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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