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Reviews

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!