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Using Topaz Simplify for That Artistic Feel!

I realized I had not written specifically about the nice Simplify plug-in that Topaz (see Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link) has had out for a while and gives a very pleasant result. The flowers above are of my front yard after a late afternoon storm – I wanted to give it a bit of a “fairy tale” look and Simplify really created that bright colored magical feel. I rarely use this plug-in alone, but in this case I did and was surprised at how nice it looks without applying anything but a final Curves Adjustment Layer for contrast. For settings, see end of blog.

Here is another beautiful example of how this plug-in looks – used the same preset settings as the first image although it does not quite have that magical look (settings are listed at the end of blog). The swimming pool is at the Hilton Hawaiian Resort in Oahu on Waikiki Beach.

This image was taken at the Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island in Hawaii. I used my tips from my Smoothing Those Waterfalls blog for the waterfall. This plug-in works very well with images that were shot just a little soft. The Topaz Simplify BuzSim preset was used with these settings: reduced the Simplify Size to 0.10 and increased the Saturation Boost to 1.56. By reducing the Simplify Size, you can avoid the webbing effect often associated with simplify plug-ins. You can get a very similar result to the above by using Topaz Adjust 5’s Painting Venice using no adjustments. (See my Tidbits Blog Topaz Adjust Using Painting Venice Preset-Beautiful Effect!)

A while back I did a blog on how this image was created (see my Tidbits Blog Topaz Simplify and Lens Effects Saves an Image! where both Simplify and Lens Effects were used to create a very painterly effect. This is one of my favorite images from Hawaii but I would overlooked it if the Simplify plug-in was not available. My blog link above will tell you the settings and show you the before image.

Using Simplify with other plug-ins can give a really nice color effect to your images. In my blog Making An Ordinary Image Your Own, the first image was done using both Adjust and then Simplify to get a very subtle soft artsy effect. The Simplify settings for that image is one of my favorites since it is very easy get a more vivid soft look to an image without adjusting a lot of sliders. Simplify and Detail were used together in my Tidbits Blog Using Simplify and Topaz Detail Together where these same Simplify settings were used.

There are lots of references on how to use this plug-in. An excellent resource is from Dan Moughamian at Tips (one of the best Photoshop sites) called Creating Painterly Effects with Topaz Simpify 3. All the sliders are explained clearly in this short post. There are also two very interesting Topaz Labs videos: the first is called Memorable Travel & Stock Photography by Scott Stulberg where he incorporates using Topaz Adjust, Detail and Simplify for some easy and amazing results; and one called Eliminating Web Effects and Other Artistic Tips in Topaz Simplify by Greg Rostami that discusses the major problem with using this plug-in – the webbing or stained glass effect. He has a pretty sophisticated work-around and some very good examples of how to get the most from Simplify. I still need to work through his suggestions. I have used the above resources for improving my results with this plug-in, and am finding the more I am work with it, the more I am liking the results.

Conclusion: Once again, just like using Photoshop CS6’s Oil Paint filter (see my Photoshop’s CS6 (and Pixel Bender’s) Oil Paint Filter blog), you have to be careful not to get a really “canned” look. I believe there is a lot more versatility built into this plug-in compared to the Oil Paint filter. This blog only addressed some of the creative aspects of it. Because there are many sliders, several that affect the edges of the objects, there are many ways to make your images look totally different. Once again, since Topaz makes such reasonably priced plug-ins and if you like a little artistic flair in your photos, this is definitely the plug-in for you. They have not updated this version for a long time, so I am hoping there will be a newer version being released soon (and remember the updates are free once you buy it!). Even if you are not sure you want it, give the trial a try – it really is fun to play around with…..Digital Lady Syd

Preset settings for the flowers and view images called Hawaii Landscape with these settings: Simplify Panel – RGB Colorspace, Simplify Size 0.29, Feature Boost 0, Details Strength 0.66, Details Boost 1.00, Details Size 0.27, Remove Small 0.06, and Remove Weak 0.10; Adjust Panel – Brightness 0, Contrast 1.00, Saturation 1.04, and Saturation Boost 1.32; and Edges Panel – Color Edge Normal, Edge Strength 1.89, Simplify Edge 0.58, Reduce Weak 33, Reduce Small 0.20, and Flatten Edge 0.

Why I Love Topaz Adjust!

I have been doing Photoshop for several years now – I actually learned the program using Adobe PhotoDeluxe, which came with my printer (this was the precursor to Photoshop Elements). When first learning Adobe Photoshop, plug-ins were  way too expensive for me. A few years ago, I finally bought my first plug-in, Topaz Adjust (for website link see sidebar in my Tidbits Blog), and it has been totally worth the money! Topaz Adjust is the whole package and at a very reasonable price (at the moment it is $50 – for link see Tidbits Blog tab above).

The image above is one of my all-time favorite pseudo-HDR images – it was taken from the London Eye as it was moving. Therefore I had to use Topaz Adjust if I wanted an HDR feel to the image. To get this particular look, I applied the plug-in twice, first using the HDR Pop preset and next using HDR Spicify preset (use a layer mask to paint out any portions you do not like from the top layer). Remember to open up the shadows by increasing this slider and possibly lowering your highlights a bit – check the contrast slider too.

I do love the HDR effect. Since I am not always very good about using a tripod, especially when taking travel pictures, Topaz Adjust has saved the day many times for me. On the Jackson downt0wn picture, I hand-held my camera for HDR and got such a garbled mess, I ended up using Topaz Adjust’ s HDR Pop preset on the middle exposure  image. This preset needed a few adjustments to get the right look, but don’t pass it over with the first glance. Rick Sammon, who is one of the great HDR guys, did an excellent video for Topaz called “Awaken the Artist Within” where he discusses his settings for this preset. What I did was create a Rick Sammon HDR Pop preset using his adjustments and applied these settings with very little tweaking – and it took just a few seconds to do! (Rick Sammon also has written a very good basic book, “HDR Photography Secrets for Digital Photographers,” which I found to be very useful, although both Photomatix Pro and Topaz Adjust have updated their software since its publication.  (There is some controversy on what people expected from his book – I still found his discussions on when to use HDR very useful. I hope Rick is considering updating his book as it has the best information on Topaz Adjust and how to use it.)

I wanted to show a comparison of using a single image with  HDR Toning in CS5 and the Topaz Adjust HDR Pop preset. For Photoshop CS5, go to Image -> Image Adjustment -> HDR Toning. (Note: the program will flatten your image for this adjustment so save to a single layer first.) This brings up a dialog box that gives a convincing HDR effect when limited to just one image. There are various Presets in a drop-down menu and you can save your own presets here if you find some settings you like. Overall it is a very nice addition to Photoshop and you should definitely explore it. (Check out my previous blog “Different Images-Same Look Using HDR!” for more information on HDR Toning.) The image on the left was created using this technique. A Nik CEP Tonal Contrast  filter was also added to get more detail into the image. The image on the right just used Topaz Adjust using Rick Sammon’s HDR Pop preset and the same Nik CEP Tonal Contrast filter. I find that combining two different plug-ins can really make an image pop and that is what happened when the Tonal Contrast filter was applied.

When you look at the two images, they look pretty similar – the HDR Toning effect is missing a bit of detail, the color is not quite the same – even the OnOne PhotoFrame (for website see sidebar of my Tidbits Blog) looks different even though it is the exact same frame for each image. I spent an hour just manipulating this image trying to duplicate Topaz Adjust’s look – I ended up using some Burning to bring out the detail on the white stones and after trying every adjustment layer, I settled two, a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and the Photo Filter Adjustment Layer set to Cooling Filter (LBB) at 44% density to get the closest proximity for color. Now I would not normally spend all this time trying to get two images looking exactly the same, but I wanted to show it is possible to get a very similar look without purchasing a plug-in. I personally still like the Topaz image as the detail and color makes the image look like it did when I saw it – and after all, that is the name of the game!

Below, the top image was processed using three images with Photoshop CS5’s Merge to HDR Pro and underneath, the Topaz Adjust plug-in on one image.

Very similar look. The Topaz Adjust plug-in used the Rick Sammon HDR Pop preset I created and the Nik CEP Tonal Contrast filter. A PhotoFrame was added and that was it – very quick. The Photoshop HDR Pro image took a lot longer – the trees did not match perfectly and caused me to bring in one of the images to clean this up. It looked a bit flat to me so I had to Burn in some detail. It once again took about an hour to get this adjusted the way I like it. Since I am only using one image in Topaz Adjust, the tree line looks sharp and crisp and I like the way the windows popped. Therefore, once again the Topaz plug-in created a nice effect faster and with great detail from a single image.

Here is what the original middle exposure RAW file looked like straight from the camera, and the one used in the Topaz Adjust image, in case you are interested in what these programs can do with a pretty uninteresting subject.

The one thing I have had trouble figuring out it is when to use HDR and when to use Topaz Adjust. Rick Sammon explains in his book, ” If the dynamic range of your scene is 3 F-stops, you can manage it in Photoshop.” Therefore, if you have an image with a lot of contrast, you will need an HDR program to get all the detail. Otherwise, Adobe Camera Raw (see how to get back into ACR after opening file in my blog “Edit Layers with ACR Script“), CS5’s HDR Toning, or Topaz Adjust can be used on a single image. Raw file format is the best choice, using your image with the most contrast from the HDR set of images, if you took them. You will not get anymore detail in your image using three HDR images that only has 3 F-stops of information. (See above images.)

When doing HDR, you will probably still have to do some adjustments in Photoshop afterwards. Adding a Topaz Adjust preset or a Nik CEP Tonal Contrast filter can finish up an image – it is that extra step that might make the picture better than the average HDR. Use layer masks to mask out effects and Curves Adjustment layers to emphasize contrast.

The final image is another example of using Topaz Adjust but this time it is giving an artsy look by using the Spicify preset and increasing the Noise Suppression. This was another of Rick Sammon’s examples in the linked  video above. I made another preset to duplicate his basic settings. Below is the result.

I could go on-and-on with what this little plug-in can do. It definitely adds to my total pleasure while working with Photoshop – and I definitely would not use it if it was not fun! I hope you will download a trial of the Topaz Adjust plug-in. I believe you will enjoy a lot of the results you get. I find that I use this plug-in about as much as the regular HDR programs to get that really interesting effect, whether using HDR or pseudo HDR – and you got to love the way it can make a really boring picture interesting! Good luck experimenting!…..Digital Lady Syd