers to be softer and a different color. This time only the Hue/Sat/Lum Section was used. To get the yellow flowers, the Hue Overall slider was set to o.41 to get all yellow flowers. In Lum settings, the Orange was set to 0.72 to lighten the center to give a greenish look, and the Overall Lum slider was set to 0.08 just to lighten up the flower color a little. Again these settings were applied and in Photoshop a layer black mask was added to this layer and just a touch of the pink color was brought into the petals. To get the painterly look, Painted Textures Creamsicle texture was layered on top using Soft Light at 100% opacity. The top painterly looking border was created using 2 Lil’ Owls Studio Bonus Texture 4 (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link), turned 180 degrees, and turned into an overlay. (See Related Blogs below for more info on this.) Any border you have would work, but what is interesting is that the border was a then opened up in Clarity and the whole color scheme and contrast was changed. (These are the settings used: Dynamics: Micro Contrast -1.00, Low Contrast -1.00, Medium Contrast 0.26, and High Contrast 0.69; and Tone Level: Black Level -0.72, Midtones 0.16, and White Level -0.03. HSL Filter: Hue settings: Orange -0.44, Yellow 0.50, Green 0.33, and Overall -0.42; Sat settings: Orange -0.20, Yellow -0.11, Green -0.66, and Overall -0.09; and Lum settings: Orange 0.11, Yellow 0.08, Green -0.53, and Overall 0.09. Created Textures preset.) Note: When you change the Hue of an item, and then go to the Saturation or Luminance sliders, be sure you adjust the same sliders and not the new color sliders- there will be little or no change. In other words, if you change the Red Hue to a Yellow color, when you enter the Saturation sliders, you will need to still adjust the Red Saturation to adjust the actual yellow color saturation. Took me a minute to get the hang of this.

Image 3: Lightroom was only used to crop the image, add a Lens Correction profile, and check Remove Chromatic Aberration. In Photoshop the Background layer was duplicated and then Topaz Clarity was opened where the Landscape-Color & Contrast III preset was applied. The Micro Contrast slider was changed to -0.22, and in the Clarity Masks section the waterfalls were lightly painted out – they were  sharper than I wanted for the water effect.

Image 4: First just HSL adjustments to the whole image; second time the Landscape Midday I preset was selected with the effect removed from the sky using the Clarity Masks section – and adjusting some of the HSL sliders; then my favorite Adjust preset – French Countryside – was applied as is; and finally Clarity’s Cityscape I preset was added. 2 Lil’ Owls (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link) Color Bokeh Grunge Set – overlay 2 was added to give a slight vintage vignette effect using Vivid Light blend mode at 74% layer opacity.Image 5: Just the same Lightroom changes – Lens Correction and cropping. If you would like the illustrative look, here are settings: in Clarity Section – Dynamics: Micro Contrast 1.00, Low Contrast 0.28, Medium Contrast -0.50, and High Contrast 0.06; Tone Level: Black Level 0.61, Midtones 0.14, and White Level 0.72; and in Hue/Sat/Lum Section – Hue: Only Red 0.16, Yellow -0.05, and Green -0.17 were adjusted; Sat: only Green -0.22 and Overall -0.45 were adjusted; and Lum: Only Orange 0.36, Yellow 0.89, Green -0.91, Aqua 0.30, and Blue -0.09 were adjusted. Kim Klassen Cafe‘s January Set 2801 texture was applied and set to Multiply at 100% opacity. Shadowhouse Creations Text  Brush 1 was put on its own layer at 61% layer opacity. (These brushes are free and really cool, as is his site, too.) A couple other steps were done to get the nice texturized feel, but overall, the flowers benefited greatly by using Clarity.

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Clarity with Texture!
Topaz Simplify Artistic Workflow
How to Make Frames or Borders
InstaTone in photoFXlabs – Great Fun and Great Results!


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.
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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.
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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:
Beautiful Feathers!
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
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IMAGE INFORMATION
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.


Digital Lady Syd Reviews Akvis Sketch Plug-in for Photoshop

I decided to try the Akvis Sketch plug-in after reading Theresa Airey’s Digital Photo Art New Directions book where she used it in some of her examples. The image above is of the Pulteney Bridge over the Avon River in England – I actually took this shot from a tour bus. Just goes to show that sometimes you get lucky! I am a huge Topaz (for website see sidebar in my Tidbits Blog) Simplify fan which has a very functional Line and Ink and Sketch sections. Many of Simplify’s presets and adjustments can get you a very similar result. I created a vertical tych (see my Using a Tych Panel to Show Off Your Images blog) as an example of how I was able to recreate a pretty similar result using both Topaz Simplify and Nik Color Efex Pro. For info on how all the images were processed, see the end of the blog.
For a little introduction to the program, there are two basic styles you can pursue: the Classic style for creating color or black and white drawing with contour lines, and Artistic style for creating “expressive” drawings that look they were hand-drawn.
It took me a while to get the hang of how to create a mask so the blurring effect was where it should be – the Instruction Booklet makes it look like you can use a very loose selection, but I had to keep redoing it to get it to look right. It helped to zoom in to 300% to lay down the lines, and it did take several attempts to get it to look natural. See screenshot below to see how the Colored Car background Blur Sketch was created. I also found the directions a little confusing for the Background tab – sometimes you cannot use the blur with certain slider settings and sometimes you can. Anyway, I was able to apply the blur effect on both the Classic Sketch car and the Colored Classic Sketch car, and it turned out very nice once it was done.
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But I must say that Akvis Sketch offers different choices on how to set up your sketch look to get some very unique results that Simplify cannot reproduce. I spent a lot of time trying to get Simplify to create the look I created with Sketch and the image of trees on the Big Island in Hawaii. I loved the trees but could never get it to look the way I wanted it to – until I started playing with Akvis Sketch and got this very artsy sketch feel in the image.
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I was surprised how sharp and almost realistic this hubcap display from the 39th Annual Turkey Run turned out. After looking at Akvis’s website, it seems that many of the images start by applying the Classic style using the Black and White default preset in the drop-down at the bottom of the Sketch panel. Then they recommend moving the Stroke Thickness and Midtones Intensity. In this case Coloration was added and Color Pencil was checked. (See Image 6 info for all settings used.)
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In this example I added a texture using Sketch’s hatched texture. To be honest I am not a big fan of adding the texture in the plug-in although you can actually upload your own textures to add. I also tried that and did not like the result. But this image turned out pretty nice using Sketch’s B&W Sketch preset. It really does not take a lot of manipulation to get a nice result. And the program is not too taxing on your computer either.

What I Like!

  • It has several different sketch slider settings that none of my other plug-ins provide. Like Midtone Hatching and Stroke Thickness.
  • Getting a nice quick result is easy. If you need to get into the other tabs in the program it is more complicated, but the basic presets they provide are pretty good for a starting point. You can also save out your presets once you find settings you like.
  • There is an Edges tab that gives you some very good sliders for enhancing just the contour lines of your image.

What I Don’t Like!

  • The Background tab (see screenshot above) which sounds like it would be a great feature where you can make the background a sketch and your main object the actual photo, or you can blur part of your image using Gaussian Blur, Motion Blur or Radial Blur. I find the tools you are given to define this area does not give a good result – the defining red and blue lines you draw are of only one brush size and I had a hard time getting a good result. It required zooming in at 300% to get an accurate result, which I needed for my images.
  • Fairly steep learning curve to do the more intricate effects, like applying blur to an image.
  • Really need brush size adjustment – that drove me crazy!

Bottom Line:  The plug-in is not perfect but once you start fiddling with it, you begin seeing some of the interesting things you can do with it. I will always love Topaz Simplify’s line drawing presets, but it is different and it does not have all the line choices you have with Akvis Sketch. I personally liked the result on landscape images – it brings out some details that are hard to emphasize in regular processing. I think if you do any type of architectural rendering or photos, this would be a great plug-in. If you are a NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professionals – this actually is a good deal due to all the discounts you get plus 10 Photoshop User magazines throughout the year for the $99 membership), you get a 30% discount on all Akvis products. Sketch is just one of many plug-ins that you can try-out for a 10 day trial period. I really liked some of the results I was getting. Give it a try and see what you think of this interesting filter……Digital Lady Syd

Image Post Processing Details:
Image 1: This was originally processed in Lightroom and opened in Photoshop. Topaz Detail 3’s Highlight Detail Strong preset was applied to a duplicate layer. This layer was duplicated and Topaz Adjust 5’s Mild Color Pop was applied. This layer was duplicated and Akvis Sketch’s B&W Light preset was applied and Watercolor slider was set to 33 and Colorization to 100. Back in Photoshop a Curves Adjustment Layer was added to add some contrast. That was it!
Image 2: The Tych contains Image 1 as the first example. For the Topaz Simplify 4 image, the same settings were applied but instead of opening up Sketch, Topaz Simplify was opened and I created a preset called Nice Sketch that started with the Sketch section Pencil Hard (Simplify Settings – Colorspace YCbCr, Simpify Size 0, Feature Boost 0, Details Strength 1.58, Details Boost  1.00, Details Size  o.44, Remove Small 0 and Remove Weak 0.10; Adjust Settings – Brightness -0.04, Contrast  0.99, Saturation 1.10, Saturation Boost  1.05, Dynamics 0.37, Structure 0.30 and Structure Boost 1.20; Edges settings – Color Edge Fine, Edge Strength 1.32, Simplify Edge 0, Reduce Weak 0, Reduce Small 0.24, and Flatten Edge 0; and Transparency – Overall transparency o.47. A Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer was used to desaturate the Cyans, Yellows and Blues. It looks like a fairly close approximation to the Sketch plug-in. For the Nik Color Efex Pro 4 image, Topaz Detail 3 was used. The layer was duplicated and Color Efex Pro 4 was opened and Tonal Contrast was first applied using the Contrast Type Strong; then BW Conversion using the BW Conversion method and the filter set to 19% opacity – just toned down the color some; and the last filter was Sunlight with Light Strength set to 20%, Light Temperature 6004 K, Brightness 0, Contrast 75% and Saturation -19%. A slight S curve on a Curves Adjustment Layer was applied and it was done. Looks a little more realistic than sketchy but still has a similar look.
Image 3: This is one of my Tych images again. All images started off with Topaz Detail’s Overall Medium Detail I preset. Next Akvis Sketch was applied to all images. The top left image used Artistic Style Expression with no changes to the preset. The top right used Akvis Color Pencil High preset in the Classic style. The Strokes section Color Pencil was set to 63, Edge section Edge Width was set to 56 and a Good Colored Sketch preset was created. The bottom left image was created using Classic style and Akvis B&W Default preset. The Background tab was selected and Mode set to Sketch and Blur – Blur Order was drawing on Blur Gaussian, Blur Method Gaussian, and Gaussian Blur slider was 10. The bottom right is Akvis Color Pencil High preset with changes to Stroke Thickness 2, Midtones Intensity 2, Coloration 97, and  Colored Pencil 100. Background used 8.8 Gaussian Blur on Sketch & Blur.
Image 4: Screenshot of how the blurred background is created within the Background tab of the program.
Image 5: After processing in Lightroom and bringing into Photoshop, clean up was done to the photo. Then Akvis Sketch plug-in was opened and the Artistic Style was chosen using these settings (Strokes – Color Pencil, Lightness 0, Angle 45, Dispersion 81, Min Length  7, Max Length  71, Stroke Thickness  20, Uniformity  29, Curvature  37, Hatching Density 77, and Hatching Intensity  49. French Kiss Solstice Puissance texture was added and set to Multiply blend mode and 39% opacity. A Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer was clipped to the layer (ALT+click between the layers to clip) and the colors changed to a purplish feel instead of the greenish color. A New Layer was added on top of the texture and my free SJ Cloud Brushes 1 and 5 were painted in white in the top part of the image (it looks like sky but was actually a large hillside) and set to 55% opacity. A Levels Adjustment Layer was added to darken the midtones down a lot. Next my free SJ Holiday Overlays Snow 2 Overlay slightly blurred was added and a  purple Color Fill Adjustment Layer was clipped to it. Shadowhouse Creations Tree Set 2 Deer brush was used to add the deer in the background. Finished off with a Curves Adjustment Layer to get just the right contrast.
Image 6: This was a pretty simple image to do. After some clean up, the image was taken into Akvis Sketch where a preset I had created called SJ Classic Color Pencil Landscape was applied. It was set to the Classic style, Coloration 70, Color Pencil checked and set to 61, Stroke Thickness 3, Min Length 1 and Max Length 5, Midtones Intensity 3 and Midtones Hatching 95. Back in Photoshop Kim Klassen’s Revolution  Texture was added – beautiful texture that was free by signing up for her newsletter. The layer was set to Linear Burn blend mode at 87% opacity. A Curves Adjustment Layer was then added to finish up.
Image 7: The image was opened in Photoshop and taken into Akvis Sketch using the B&W Sketch preset from the drop-down and with Hatched Texture added in the Texture tab. Back in Photoshop the layer was duplicated and set to Multiply to darken the image a little. A Selective Color Adjustment Layer was added and in the Colors Neutrals was opened – Yellow was set to +17 and Black set to +16; and Blacks Yellow set to +3 and Black +54. This gave the background more brown tones but left the flowers white. 2 Lil’ Owls Mosaic Set Aveline Grunge texture (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link) was applied and set to Linear Light at 100% opacity. In the Layer Mask, the white petals were painted out to remain white. My free SJ Pastel Watercolor texture was added next and set to Pin Light blend mode at 100% opacity. A Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer was clipped to my texture to adjust the colors a little and reduce the saturation – Hue -58/Saturation -74/Lightness 0. A slight S-curve Curves Adjustment Layer was added next. A Bevel and Emboss Layer Style was added to extend the hatch effect to the edges of the image (Inner Bevel, Smooth, Depth 100%, Direction Up Size 0, Soften 0, Angle 120 degrees, turn off Global Light, Altitude 30 degrees – then check Texture and set Pattern to Gauze – it comes with Photoshop – and Scale 51 and Depth -200, and check Invert and Link with Layer).

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Topaz DeNoise 5 and InstaTone
Snowy Butterfly with Akvis Sketch


Digital Lady Syd Reviews Topaz Detail 3


The above was my first attempt at trying out Topaz Detail 3 and I am not disappointed. (For Topaz website link see my Tidbits Blog sidebar.) To sharpen an image I usually use the High Pass filter, Unsharp Filter or convert to LAB and do localized sharpening on the L channel. Detail 3 makes sharpening so much easier and gives several ways to adjust your sharpening to get the detail effect you want. This upgrade was definitely needed – and what I like most is that you can now localize the detail. All I can say is Love It! Love It! Love It!

Since I am such a big fan of Topaz anyway, I decided to use several of their plug-ins on this image from the 39th Annual Daytona Turkey Run Car Show, the largest in the US. If you look close at this guys face, you can see a slight smile – Detail really brought that out. I first started processing this image in Lightroom (see the RAW image below) with just the Basic sliders. In Photoshop I went immediately into Topaz photoFXlab, their new plug-in interface that I love. (See my Digital Lady Syd’s Review of Topaz photoFXlab v1.1 blog.) Next the Black and White Effects plug-in (this plug-in does things like no other filter I have seen) and from the Opalotype Collection the Hand-Tinted Chiffon preset was applied. The only change was to the Vignette which I centered on the car and adjusted the vignette sliders. Back in photoFXlab, Adjustment tab settings using the Dynamics slider (my favorite), Sharpness, Highlights and Shadows were applied. On a +From Stack layer (composite), the new Detail 3 plugin setting using just the Large Detail set to 0.53 was selected. Then in the Effect Mask tab, I lightly painted out the grill so as not to overdo the sharpening effect on it. The Overall Effect slider was set to .78 and that was it. In Photoshop the last step was to add French Kiss’s free Glorious Grunge Edging Overlay with grunge removed from center. It turned out beautifully!

What I Like about Topaz Detail 3!

1.  Totally love the localized detailing that can now be done – the Effect Mask can be used to either paint in or paint out areas of the image so just what you want sharpened is affected.

2. The effect is usually pretty subtle but makes an incredible difference when viewing the image! There is an Overall Opacity slider in the Effect Mask tab that can be reduced to lower the detail globally if it appears to be overdone.

3. The Cyan-Red, Magenta-Green, and Yellow-Blue Tone sliders where you can enhance a single color have always been a favorite, even in Detail 2. Also Color Temperature and Tint sliders are now available. These sliders all use the IntelliColor feature that keeps unwanted color shifts under control.

4. What I just learned is that the Detail plug-in can also be used as a final sharpening for printing your images.  Topaz did a You-Tube video called Output Sharpening for Print with Topaz, presented by Hal Schmidt using this process with Detail 2. I am planning on checking this out when I get a chance.

5.  Details can actually just be added to the Shadows or the Highlights of your image or both with different settings. Really handy when you have a difficult image to work on.

6. New Deblur technology from Detail 2 that brings out micro details – great for macro photos. I have not had a chance to really use it yet but it sounds like a very promising feature.

What I Do Not Like!

1.  I have a bit of a problem with the Effect Mask – I have a hard time making sure I am covering everything I need covered and at the correct amount. It would be nice if they had a colored overlay, as with Lightroom’s Adjustment Brush, that would give you a feel as to where you were going out of the edges.

2. I wish the Undo/Redo buttons would work on the Effect Mask. The only way you can erase an area you accidentally painted over is to move the brush to a different amount and hope it covers. This works okay if using Brush Strengths of either 0 or 1.00, but when in between, it gets hard to fix. Sometimes it is easier to just start over by resetting the mask. The other plug-ins, like Adjust and photoFXlab, have these buttons working. (A request on Technical Problems has been posted in their Forum on this matter.)

3. This is a small nag, but when you apply an effect, you need to make sure you press Reset button in the Effect Mask to clear the mask window or it stays on even after pressing the Apply button. When you start to make other effect changes, the mask is still there. This is also true if you have painted out an area, for a certain preset and then change your mind about that preset, press Reset All in the Adjustments tab, the mask is still in the window. Sometimes this is good if you still want the mask, but sometimes it is frustrating until you realize what happened. Most of the other plug-ins will retain the mask before you apply an effect, but clear it after applying.

4. Another small nag, but often the program gets confused and opens up on my second monitor instead of over Photoshop or photoFXlab – not sure why it happens but just some of the time.

Overall the negatives are not that big a deal although I hope they do fix No.2. The revamping of this plug-in has made it so much more useful – I am looking forward to having it in my workflow!
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These beautiful little miniature mums are once again my subject. This time a little processing in Lightroom, but not much. (See image below as it was brought into Photoshop.) DeNoise 3 was applied with just an overall Strength of .11 – now you do not need to adjust the Recover Detail slider if you are going to use Detail 3. Next Detail 3 was opened and applied 3 times! Yep – First in the Creative Detail Collection, the Overall Detail Strong II preset was applied and it really sharpened the flower petals and center. Next from the Stylized Detail Collection the Desaturated Blush II was applied and that beautiful texturized background appeared. Finally from the same collection the HDR Enhancement I was applied – in the Effect Mask the mask was inverted to black and with a brush set to 1.00, the center of the flower was painted back. Now to get just the right effect for the center, back in the Adjustments tab the Saturation Boost was set to .44. That is all that was done to this image to get this beautiful effect other than adding my B&W Border Frame Layer Style. I was totally surprised by how much detail was in the image that you could not see originally and by how beautiful a texture could be created by playing around with the presets and applying different ones.

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This image of one of the Haunted Houses at for the Halloween Horror Night at Universal Studios Orlando was created very quickly – below is what the image looked like after just basic Camera Raw corrections were done in Lightroom. It is not bad but Topaz added those subtle changes that really improve the image. First Topaz photoLabFX was opened and the layer duplicated. Since the image had quite bit of noise in it as it was taken at night and without a tripod, I felt it needed to have Topaz DeNoise 3 applied first – just a little Strength set to .11 and Detail Recovery set to .26 (did this before I realized that it could be done in Detail 3) – the noise was cleared. (I love DeNoise!) Then I went into the new Topaz Detail 3 plug-in and applied the Architectural Detail II preset.  Exit and a Stamped layer was created where Adjustment tab settings for the Temperature to -8 (for a more blue tone), Saturation to -23 (it was really bright  and the light was coming from everywhere), Dynamics to 27 (my favorite slider in all of Topaz – just works!), Highlights to -89 and Shadows to -23 were applied. French Kiss Glorious Grunge Edging free overlay (see link above) was applied and that was it. I was amazed how much the Detail 3 and the Dynamics slider together made this image pop. I have to say this picture reminds me of one of my kids favorite childhood books, the Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree!

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This is another example of the creative aspect of this plug-in – this image turned out very different than what I thought it would look like. This beautiful Monarch butterfly was not very happy with me taking her picture and it took off about two seconds after I captured this image. I got exactly two pictures! (See RAW image below.) After doing my Camera Raw work in Lightroom, the image was brought into Photoshop and Topaz Detail 3 opened. I applied this plug-in twice to get this effect on the butterfly and background. First application used the Stylized Detail Collection Abstraction I preset – then in the Color Section changed the Temperature and Saturation sliders. In the Effect Mask, at Strength 0.64 on a black inverted mask, the butterfly was painted in so the changes were made to just the background, but a little to the butterfly. This created the very soft background. Then Topaz Detail 3 was opened again and this time Creative Detail Collection Feature Enhancement I preset was used. This time it was applied just to the butterfly and not the background. Changes were made to the Tone sliders,including the Cyan-Red (0.82), Magenta-Green (0.68), and Yellow-Blue (-0.30) sliders – these are unique to this plug-in for Topaz and they can make an incredible difference in an image. These are not new to Detail 3 but are still one of my favorite parts of the plug-in. In Photoshop French Kiss Artiste Collection Charmante texture was added and the butterfly painted out, some text typed in and warped, and that wonderful grunge overlay applied again – I must be on a grunge kick?


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I decided to try a little different effect for this image from the top of the Sky Tower of the Kraken Roller Coaster (check out the link for crazy roller coaster video) at SeaWorld Orlando. This image was pretty complicated as I used 4 different Topaz plug-ins to get the final effect. First my normal workflow in Lightroom. Next Topaz photoFXlab was opened and the Adjustment tab was used to adjust almost all the sliders including Dynamics that was set to 50. On a stacked layer Black and White Effect was opened and from the Albumen Collection, Chocolate preset was applied with Film Grain turned off and the Transparency set to .49. Topaz Detail 3 was applied – there were areas on the image that had been slightly lightened and blurred due to reflections from a window in the Sky Tower.  To get rid of these reflection marks and make them blend into the rest of the image, I selected the Creative Detail Collection – Texture Enhancement II preset. This really over detailed the image as it was pretty sharp due to the wonderful Dynamics slider. In the Effect Mask, it was inverted and with a brush set to Strength .55, I painted over the light areas in the black mask. Then went into Adjustments tab and changed the Exposure to -.08 and Contrast to 0.45 to make the changes blend in. This is a terrific use for this filter and makes its value so much better than Detail 2. Topaz Detail 3 was applied again using just a change to the Cyan-Red slider – it was set to -1.00 to bring out the cyan roller coaster track. Finally Topaz Len Effects Vignette – Selective was set to draw the eye to the highest point of the coaster – very subtle. My Thin Double Edge Frame Layer Style was applied sampling frame colors from the image.

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I love Topaz products and Detail 3 is no exception. I actually purchased Detail 2 as my first Topaz product – I did not use it to the extent I could have but I did use it at times for the detail and color toning I needed. Detail 3 is definitely a big step up and it does create that extra bit of sharpening and detail that is usually needed at some point in your post-processing workflow. And don’t forget that once you buy a plug-in from Topaz, the upgrades are free! I got this version for just owning Detail 2! You should definitely check it out!…..Digital Lady Syd


Digital Lady Syd Reviews Topaz Simplify 4

As everybody probably knows by now, I am a big fan of Topaz plug-ins (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link). If you like to create “photo art” (which I do), then many of their products are outstanding for this and Simplify leads the group. This is not the go-to plug-in to get that major realistic look or HDR feel to an image –  stick to Topaz Adjust for that, although the lighthouse image below has a pretty realistic look to it. This beautiful Monarch butterfly image really expresses what Topaz Simplify 4 can do. You do not have to be an artist to give a beautiful artistic feel to an image. This latest version has opened up a whole bunch of new options and I am totally excited about trying them all out. Simplify 3 was a great product and I used it a lot. Simplify 4 adds more of the little extras that Topaz’s newer plug-in updates offer. But the real strength is in the addition of all the new presets – Topaz can make a basic photo look fabulous with just a few clicks. The image above used the Sketch Effect category Pastel II preset. Since I have photoFXlab (the new Topaz interface) that contains a great Adjust Tab – the Temperature slider was set to -100 and all of the sudden instead of a green and yellow image, which was really nice, it became a much bluer image. (This could easily be changed later in just Photoshop using ACR or a Color Balance Adjustment Layer.) Using the photoFXlab Mask Tab, the orange color was painted back in the butterfly – I really like the blue-orange color palette. In Photoshop the canvas looking border was applied using ShadowHouse Creations Assorted Mask Overlay Mask04 on top and set to Linear Dodge at 100% opacity. A little clean up was done to emphasize the eyes and blend some over bright colors. Very beautiful result and very easily created.
….. What I really love about Simplify is that it can save a “soft” image – that one shot you really want to save but the image is just not that good. The image above is an example of just that kind of problem. This shot was taken from a moving train using an ISO of 2000 – pretty high for my camera and it created a pretty soft look. How did I get this sharp look? First I used DeNoise set to RAW Moderate (be sure you have sharpening turned off in ACR or Lightroom – I did not on the first pass and it really messed up the noise removal). Next Topaz photoFXlab was opened and the layer duplicated – then from the Plugins Tab, Simplify 4 was opened. Lots of choices here – hard to make a decision which effect looks best. The Painting Effect category’s Impressions Color preset was selected – all detail is lost but the color is great! Back in photoFXlab, the layer was set to Color blend mode and the colors just popped as you see above. If you do not like the result, just delete your layer, duplicate again and go back into Simplify. A +From Stack stamped layer was created and the Adjust Tab’s sliders were set to: Temp 15, Saturation 14, Exposure 15, Contrast -12 and Dynamics 92. The Desaturation Brush was set to Strength -0.21 to brush out the bluish pavement and turn it back to a gray tone. The Detail brush was set to Strength 0.79 and used to paint over the buildings and the Burn brush Strength set to -0.33 and used to make the center building less bright. In Photoshop ShadowHouse Creations Blurred Smoke texture was added (a layer mask was added and the center painted out with black brush to reveal the image) and my B&W Border Frame layer style was added. I loved the results!

So what is new? Over 100 new presets that are organized into 7 Effect Categories: BuzSim, Detail Removal and Enhancement, Line and Ink, Painting, Sketch, Simplify 3 Preset List and My Collection which is where I save most of the presets I create (I put my old ones from Simplify 3 here also). I have not completely explored all the categories but I am loving the Painting Effects.

Here is a snapshot of a the new Simplify 4 interface. The Preset Thumbnail View is closed at upper left to show all the new Painting Effects presets. The image in the plug-in is shown at 1:1 (this is the recommended view by Topaz so you can actually see what the effect is doing) and has the Oil Painting preset applied with some slider changes in the Adjust Panel. It now contains not only my favorite Topaz slider, Dynamics  for localized contrast similar to Topaz Adjust effects, but also Structure and Structure Boost sliders to get more detail like Topaz Detail uses. The Saturation and Saturation Boost sliders made this image a little more colorful than the original preset results (this is a common result with the Oil Painting preset) – these sliders were already in Simplify 3. You could play all day with the effects and sliders! The Simplify Panel and Edges Panel have not been changed with this revision but a new Curves Tool has been added to the Global Adjustments Panel with several choices in the drop-down Curves field or by just dragging with your cursor inside the grid. I usually do this step at the end of my workflow in Photoshop, but it might come in handy on a difficult image.

What I Like!

  • All the new presets and new painterly effects!
  • New Dynamics and Structure sliders. Fabulous addition!
  • Localized brushes where the effect can be brushed out in places where it is too much – contains Dodge, Burn, Brush Out and Smooth brushes with the fantastic Edge Aware technology.
  • Ability to add a Vignette from within Simplify.
  • Ability to Apply an effect and then apply another one before exiting plug-in. This has the potential to give some interesting results.
  • The addition of the Quad Tones to change the colors inside the program – learning curve here but could be quite useful!
  • Detail Removal and Enhancement Effect category may have some good uses with some experimentation.

What I Don’t Like!

  • Still have a little webbing problem when using the BuzSim presets. Usually on a separate layer in Photoshop the webbing color issue can be corrected. First try the various Simplify panel sliders to fix, especially the Simplify Size slider – just do not overdo adjusting this slider or you lose the painterly look.
  • No Detail Enhancer brush in the Local Adjustments section – would be nice to have the ability to bring back detail, not just brush it out, on certain parts of the image like eyes and floral centers.
  • Ability to save Quad Tones colors down as separate presets although I guess if you get a favorite color combination, it could be saved as a preset with no change to any of the other sections – then applied separately after applying the original preset. It seems a little cumbersome this way.
  • Would love to have a color change tab like the HSL tab in Camera Raw. It would be nice to isolate just one color to change.

I have to admit, the things I do not like are not that big a deal – this is a great program for making an artistic statement and is totally fun to use! The upgrade has made this a very versatile plug-in for Photoshop users. And for us Topaz fans who already owned Simplify 3, it was a free upgrade! Can’t beat that!
…..Okay – here is my problem. Now that Topaz has this new photoFXlab interface, it is hard to keep what you are doing in the individual plug-ins separate from other things you can do to an image in the interface. That is a good thing! The Palamedes Swallowtail butterfly image above used the new Line and Ink Effect category with the Cartoon by D. Pacheco preset. The image does not look like it did in Simplify 4 because it was taken into InstaTone and the tones from Yellow Flower by Richard Susanto at 500 px were applied. This changed the whole color scheme to a better one.
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The British scene above used one of the new BuzSim category presets – BuzSim Toned II. I did add an Overall Transparency of .34 to the image to bring back some of the natural colors in the image. In photoFXlab, the Dynamics slider was set to 76 and Contrast to -9 to pop the detail just a little. This image was taken back into Photoshop where a layer was added on top to clone in the correct color in the Coca-Cola lettering – just a slight webbing problem that was easy to fix in this case. The red awning was made brighter by using a Color Balance Adjustment Layer and setting only the Highlights to Red at +27 – the mask was filled with black and the awning was painted back in. The color was too bright so I set it to 57% opacity.
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The beautiful purple orchids that were growing in Hawaii also uses Topaz Simplify 4 and the Painting category’s Watercolor preset. In this case I decided I wanted to actually paint the flowers and needed a really strong color background to base my Mixer Brush blending on. The Temperature slider was adjusted to reduce the blue tones just a little and the saturation was increased only a little to get finish the colors in Topaz photoFXlab. Many experts believe the Saturation sliders in Topaz plug-ins are superior to the ones in ACR and Photoshop. Back in Photoshop I used Fay Sirkis‘ Signature Watercolor Smooth Blender brush (you must be a member of NAPP to get these brushes – check out her videos there) to paint the flowers – the layers were set to around 73% so some of the Simplify detail is preserved. Fay’s Texture Regular brush was used to smooth out the background area and basic blender brush was used to smooth the transition edges of the flower. A final Curves Adjustment Layer added back a little contrast the Mixer brushes tend to delete and my Double Edged Frame layer style were added.
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Another interesting preset category, Detail Removal and Enhancement, is included to help with actual dust removal in an image. On the image in the interface, there were little water drops on the long skinny leaves. When Spot Removal IV was applied, you can hardly see them in the original image. Rather amazing! It can be used on faces with blemishes. Using a layer mask in Photoshop or photoFXlab, move the corrected layer underneath the original with the blemishes – then just dab at the blemishes and they disappear. I need to experiment with this section but it looks like it has great promise. BuzSim has always been one of my favorite presets ever since Amphisoft came out with the the original Buzz Simplifier filter (see my blog Simplifier and Simplify Filters). Topaz did a great job in picking up this rudimentary filter and making it into a great filter. Now you have many choices to get this wonderful look.

Bottom Line:

If you want to add some beautiful effects to your images, get Simplify 4. It is easy to use and can be changed by using all the different adjustments layers and blend modes in Photoshop and Topaz photoFXlab. Even beginners will be able to feel great about their results. For more information on using this new version, see Topaz Labs video Introduction to the New Topaz Simplify 4 that explains everything about the plug-in. You may not use it on every image but when you do use it, it will create an effect that is very hard to duplicate with any other plug-ins on the market. At least download a trial and see what you think. Good job Topaz!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Digital Lady Syd’s Review of Topaz photoFXlab v1.1
Using Topaz Simplify for That Artistic Feel!
Using photoFXlab v1.1
InstaTone in photoFXlabs – Great Fun and Great Results!
Topaz Simplify and Topaz Detail Together
Topaz Simplify and Lens Effects Saves an Image!
Adobe Photoshop CS5′s Mixer Brushes