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Posts tagged “Nik Color Efex Pro

Trying Some Creative Art

Digital Art image of a tree

This week does not include a lot of actual painting, but it does contain a lot of free textures and brushes. I am not sure it matters as long as the creation is one of your own. Once again I followed a Julieanne Kost video called Photoshop Compositing Tools and Techniques from Adobe MAX 2020. It was an excellent fairly short video and a good refresher on how to make “fine art” digitally. Previously I did a Creating Composite Images Using the Julieanne Kost Workflow blog which gave details on her basic workflow. I am still learning her techniques and trying to keep my images as simplistic and to the point as she does. Her art does make me think about what I am trying to do with mine.

Julieanne says the “majority of her photos contain a primary subject, a secondary subject, and are set in a background or landscape that she creates.” All her items are there for a reason and she does not like to add in extraneous items that could be distracting. This is the goal I was trying to achieve with the above image.

I thought it might be helpful to include where my resources are from for this image and some of the basic techniques that were used. I hope this is something most people will find useful to do get a similar effect and quite easily.

  1. The tree was created first – just used the Filter -> Render -> Tree. No. 4 Maple Tree was selected (Light direction 36, Leaves Amount 1, Leaf Size 0, Branches Height 153, and Branches Thickness 58) which created a tree with no leaves. Lots of trees can be chosen here and the settings can be changed to get different effects easily. Really fun to do!
  2. Next a free texture was added from Shadowhouse Creations called Daguerreotype-8 to get the really odd foreground pattern. I have talked about his fabulous textures for years and he still has them all available for free. In a layer mask, the Gradient Tool was used to remove the texture from the sky area and leave it in the foreground only. A Black and White Adjustment Layer was clipped to the texture and set to Linear Dodge blend mode.
  3. Next a sky was needed so back to Shadowhouse Creations to get one called GF-5 – a beautiful painterly texture. A duplicate of the sky was flipped horizontally with the Free Transform tool to get the the look needed. A layer mask on the top one was used to blend the two versions together.
  4. I felt like a hill would make a nice element behind the tree so one was painted in using a great free set of Chalky Brushes by Ioana Sopov and containing Chalk Noisy-2 texture brush, which gave the painted soft edge – it was set to 89% layer opacity. It still needed more texture so one called GF-3, which is an old post card in the same group of textures as the sky, was added to the image and clipped (ALT + click between the two layers to link the top layer to the bottom one) to the plain painted hill and set to Multiply blend mode. A Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer was added to blend the hills into the scene, mainly desaturating and lightening it in the Master settings.
  5. Then to cover up the harsh horizon line, a brush from Jose Rodriguez called PTC Hair Brush set to 200 pixels and a darkish brown color (can download brush for free at his How to Blur Backgrounds in Photoshop video which was very good) was used to create the fence, and I thought it was an important element to further separate the tree and give it more of a sense of loneliness. Note this is a small Hairbrush but it worked great for this image so keep this in mind when using brushes – they are not always what they seem!
  6. The tree looked too harsh so it was duplicated and taken into Topaz (see sidebar of Tidbits Blog for website link) Studio 2 where Impression was opened with just the Oil Pastel preset applied. (The older version of Topaz Impression would also have worked.) Now it looked a lot more painterly. The original tree layer was turned off permanently now. For the Painterly tree, a Black and White Adjustment Layer was clipped to it and set to 68% layer opacity to almost turn the tree black and white. This is something else to remember, single layers with just one element can often be brought into PS filters to give interesting element effects.
  7. On two New Layers, the first airbrush found in the Converted Legacy Tool Presets Airbrush folder (loaded just like the Legacy brushes – see my Kyle T. Webster’s Photoshop Brushes blog on how to load brushes) – it was set to a regular brush (it is a Mixer in the Tool Presets so select any regular brush first, then on the Airbrush mixer press CTRL+ALT+ click to switch it to a regular brush – and now adjust the brush settings to 3 pixels Size with Build Up and Smoothing checked) was used to draw along the tree roots – first used a dark brown, then with the same brush a lighter color was drawn next to them to make the roots stand out. If you have not used these older Tool Preset brushes, check them out – there are some good ones in there.
  8. Added textures – used the Adobe Paper Texture Pro, which is still working in PS for me, but it is no longer available from Adobe. Not sure what has happened, but textures can be added manually quite easily. The first one was called Necropolis that was set to Difference at 55% opacity – this gives a bluish tone to the whole image. Then Villa Adriana set to Color Dodge – opacity 32% and Fill 30% – a black layer mask was added and just the root area and a little bit of the trunk was painted back to get the rather glowy edges for the roots. They are both from Flypaper Textures – I believe I got the textures a long time ago with the PS extension so if you have it or had it previously, you may have already have a nice set of textures.
  9. Next a Photo Filter Adjustment Layer was added using a dark gold color (#8e7329) at 50% opacity.
  10. Added a Curves Adjustment Layer – just a straight diagonal line to upper right with a starting point at lower left set to Input 0 and Output 40 – gave a little bit of a matte look to the most dark pixels in the image.
  11. Next added a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer to give more of a dark blue as opposed to a dark black to the image – this technique was discussed in Julieanne’s video. A stop was added on the bottom of the gradient at Location 20 and a color swatch set to #292d33, a very dark blue. She continued adjusting the Saturation and Brightness amounts in the HSB settings of the swatch, but I did not need this. I liked this color that was being added. Only wanted it applied to the top area of the image, so in the layer mask a black to white gradient was created with the Gradient Tool to blend it in at the horizon.
  12. Added a New Layer and selected a brush I call “SJ Soft Br (MK) to blend orig. bkgds back into mask for animal pix” created from a Matt Kloskowski webinar. Basically the settings use a 30-pixel soft round brush with the Options Bar set to Opacity 41% and Flow to 26%. Matt uses this brush in a different way than how it was used in this image to soften the edges of the tree trunk so it blended into the background more, and soften some of the sharp color and edges of the smaller branches high up in the tree. A sampled color from the sky was used for this.
  13. A Color Balance Adjustment Layer was added and just a subtle change was made to add some lightness into the Highlights (Yellow-Blue set to -3) and darkness to the Shadows (Yellow-Blue +4).
  14. A Color Lookup Adjustment Layer was used to adjust the color in the overall image. The one used was called On1-Heat Wave LUTs-7 but there are so many to choose from that several were looked at before settling on this one – set to Normal at 19% layer opacity. I like to look at these last because LUTs tend to pull colors together really well.
  15. A Spotlight Effect was made with a New Layer set to Overlay blend mode at 87% opacity – using a white soft round brush to lighten up the middle of the sky where where the branches are. See my How to Add a Spot of Light blog for more on this.
  16. Last step was to add a Curves Adjustment Layer which was applied to only the top of the image by using the Gradient Tool in the layer mask at 90% layer opacity.

As you can see, it was a pretty large endeavor to get this image. Even though the steps look straight-forward, it definitely was not. Several adjustment layers were added and removed and changes in opacity were made to them as an after-thought. I guess one of my main points is that if you look around there are lots of free resources that can be added into your composites. I wanted to share some of these with you since it is expensive to always be buying products that you may only use once or twice. Some brushes included are all pretty simple to make and several free ones are very nice and totally different from what Kyle Webster offers with PS. And as a second point, if you are like me, I am always trying to find something new and different to do in PS and to add some new dimension to an image. I think Julieanne has lots of good ideas and it did start me thinking. Have a good one!…..Digital Lady Syd


Image of a house on a bluff in St. Andrews, ScotlandNow that I have been doing digital painting for a while, I am finding that the painting is only just a part of what has to be done to create a great image. This week I thought I would just cover a few of the techniques that are helping me get the contrast, and therefore the focal point, of my image exactly where I want it. The image above is of a house perched on a bluff in one of my very favorite places I have visited – St. Andrews, Scotland. This shot was actually taken from the ruins of St. Andrews Castle and the hills in the background are where the famous golf course is located. What a place to call home! This image actually took me out of my comfort zone a little due to the different color palette I chose, but I think I got across the effect I wanted in the painting. Recently I purchased Karen Sperling’s  Landscape Painting brushes and video access. I am finding I like her style of painting – a bit more in line with what I like to do with my paintings. I am still enjoying painting more abstract looks too. Her brushes also work really well for me, and it was easy to follow her video steps to get some good results. But after painting, I was not sure about the focal point results. So we all know in most cases dark areas draw the eye as this is where the contrast in the image will appear. And logically the focal point will be somewhere around that area(s). Jason Maranto in his You Tube video series called Color For Painters has some great tips for understanding this concept. One of his suggestions is to make your image a black & white to accurately see where the contrast is going to be. He also stated that 95% of our color perception is based on the value – defined as everything between the darkest darks to the lightest lights in the image. So using Jason’s suggestion, a temporary Black and White Adjustment Layer was used in Photoshop to get this result shown below. In this original B&W image, to me the eye goes straight to the dark part on the cliff, and secondarily to the lightest areas are on the house. Screenshot of original image before paintingI had originally thought the house would be my focal point.  As you can see above it does stand out some, but the dark bushes are showing up even stronger. So as an aside, how did I get this rather wild color scheme? In Corel Painter 2015, you can add image sources to use for cloning colors other than the original ones. By adding Topaz (see website link at my Tidbits Blog sidebar) ReStyle into the Effects, different color themes can be observed without ever applying them to your image yet. (To add this filter, the Topaz ReStyle folder has to be copied into the Corel Program Files Plugins folder.) The Orange Peel preset was selected which created warm orange and yellow tones in a new source in the Clone Source Panel. I really like that you can change colors and see results before putting all that time into the painting. Also just the standard Basic Paper with the default settings were used in Painter. Once the image was painted, the white house sort of faded away a little. Here is the screenshot view after the image was painted showing the different values in the image. You can see the house does not appear quite so bright and the bushes are really popping. The dark bushes sort of scream focal point to me. Screenshot of black and white value image I really wanted to show the connection of the stairs in the image as I could imagine myself climbing down them. Where my problem occurred was that the stairs did not exactly show up and did not fall on a point when following the Rule of Thirds. Instead the dark bushes lie exactly on a point. Note below that by selecting the Crop Tool and clicking in the options bar, the Triangle ratio (by opening up the drop-down, more options are available if the Rule of Thirds does not fit your image) actually fits this image and shows both the house and the dark bush as the focal points with the stairs sitting closely on the diagonal. The diagonal does works in this image and may explain why the composition does not look so unbalanced. Screenshot view of the Crop ToolTherefore, before cropping down your image, check out the other options to see if possibly the image is actually composed correctly or may give you a better crop choice. In this case, no crop was necessary. To try to further emphasize the focal points and diagonal, a few more steps were done. On a stamped layer (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) that was turned into a Smart Object, the Camera Raw filter was opened and a Graduated Filter was used to darken just the sky so house stands out a little more – the house and hillside were painted back so the filter did not affect these areas. The dark bush area was still too over-powering. A New Layer was created to paint in a little more detail in the dark areas to break it up a little and add some interest. Next a light orange Overlay was loaded and set to Lighten blend mode at 35% layer opacity to lighten it up a little more – a black layer mask was added and only the dark contrast areas were painted back to soften and lighten this area. On another stamped layer Nik Viveza 2 was opened and control points were added to the dark areas where a little brightness and saturation was added in the dark areas. After this, a New Layer was added and the Sharpen Tool was used to sharpen the detail the fence area and steps a little more. Whew! These little tweaks can make all the difference in the image, but it takes a while to figure out which ones work. Image of a painted Roseate Spoonbill birdThis image is of a beautiful Roseate Spoonbill that was doing a little photo shoot for me at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Rookery a few weeks ago. I am assuming this is a female and she was actually busy at work setting up her household for the new babies, but took a moment to show off her beautiful spring fashion look. This image was also painted initially in Painter. I used one of Karen Sperling’s really nice brushes from her Portrait Painting set to get that feathery look, and basically hand-painted the whole image. Back in Photoshop a lot was done as I wanted a sort of illustrative feel to this one. Just used a Smudge Brush to really smooth out the distracting body lines. Nik Color Efex Pro was used and one of my favorite filters, White Neutralizer, was applied to tie the colors in better. As you can see below a Selective Color Adjustment Layer was added to tweak the Red-Pink colors to the exact colors I wanted. Then I applied the Black and White Adjustment Layer. The head and eye area did not stand out that great so I just started dragging in the image to get the contrast effect I liked. The white on her back was calmed down a little also. As you can see, the mask was turned to black and I painted back just the areas I wanted enhanced – that is the eye and head. Turned the layer to Soft Light and there is my painted Spoonbill as seen above! As you can see, I had to use some different tricks to get this one to come out the way I wanted. Below is the screenshot of the final image in black and white so you can see the contrast in the image and that the head is the now the more prominent area and the white back not so distracting. Screenshot of B&W image of roseate spoonbill bird There are a several other ways the color and saturation of parts of an image can be controlled. Color Balance Adjustment Layer or Curves Adjustment Layers used to lighten or darken different area by painting in black layer masks can really guide the eye through image and are easy to do. I use every trick I can find! Each image is so different. I think it is definitely a good first step to open a Black and White Adjustment Layer to see where your contrast really sits in the image, and then try to use it to your advantage. And it is not a bad idea to do it again after you have added your creative techniques to make sure the value did not change As in the spoonbill image, I actually added to my mage the Black & White Adjustment Layer to adjust the contrast correctly. Hope you get a chance to use this technique. I am trying to get in the habit of doing this regularly. Have a great week!…..Digital Lady Syd Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs: What About This Focal Point Issue?


Image of several American Coots swimming at the Viera WetlandsThis week I thought I would discuss how to turn an ordinary picture into something with a bit of “creative flair” using a couple basic brushes in Photoshop. This is not a new topic for me but I keep coming back to it since this is how I spend a lot of my time working creatively. I had such a fun time going with the Photography Club of Flagler County to the beautiful Ritch Grissom Memorial Viera Wetlands in Brevard County, Florida. I really love photographing and painting nature and these little American Coots were one of my favorite subjects from the day! Probably not what everyone was looking at, but I thought they were very entertaining! Hum! I knew most of my images would be similar to the many taken by the group and that is one reason why I wanted to do something a little different with them! So the image above was changed drastically by just adding a nice texture and painting in Photoshop. And it will look different and hopefully everyone gets a feeling of what I was experiencing when watching these entertaining creatures.

So exactly how did I do this? There are not really that many steps – I have included settings in case you are interested in getting some similar results.

1. For me the first step is always Lightroom – used Seim’s (see sidebar in my Tidbits Blog for website link) Power Workflow 4 Sunday Cross preset. Usually I just go through and look at the different presets in the Navigator until one is found that suits the image. Also an Adjustment Brush set to Clarity 73 and Sharpness 65 was used to sharpen anything in the image that may need it. Just be sure that before opening the photo in Photoshop, the Lens Correction section has checked the Enable Profile Corrections and Remove Chromatic Aberration boxes. Can save problems down the road. Also, now is a good time to Crop your image as it is easier and faster than in Photoshop. This photo was cut almost in half and only the foreground grass and birds were left.

This Photoshop file was divided into two Groups – one containing the Filters and Textures used and the other has the Painting layers.

2. Since Topaz (see sidebar in my Tidbits Blog for website link) Detail 3 is my second most used filter that I own and used almost exclusively at the beginning of my Photoshop workflow. It is used to overall sharpen my images. Sometimes Topaz Clarity is applied instead for the same reason with a slightly different result. Detail has always served me well and this image shows why. There are some very painterly effects that Detail can give by just creating and using a preset. On a duplicate layer (CTRL+J), one of my presets was applied – it basically removed all the sharp edges, and but left some very pretty colors that is used as an Underpainting layer. (The settings are: Detail Overall – all the details are set to -1.00 and all the Boosts are left at 0; no Tone changes; and Color Temperature -0.27, Tint 0.34, Saturation -0.65, and Saturation Boost 0.21.) This gives a really flat look to the image. A layer mask was added and with a small black brush, just the eyes were painted back and kept sharp. The preset layer and mask were duplicated and set to Linear Dodge (Add) and set to set to 77% layer opacity to lighten up the image overall.

3. Now the texture was added and usually a bit of trial and error is done to figure out which to select. In this case at least 5 textures from different people were tried before the effect that looked best was found. 2 Lil’ Owls Studio’s (see sidebar in my Tidbits Blog for website link) Mosaic Set Destine was applied and set to Darken blend mode at 69% layer opacity. This texture was chosen because the colors gave the image almost that “golden hour” feel and it seemed perfect for this nature image. A layer mask was added and the ducks were painted black so that the colors in the texture did not interfere with the white feathers in the birds.

4. A stamped layer was created on top next (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) and converted into a Smart Object. Nik Viveza 2 (my most used and favorite Photoshop filter) and a control point was placed only on the ducks (Brightness 31%, Contrast 48%, and Structure 100%). On the same layer Nik’s Color Efex Pro 4 was applied and Fly Paper’s Nik Color Efex Preset Thialand Surfing was selected for this image. (The filters in this preset were Detail Extractor, Cross Processing Darken/Light Center, Glamour Glow and Reflector Efex.) These are inexpensive presets that have really helped me speed up my workflow in this program. This layer was then set to 76% layer opacity so as not to overdo the results.

5. A Curves Adjustment Layer was used to bring back a little contrast since textures can often removed it.

Now all but the bottom Background layer were put into a Group (CTRL+G in Layers Panel) and named Filters and Texture. The image actually looked pretty good at this point, but it seemed to be begging for some paint strokes.

6. Now the fun started. What makes this image so painterly is what brushes are used to get the effects. You cannot do this with just a soft round brush – you need to use the Brush Panel sections to add texture and jitter to your strokes. So lets create some useful brushes. For a regular painting brush, my Pastel Brush is used most often for regular painting in Photoshop.  (I used Pastel 11 in SDW Pastel Brushes-a free brush that comes in as a huge 2130 px brush! Used these settings:Brush Tip Shape section Size 35 pixels, Angle 137 degrees, and Spacing 35%; Shape Dynamics section Angle Jitter 8% and Control Pen Pressure; Texture section using the Rough texture or any texture I feel like, Scale 87%, Brightness -45, check Texture Each Tip, Mode Multiply, Depth 50% and Depth Jitter 1%; and Smoothing – if these settings are not working for you, just move the sliders around, especially in the texture section, until you see something you like in the bottom preview.) You really need to find a brush that works for you and use it. I also like my really basic Chalk 60 Brush that just has an Angle Jitter of 19% – you can always add in other items like texture or dual brush for different paint strokes. Just save as a variant.

A good blending Mixer Brush is also needed to blend in some of the more obvious edges of the regular brush to get that soft painterly look. A lot of Photoshop’s canned Mixer brushes are really good. I find the Flat Fan Single Bristle Wet Edge Brush in the Wet Media Brushes from Photoshop to be really good for both a Mixer and regular painting brush. Any brush can be a Mixer brush by turning on the Mixer Brush in the Tools Panel and then selecting the brush in the Brush Picker. The regular brush created above makes a really nice smooth mixing effect as a Mixer. Just remember if you do not want to add any color to the image but just want to mix or blend colors or hard edges, be sure to untoggle the “Load the Brush After Every Stroke” in the Options Bar – otherwise you will get some amount of color being added. In the large drop down in the Options Bar there are a lot of choices to try out for painting. Just experiment. You can get very different effects by just adjusting the Shape of the brush by dragging on the the little circular graphic on the right under the Size slider. Just watch the preview for the results of the changes. I like a rougher edge to give more of a brush-like effect and used the same brush as both a regular brush and Mixer brush for a lot of this painting.

7. Ten layers were added for painting and clean up. I like to switch between the regular brush strokes on one layer and Mixer brush strokes on another since the effects are so different. I have the brushes set up so that B is the regular brush and A is the Mixer brush (this was changed by going to Edit -> Keyboard Shortcuts and selecting Tools) for fast switching. Two different brushes can be connected with each type of brush. With the regular brush, you can sample the color by ALT+clicking in the image and then just start dabbing. With the Mixer brush, you can either click anywhere in the image to get what color is under the brush tip, or you must click on the color swatch to sample in the image and change just one color. Not sure why they are different. If you make a lot of changes to the brush, save it as a Brush Preset by clicking on the Create New Brush icon at the bottom of the Brush Panel or Brush Picker –  Photoshop always sets the brush back to the default settings when you click on it brush again.

For this layer, I really wanted the colors to show up in the foreground grass and reeds so first the regular brush was used at a very small size to add in a little rough grainy edge feel and color, then on the layer above, it was turned into a blending mixer and smoothed out some. Did the same thing on the birds and with the reflections. You can paint as much as you want and can adjust the blend modes and layer opacities to adjust the look. I sampled lots of the colors from the texture to get its colors in the foreground.

8. All the Painting layers were put in a group just to keep it all organized. A final Curves Adjustment Layer was added to get the contrast exactly right.

Painted Image of pink and white flowers in a vaseAbove is another image created with some inexpensive flowers and vase from the Dollar Store and shot with a white cardboard background. This is a good way to practice your flower shooting and post-processing. It was then painted in Photoshop using the basic steps from above. French Kiss’ Solstice Elan2 (see sidebar in my Tidbits Blog for website link) was used as the texture. A 2B Pencil brush was actually used as a Mixer to get fine detail in this image.

I am constantly surprised how nice an image can look with just a few brush strokes added to give it your own look. It is not that hard – just find a couple brushes you like and adjust them to fit what you are doing. It is lots of fun and you do not have to be a major artist to get a beautiful representation of your image. Hope you get a chance to try out the brushes – I know you will love the results once you try it!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Just Painting in Photoshop and Having Fun!
6 Tips for Painting in Photoshop
How to Easily Create a Photoshop Brush for Painting
Photoshop Brush Fun!


Colorized Image of my Great-Grandmother Alice Ann GreenNot sure I have blogged on photo restoration much. This week I am going to show you how to colorize old images to give them a nice tinted effect. This image is of my Grandmother Francis Carlton Smith and says it was from 1913.
Original photo of Alice Ann Green from 1913I learned how to do this from photo restoration specialist Suzette Allen when she appeared on Creative Live a while back. This is how she uses Solid Color Adjustments Layers to add color to her images. I might add the skin effect is also from her video but that is another blog as it is a bit tricky. In this case various Solid Color Adjustment Layers were used for her skin, then hair, and finally the dress and background. In all 7 were used. I would suggest you first download Suzette Allen Color Guide Faces photo – a free download from her website – before beginning. Frequently I open up this image in Photoshop to use for sampling skin and lip color. Nik’s Color Efex Pro was used at the end and  Flypaper Textures Nik Color Efex Presets White Buttons was applied. The Frame was added in the Smart Photo Editor plug-in using the white border with gray stroke classic border. The Solid Color Adjustment Layer technique is the same as in the workflow below.

Image of kids on a jungle jim in 1941The cute kid image was downloaded from one of my very favorite websites, Shorpy Historical Photo Archive (this links directly to the original black and white image and there are some pretty interesting comments on the playground itself), and was taken in New York City on July 14, 1941. A few months ago I did a little vintage blog on how to make a nice old photo really look vintage. (See How to Add More Vintage Feel to An Old Photo blog.) (Also check out my Related Blogs below for how Calvin Hollywood uses Solid Color Adjustment Layers.) So here is the basic workflow on how to colorize your old images.

1. First I sharpened the image overall using Topaz (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) Detail 3’s Overall Detail Light preset, but you can sharpen anyway you want. Do any major adjustments to the photo before starting the colorization process.

2. Select a Solid Color Adjustment Layer. Fill the layer mask with black by clicking on it and CTRL+I to fill with black.

3. Change the blend mode of the adjustment layer to Color and the layer opacity to 32%. Name it so you can tell quickly where it was used.

4. Suzette suggests starting to colorize with the skin first. Open up her Color Guide Faces in Photoshop. In the image click on the foreground swatch and then click in the guide and click on a skin tone to use in your image.

5. Go back to your image and double click on the Solid Color Adjust Layer color box in the Layer Panel which brings up the Color Picker. By dragging your cursor outside the Color Picker, it turns into an eyedropper to sample the Foreground Color in the swatch at bottom of the Toolbar. Your adjustment layer will now have the the skin tone color from the guide.

6. Click on the black mask and paint with a brush with a white (brush changes from the colors to black and white when painting in a layer mask). Set your brush to white and 12-30% brush opacity in the Property Bar and add a little hardness to the brush so you can get some fairly close edges. You will now see the color being painted on the skin area.

7. When finished with that color, duplicate the layer by CTRL+J. Now rename this layer to indicate the new area you will be working on and fill the layer mask with black again (CTRL+BACKSPACE in the mask). Go back to the Guide and choose another skin tone for the Foreground Color – back in your photo sample the Foreground color and start painting in white on the mask again.

It really is an easy process once you do it a couple of times. I created separate Solid Color Adjustments layers for each skin area, along with hair, dress color, background colors, etc. To keep everything straight, Groups were created (highlight the layers and press CTRL+G to group them) with those titles since there were 10 or 11 Solid Color Adjustments Layers in each group.

The nice thing about this technique is that it is easy to go back and change a color if it does not look right. By double clicking on the color swatch of the adjustment layer, you open the color picker where several different colors can be selected – a live update will show in your image as you hover over each color. This is a really easy way to add believable color to an image.

The rest of the image effect was created using a New Layer and doing some skin smoothing by sampling nearby colors to smooth some of the splotchiness, and by applying Nik Color Efex Pro’s Glamour Glow, Film Efex-Faded, Image Borders, and Brilliance/Warmth to get the final result. This image actually took quite a while to complete, but the localized colors in both the clothes and skin tones did create a nice result from a rather dull and cluttered black and white image.

Not all images work well for this type of technique – you just have to experiment to see how it looks. It can be a bit tedious to really get a good result, but overall it can really make your vintage images pop. It is fun to try and figure out what your long lost relative may have looked liked in color. Give this technique a try – works great on any type of image. I find I am really enjoying trying this out on my old photos. Have a great week!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
How To Use A Solid Color Fill Adjustment Layer
Digital Lady Syd Reviews Smart Photo Editor Photoshop Plug-In



When to Use Black & White or Sepia Tone on An Image

This topic has always interested me. There has been so much written on this so I am not going to go over all of it. I have found that for me a little trial-and-error works as good as anything when it comes to this type of processing. Luckily in Lightroom there are presets that will give you a quick look to see how an image will stack up as a monochrome type image, and there are many black and white presets for Photoshop’s ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) that can be downloaded. The St. Augustine, Florida lamp lights RAW file had a really bright blue background and very black wrought iron with little detail. By converting to more of a sepia tone, the detail came out very clear. The really interesting thing is that to get the detail to pop out of the ironwork, an Invert Adjustment Layer set to Soft Light Blend Mode at 92% opacity was used.

When an image just seems overwhelmed by color and I am having trouble controlling the feel, applying a black and white conversion or introducing a slight color effect can calm down the whole image. That is what happened in the above image that was taken near the summit of the large volcano, Mauna Kea on the Big Island in Hawaii, of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (apparently to be dismantled in 2016) where the Keck Telescope is also located. The little observatory was lost from view in both the strong browns of the surrounding dirt and foreground gravel and the soft blues of the Mauna Loa volcano in the background and the sky. It was processed totally in Lightroom using the Basics section sliders and a preset I had created from reading David duChemin’s book Vision & Voice – Refining Your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. I call it the duChemin Massai Chocolate split-tone & vignette preset. Only those two sections of Lightroom 3 were used to create the preset so it still works with Lightroom 4. In Split Toning the Highlights Hue was set to 34 and Saturation t0 30, Shadows Hue was 0 and Saturation 6, and the Balance slider was set to -25. In the Lens Correction section’s Manual tab, the Lens Vignetting Amount slider was set to -63 and the Midpoint to 18. I have used this preset several times as it has a very nice subtle tonal appeal. That was basically all that was done to make this a much more interesting image.

Another one of my favorite images from Hawaii but once again, the detail would have been lost if it had been processed as taken. The original RAW file had very little detail in the rising hillside and water and the color was totally dull – almost a flat-looking black and white. By converting it to a nice cool water tone, the image takes on new life. The image has several filters stacked in Nik Color Efex Pro 4: BW Conversation using Dynamic Contrast method, Photo Stylizer which give it the beautiful blue glow using Method 1 at 28% Strength, Low Key, Lighten/Darken Center, and Detail Extractor using 7 control points to selectively bring out the details in the image. Nik Viveza 2, Imagenomics Noiseware filter, and OnOne PhotoFrame were also used to complete the image.

Here is another example of a very busy and overly bright image that really loses its appeal in color. Since it is the oldest drugstore (built in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1739) in the United States, it already has a that vintage feel to it. Therefore a sepia tone really adds to the effect the image should be portraying. This image was an HDR image taken in bright sunlight during the hottest part of the day. It was processed into a black and white using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, the the background original was layered on top and a black layer mask was added to bring back a hint of color in the windows. Topaz Lens Effects was used to add a slight vignette effect, and finally OnOne PhotoFrame acid burn controlled 05 was added. For both Topaz and OnOne website links, see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog.
It appears that if you have a really nice image but the colors just do not create the correct effect, or if the image gets lost in all the powerful colors or brightness of the day, give the black and white or sepia tones a shot. You do not have to have one of the mentioned filters – Photoshop has a wonderful Black and White Adjustment layer that also adds any monochrome color. Great way to get a quick impression of whether this effect will work on your image. Definitely do not write off an image just because of color issues – it may turn out to be a great shot!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
The Art Corner: Little Girl Knitting – A Mystery Sculpture!
NIK’s Champion Plug-in – Silver Efex Pro 2
Where Am I?
Topaz B&W Effects Plug-In – A Real Winner!

Recycling Those Old Camera Lenses

While cleaning up my office this week, I came across my beloved Pentax K1000 film camera. It really depressed me to realize that I had several wonderful lenses for this camera and that the chances of ever using them again were pretty slim. On a hunch, I did a search on the internet to see if there were any adapters to attach these lens to my Nikon D300 since I knew that most of the old Nikon lenses still work with their digital cameras. (If you have old Nikon lenses and are shooting Nikon digitally, that is really good news as you may not need an adaptor – same goes for Canon.) Well, I was surprised to find that for $40, I could attach these old lenses to my camera – I decided it was worth the expense and here is what I have happily discovered.

Tokina SD 28-70 mm F/3.5-4.5 Zoom and Macro Lens (SZ-X270)

My beautiful pink poinsettia was taken with a Tokina SD 28-70 mm zoom lens, though the metadata does not indicate the aperture size, it was shot manually at F3.5, Shutter speed 1/4000 sec, ISO 200, at 28 mm. For post-processing the pink color and detail was enhanced just a bit on the front part of the leaves using NIK’s Viveza plug-in Photoshop CS5. The Sharpen Tool was used to sharpen just around the leaf edges to make them stand out from the wall, and Layer Styles, white Inner Glow and gray Stroke, were added. That is it. Very little manipulation was needed to get this beautiful plant image. Normally I would have cleaned up some of the background distractions. The point is that this lens and my digital camera produced an excellent sharp image that is as good as any I have taken with my digital lenses.

I found out this lens is considered a really good lens. (See Flickr Group Discussing Tokina SD 28-70 F/3.5-4.5 Macro for more image examples.) I have no idea what I paid for it, but I can understand why I was able to get this sharp a shot after reading about it.

Takumar-A Zoom 1:4 70-200 mm with Tamron-F Tele-Converter 2X

This lens gives a very beautiful result also. This Painted Lady Hibiscus was shot manually at 70 mm at F/5.4, ISO 200, Shutter Speed 1/60 second and -1/2 EV. Since it has a doubler on it, it really was shooting at 140 mm. In Photoshop CS5 a Shadowhouse Creations Texture Clouds and Birds layer was set to Hard Light at 77% opacity and a layer mask was added to painted out texture from the flower. No sharpening or Curves Adjustment Layer were added – this was it.

Now on to the Takumar lens, which applies to any original camera body. It does not get as good ratings as the first lens. This lens is not recommended because it is not SMC (Super Multi Coated). The Photo.Net forum stated: “The non coated Takumars are average lenses. Some SMC Takumars are classics, recommended even today. So, when you see a Tak, look also if it is multi coated.” The Tamron-F 2X Tele-Converter was attached to the lens above. I just realized that to get maximum sharpness, do not use the maximum aperture of the lens. In the image above, a minimum aperture of F/5.4 was used – the camera should have been stopped down two stops to F/11 on the Takumar lens. I will try this on my next efforts.

Takumar 135 mm Lens

This image turned out pretty nice since I was shooting at a window with bright sunshine coming through it. Maybe that is why I like the image. Very little manipulation here – just increased Exposure by 1/2 stop, added a little Clarity (+59) and reduced the  noise by adjusting the Luminance slider to 31 (probably because this lens has not been cleaned in how long?) in Lightroom. In Photoshop only a Curves Adjustment Layer was added to increase contrast just a bit – no sharpening was used all! This lens was set to a f/5.4, not the wide open setting and it seems to get the sharpest edges. Other settings were shutter speed 1/250 sec., ISO 320, and EV 1/2.

This Takumar lens gets a five star rating across the board from various sites, even the older lens from the 1960’s. My husband got this lens back in 1972 and has some great pictures through the years to show for it. Therefore, it seems to be in my best interest to try and use this lens. I am looking forward to taking this lens and shooting a nice nearby landscape such as the ocean. Hopefully I will be able to put this old lens through its paces soon.

Lens Mount Adapter

On the Nikon site, this comment was made about the limitations of using a manual teleconverter: “Some newer lenses can be used with older Nikon manual focus teleconverters with limited compatibility. With a manual teleconverter there would be no autofocus operation, the camera’s internal exposure meter would not be active and only “Manual” exposure mode could be used. Further, there may be vignetting (darkened corners of the photo) in some photos or other image defects.”

For more information on the adapter I purchased, see Fotodiox Lens Mount Adapter.


It was definitely worth the money to buy the adapter and have the option of using these lenses again. There are some limitations since the pictures must all be used on a manual setting. Also note that most newer DSLR cameras will use the Center-Weighted average setting for light metering with these older lenses. If you have some nice lenses from previous film cameras sitting around, check them out on the internet and see if it is worth your money getting an adapter to fit your digital camera. Also, because you are shooting through an adapter and the lens, it may require a larger aperture or slower shutter speed or higher ISO to get the same results as the original film camera prints.

I am also finding it helpful to research at what focal lengths each of the older lenses create the sharpest images. A couple websites I researched gave suggestions for special settings to use in camera to improve the results on a particular lens. Also keep in mind the crop factor of your digital camera (my Nikon D300 has a 1.5 crop factor meaning a 10 mm lens will shoot at 15 mm due to the crop factor) which essentially crops around the edge of what you are seeing in the viewfinder so you do not get as much in your photo as what you are seeing. A good explanation of this is in the Digital Photography School “Crop Factor Explained” article, and they give some of the factors for popular cameras here – this is an important issue to understand especially when looking through these older lenses.

Recycling these old lenses is a great way to expand your lens collection without spending much to do it. My impression is that many people are buying these older lenses at incredibly cheap prices so they can shoot very sharp images for a fraction of the cost of buying all the new auto focus, vibration reduction, expensive lenses. I believe a couple of my older lenses are comparable if not better than what I am shooting digitally since I do not own the really expensive lenses so many professionals use.

Go give yourself an early present and try out those old lenses – you might be surprised how good they are!…..Digital Lady Syd

Same Image – Different Plug-In

I decided to do this blog because I was experimenting in Photoshop trying to see if different plug-ins can get the same look even though they are very different. I started with this basic image from Camachee Cove in St. Augustine, Florida. This is a really pretty place to take images and my beloved sailboat lives there. Only the Basic sliders in Lightroom were adjusted and all the following images used this one as a starting place. Also, whenever possible I used a Smart Layer to save the settings so I could easily go back to tweak the sliders. I am becoming a big fan of doing this with all plug-in adjustments!

Overall, the above is not a bad picture. That said, I still love the new Topaz Black and White Effect plug-in (click on right in my Tidbits Blog to access site) and decided to give it a whirl and see if the image feeling could be improved. Below is what was achieved using this plug-in.

Personally I loved the results (this is how I remember it) and the cool thing is that it took only two minutes to get this look and it was done! If you are interested in the settings for the Sunny Preset, my Tidbits Blog “Sunny Preset – Topaz Black and White Effects” list how to do it. There was just one further adjustment made in Photoshop which, unfortunately when adding most of these plug-ins, there is some noise created. I took the image back into Adobe Camera Raw (see my blog “Edit Layers with ACR Script“) but any Noise Reduction plug-in would work fine also.


Next I tackled the updated NIK Color Efex Pro 4.0 (CEP4) plug-in to see what I would get. This plug-in is another fabulous NIK product and I totally love using it. I could not get it to do what Topaz B&W Effects did  as quickly and as well. I spent a long time fooling around in CEP4 trying to get this effect, especially the color effect.

The sky has a really ugly edge in the upper clouds that I could not adjust easily. This image also has Hue/Sat and Selective Color adjustment layers and still is not quite right. The stacked CEP4 filters used for this image were: High Key, Brilliance/Warmth, Graduated User Defined, and Vignette. Normally this image could be adjusted nicely but when trying to copy the Topaz B&W image, it does not do this so easily.


Now to be fair, since Topaz B&W was used, I next tried the NIK Silver Efex Pro 2 (SEP2). The results are pretty nice, but they still had to be adjusted in Photoshop. Below is the final image that started as a black and white using NIK .

The results are pretty close. The image was processed in SEP2 using the High Structure preset and a Red Color Filter. The layer was set to Luminosity blend mode in Photoshop, a Color Fill adjustment layer using a a yellow-beige Fill Color (9f9f84) set to Vivid Light blend mode and 55% opacity, and a low opacity light beige edge added to the top and bottom of the image. The sky and water color is very close to the Topaz B&W results, but it took a lot longer and required Photoshop work to achieve the results, and you had to know what you were trying to do.


Now this next image uses OnOne PhotoTools 2.6 (click on right in my Tidbits Blog to access site). They have a new version coming out shortly which may make this much easier to do but overall, it gave a reasonable approximation to the Topaz B&W result.

I do not use this plug-in as much since I seem to have trouble getting the look I want and it is very computer RAM intensive. It also does not support Smart Objects at this point. In all fairness, I do believe it is a really good plug-in and it already has stacking abilities for effects. Unfortunately, at this point it does not have different sliders for the effects, but they do offer several setting choices for each filter, and several filter effects can be brushed on using a brush and mask in the plug-in. I plan on reviewing the upgrade after it becomes available. In this case, the clouds just do not have the detail and water and sky color is not quite right. There were 6 effects stacked to get the effect and I saved it down as a preset to preserve. If I was more familiar with the program, I might have been able to get a better result since there is no shortage of filters in this plug-in.


Alright, let’s change things up a bit and go back to Topaz using their fairly new Lens Effects plug-in (click on right in my Tidbits Blog to access site).

It also gives a nice result even though it is a different type of plug-in. The Dual Tone Filter Effect was used as a starting point using the Green to Yellow preset. Both Regions A and B were adjusted – this is very similar to the Quad Tones in Topaz B&W Effects. That is one reason there is some similarity, especially in the sky horizon area. A Vignette was also added in the program. It is nice that you can get similar results without buying every plug-in module in the set.


Personally I still like the Topaz Black and White Effects result the best. I hope this gives you some idea about how similar but how different these plug-ins are when applied to the same image. I did not mean to make it look like one plug-in is better than the other, just that it really depends on what your picture is will determine how it looks finished. If you do not like the way it turns out with one of the plug-ins, try a different one – it can be totally different! Have fun experimenting…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd’s Review of Nik Color Efex Pro 4!

Anyone who has followed my site knows that I am a big fan of Photoshop plug-ins. I remember wanting a copy of this plug-in’s first version. NIK is still one of the best companies making Photoshop plug-ins and this new upgrade does not disappoint! Here is a link to their product site.

The new program now allows you to stack filter effects – in CEP 3.0 you had to exit out of the plug-in and come back in to apply a different one. Now, instead of saving individual presets for each filter, you save recipes which contain the settings of each of the stacked filters. For example, this image contains the following filter effects:  Detail Extractor (one of the new filters and why the details in the leaves are sharp), Foliage, and Vignette Blur. I still used my border from OnOne PhotoFrames  though.


The image above of Metal Chris at on The Mall in front of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, was first processed in Photomatix Pro 4 using five shots to form this HDR image. Then the final tone-mapped image was processed with Color Efex Pro 4 using a new stack of these filters: Darken/Lighten Center, Brilliance/Warmth, Tonal Contrast, and Image Borders. Finally I sharpened the image using the Photoshop’s High Pass Filter at 9.1 Radius.


In this Orlando Building image an HDR feel was actually created by the stacked plug-in effects: the Detail Extractor (I really like this new effect!), Brilliance/Warmth, Vignette: Lens, and Bi-Color User Defined filter effects. I first used Photoshop’s Lens Correction to straighten the buildings before processing. Afterwards, the image was sharpened using the High Pass Filter with the sky painted out so no sharpening occurred on the clouds which were looking overprocessed. The original of this image is shown below to show you what a change these filters can make to an image.

See my Tidbits Blog “NIK Color Efex Pro 4 – First Try!” for another example of this new plug-in.

What I Like

  1. The ease of use of the plug-in. It always comes up quick and it is easy to see what the original vs. the filter looks like. Now there is a new History section where you can go back to a previous state of filter application. Be aware that, just like in Photoshop, once you exit out of the plug-in, the History states disappear even when applying the plug-in as a Smart Object.
  2. There are several new filters that are totally terrific! Many of the older filters have also been updated. Here is a link showing all the filters in the plug-in that can be sorted to show the new and updated filters.
  3. Love the fact the filter effects can be stacked and saved to be reapplied on another image as a Recipe.
  4. Most of the effects have an opacity slider so you can tone them down a bit if they appear too strong.
  5. The Control Points are fabulous as always. Place a Plus Control Point to add the filter effect to a specific area and a Minus Control Point to remove the effect from a certain area. The points have the ability to not remove the effect from radically different adjacent regions so your image always looks right. The opacity for these control points can also be set and several points may be added to an image. Very quick to adjust. CEP 4 lets you copy all the set Control Points from one filter to another one – this has been a real time saver for me!
  6. Canned presets are now viewable with suggested settings to get a good starting place for each effect.
  7. The ability to drag the effects into a different order gives some very different looks.

What I Don’t Like

  1. The biggest issue I have is that you have lost the ability to set a preset for each individual effect. Instead you have to save it as a recipe. Unfortunately you do not have the ability to stack several recipes – if you change to a different recipe, you lose all the filter effects you had set before. The work around is to stack all your favorite filters with your favorite individual filter settings into one large recipe, then selectively delete effects you do not want to apply to the image you are working on. I contacted NIK Technical support regarding this issue and this was their response “Unfortunately, no, there is no way to bring your Color Efex Pro 3.0 presets into Color Efex Pro 4.  I do see what you are saying about having a preset for an individual filter in addition to the recipes.  It would improve and expand workflow capabilities, so I will put in that recommendation to our development team!” This is a big problem in my mind. A large number of Recipes will have to be generated to cover all the presets and scenarios for all your images.
  2. It is very easy to forget to click the “Add Filter” button. If you go to another effect, you immediately lose all the currently stacked filters and their settings – there is no warning note. I have lost my settings several times by forgetting to do this. (I have watched several videos where the instructor has done the same thing!) The work-around is to remember to click on the History section to restore it immediately.
  3. When you save a recipe, you do not retain the Control Points you have set. It would be nice if you had this option so you can reapply the settings to a similar image since you now can apply them to several effects at the same time. The partial work-around for this is to make your layer a Smart Object before going into the NIK Color Efex Pro plug-in, then you do not have to save the recipe or the control points – just apply the filters. This is only good for the current image. (To see what settings and points were applied, just double click on the Color Efex Pro 4 line, and they can be adjusted.)
  4. Need to remember to Save Recipe if you plan on using these same filters on another image. Here is a partial work-around. If image is converted to a Smart Object before applying the plug-in, you can access the settings and control points from image by going back into the filter later (see 3 above). Now you have the opportunity to save the filter stack as a Recipe (without the control points) that can be reused on other images. I am already starting to build up a huge amount of Recipes so this could get to be a real problem after processing images for several weeks.
  5. The new Image Borders filter is nice but still not up to the OnOne PhotoFrames level. Still a nice edition for quick processing and I give them kudos for trying to make it easy.
  6. It is not a cheap plug-in but then again, it offers lots of options.

Final Thoughts

Well, if NIK could fix a few of the problems I mentioned above, Color Efex Pro 4 may be the best plug-in ever made. Their effects are top-notch and they have added 7 new and very good filters to this version. (See my Tidbits Blog “The New Film Efex-Vintage Filter From NIK CEP 4” for information on just this one new filter.) They also updated several of their other filters although I have not had much time to play with all of them. The Brilliance/Warmth filter has a new slider called Perceptual Saturation that is fabulous. This was always a favorite effect of mine to begin with and now it is even better! I will be exploring some of the new filter effects in my Tidbits Blog in the next few weeks as I believe they deserve more attention than just a passing look.

Try downloading the Trial Version and see what you think. I believe you will be as impressed as I am…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd’s Related Blog:
Use NIK Color Efex Pro 4 and Silver Efex Pro 2 Together to Create Fabulous Landscapes!

Digital Landscape Effects with Nik Software

I have always loved Nik products. This week I decided to follow a digital workflow by a wonderful landscape artist who posted on Nik’s website a video called “Incorporating Nik Software into your Daily Workflow with Don Smith.” His blog is called Nature’s Best by Don Smith Photography if you would like more information on this great photographer.

The image of Oahu in Hawaii is an example of how Mr. Smith uses Nik software in his workflow. His basic premise is that you have to have a plan how you want to fix a landscape. The following steps indicate how the images in this blog were created using Photoshop and Nik plug-ins.

  1. Crop and do a basic exposure adjustment in Lightroom or ACR – the image will appear a little flat in Photoshop.
  2. Look critically at image and decide what needs to be fixed. Check out the sky for noise, the foreground, middle ground and background for areas that need to be color corrected. Look at the shadows and highlights in image.
  3. Open up the Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 plug-in and select the Tonal Contrast Effect. Just the default setting can make an image look much better. Move the Midtones slider – if it looks too harsh, move slider to the left a little. To keep other areas like the sky from being affected by this change, put a minus U-point in a couple places in the sky to protect the area and set the opacity to 0. (Click Alt on U-point to duplicate the one set down and drag to move.) When finished, click the OK button to go back into Photoshop.
  4. If part of the image needs some additional contrast, open the Nik Viveza plug-in (a powerful plug-in to selectively control color and light in your photographs) and set a U-point in that area. (This can be done in Photoshop using a Curves or Levels Adjustment Layer, but it is harder since layer masks need to be utilized.) Whatever is under that point will be affected by the adjustment sliders in the circle created. Just the Brightness slider may be all that is needed to darken the area a bit. This can be done a global basis if the whole image needs some change. Click OK and go back to Photoshop.
  5. Next go back and apply Nik Color Efex Pro Brilliance and Warmth. I created a Good Basic Setting preset that I use on almost all my images and is very similar to what Mr. Smith uses. I set Brilliance at 62% and Warmth at 57%.
  6. Now sharpen image. I usually just duplicate the image and apply a High Pass filter set to Soft Blend or Hard Blend mode. If it is overly sharpened, use a layer mask and paint out where it is too sharp or if the whole image is too sharp, just lower the layer opacity. Nik Sharpener Pro is a good plug-in that I do not own.
  7. If there is noise in the image, Nik Dfine 2.0 Noise can be used. Since I do not own this plug-in, I go back into ACR using Dr. Brown’s ACR script and clean up the noise in the Detail-Noise Reduction panel – adjust the Luminance and Detail sliders. (See my Fun Photoshop Blog “Edit Layers with ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) Script on how to do this.”) This does a great job of getting rid of the noise.

This image is of Iolani Palace State Monument in the middle of Honolulu, Hawaii on Oahu. It is another example of following the steps above pretty closely, except I did used Nik Viveza twice – once to tone down the green foreground color but leaving the palm trees the bright green; then back in to give the sky a little more blue tone. This was done before sharpening and noise reduction.

Cloud Brushes, some pretty fluffy clouds were also painted in. A composite layer was made above (ALT+SHIFT+CTRL+E) and then the workflow was followed. I did use Viveza to increase the contrast on the bat and the roof areas only.

For another example of this workflow, see my Tidbits blog, “Straightening with Puppet Warp,” where these steps were followed after the puppet warp effect was applied.

Nik has come out with a new version of Color Efex Pro (NIK Color Efex Pro 4 – Digital Lady Syd’s Review!). I am looking forward to trying out their new effects since they have done such a wonderful job with all their plug-ins. I can honestly say they are the fastest plug-ins to apply and my computer never has a problem processing them when added to an image. That in itself is a great feature since most plug-ins are so RAM hungry. If you have not tried out the Nik products, definitely download their trial versions, especial Color Efex Pro. There are so many things you can do with just this one plug-in that it is amazing. Try them out – you will not be disappointed!…..Digital Lady Syd

Dual Tone Plug-In Comparison

Recently I discovered that several of the major Photoshop plug-ins all seem to be presenting a dual tone effect in their arsenal.  I decided to create for you a Dual Tone Comparison using similar settings for each plug-in. In each case I used an image of a Spanish Cay beach in the Bahamas taken last year while sailing. I am trying to add a believable sunrise effect. So let’s get to comparing!

NIK Color Efex Pro 3.0

This NIK Color Efex Pro effect was created using the BiColor User Defined Preset. The swatches colors were set as follows: the Pink top color was set to R180 G152 B151, and the bottom blue color was set to R143 G141 B162.  In the past I have used this preset with different colors on other images – it is really easy to apply and the BiColor Filter has many quick presets to choose from if you do not need to use specific colors. Personally I believe the real strength of most of the NIK plug-ins is that they provide quick, very visual choices which usually can create the look you want fast – and if you do not like the presets, you still have all the wonderful sliders to adjust to make the effect the way you like. Also, there are control points that can be applied on the image – in this case the opacity can be adjusted in the shadows and/or highlights areas. Four presets can be saved in the BiColor User Defined Preset Quick Save Slots to use again. To get a really nice look, the Polarization preset was also added with Rotate set to 0 and Strength set to 200%.

OnOne PhotoTools 2.6 (Now OnOne Perfect Effects 3.0)

OnOne has a totally different way of accessing the plug-in which I find a bit cumbersome. I have to go to the Image -> Automate and select it from a list to open up the interface. My computer runs more sluggish whenever I use one of their plug-ins but not a big enough problem for not using their products. That said, I was surprised at what a nice result I got in OnOnePhotoTools 2.6 (no longer available – see OnOne Perfect Effects 3.0 – click on OnOne icon in my Tidbits Blog sidebar) on the above image. Since the interface is different from most plug-ins, it takes a bit of practice to find where all the settings reside to get this effect, but once there, your choices are unlimited.

When choosing the effect you want, you must first go to the Library section at the bottom of the interface and select a Category which brings up many different results.  In this image, Photo Filters was selected and 30 results were obtained; the Polarizer effect was choosen by clicking on Add to Stack. If the effect looks awful, just click Undo and it disappears. If you look under the Navigation Panel on the right side of the image above, you can that I stacked three effects (they can be dragged up or down for a different order) to get this one final look:  Polarizer, Graduated Red, and Graduated Warm-Cool. You can spend many hours finding the perfect formula to get very creative results. I was not able to add the exact colors used in the NIK BiColor User Defined preset above, but it was a pretty close approximation. I will try to cover this plug-in more thoroughly at a later date. Just note that it does create a good dual tone effect and compares nicely with the Nik Color Efex Pro result. (Also, as far as I am concerned, there is no better way to add a frame to finish up your image than using OnOne’s PhotoFrame – all images in this blog have the same one applied from this program.)

Topaz Lens Effects

I really figured that the Topaz Lens Effect Dual Tone Filter would not be as good as the two above. When I did my blog on this feature last week, it did not create exactly the look I wanted. But bingo bango, I think this is the most accurate effect and it was pretty easy to adjust the sliders to get the look.

As you can see, I have created a SJ-Sunset preset that contains the settings used to make this dual tone effect. The Transition Adjustments section under the Navigation window sets how large and where you want the filter to be applied. The Region A Adjustments and Region B Adjustments allow you to create the colors you want – there is not option to add a specific color as in the BiColor User Defined preset but you adjust Cyan, Red, Magenta, Green, Yellow, and Blue sliders to get the two colors. A Polarization Filter can also be applied after the Dual Tone Filter, but there is only one slider, Strength, and I just did not care for the effect on the water. The polarizations effect was not as good as in the other two plug-ins above. Still, just the dual tone filter created a very good overall representation of what I wanted to present.

Plugin Galaxy 2.0

Plugin Galaxy 2.01 surprised me with the above result. I did not think the plug-in had the capability to do what I wanted, but I was wrong. Once again, you have to get used to the interface so you can figure out where to find the look you want. The interface appears to be much smaller than on the other three plug-ins but all you have to do is drag out the bottom right edge and it will almost fill the screen. Also, one of the tricks of this plug-in is that whenever you see a (+) in the center of your image, you can right click and drag it to place the effect in a specific location. In the interface image below, you can see the (+) in the lower right hand corner of the image. This is where I placed the effect.

I used the Expert Mode which gives you the most choices, and selected the Nature Group with the Sunset FX (filter effect). The first attempt was not so great as the Mode under the Brightness slider was set to Normal. But by trying different modes, I was able to select Add and get a really nice effect. The color sliders I had to experiment with to get the look – it makes a big difference whether you add just a bit of green or blue to the red – and the intensity and brightness sliders must be adjusted carefully. The interesting thing is that this plug-in has a lot of versatility – you just need to work with it to get that final look.  This plug-in contains one of my vary favorite effects, the Instant Mirror Effect, which I blogged about here.

Final Impressions

For me this has been a very interesting comparison. Each plug-in definitely has strengths that I love about each. My final decision on which plug-in worked best for the above image is the result I got with Topaz Lens Effects Dual Tones filter. Why? Because the mood created looks like what I think it should look like – the way there is a touch of yellow in the clouds that gives a more believable look to me. I really thought the NIK BiColor User Defined filter would do the trick best – it is one of my favorite filters. And OnOne’s PhotoTools really surprised me – I had not considered how many choices I had with that plug-in and if I played around a bit more with the presets, I might have been able to get the best look. And even though I did not like the Plugin Galaxy’s overall look for this particular image (and actually I really liked the way there was some color in the sand on the left bottom side which none of the other plug-ins created), this plug-in has some amazing choices that I am definitely going to experiment with more. Both Topaz Lens Effects and Plugin Galaxy have very reasonable prices for their plug-ins so they do give you a good alternative to the more expensive plug-ins and are definitely worth downloading and trying out the trial versions. With that said, I hope you enjoyed this comparison and all the images turned pretty nice – maybe you can try some comparisons of your own. You might get some surprises just as I did with the image above……Digital Lady Syd

Instant Mirror and Quick Mirror for Photoshop

Continuing on my current trend of looking into the various Photoshop plug ins available, I decided to explore the mirror effect.  I could only find three filters available.   Let’s start with the Mirror effect that is part of The PlugIn Galaxy 2.01.  This filter was originally called Instant Mirror in version 1.0, so I will keep this name to distinguish it from the others.   A demo, which displays print throughout the image, can be downloaded but is fully functional so you get a real feel how the filter works is available at  The Plugin Site.  There are 17 effects in this bundle that includes this one.  The really cool thing about Instant Mirror is that when applied,  it does change instantly -no waiting around or increasing canvas size.  And the resulting effects are pretty amazing.  Here are a few results of what can be achieved with very little effort.

The above image is a bush and mountains on Hana Highway that was taken on the back dry side of Maui, Hawaii. This is a pretty basic application of the filter – applied Mirror set to Vertical Left. The whole trick to this filter is that by right clicking and dragging on the center (+) mark, the best effects are achieved. A Nik’s Color Efex Pro Glamour Glow filter (Glow 63, Sat 27, Glow Temp 40) to make the bushes stand out more and OnOne PhotoFrame (Dave Cross 01) were applied to finish up the image.

For this image Instant Mirror was run in the Manual Mode (there are four different modes to try), setting the image to Horizontal Top, and Right Click dragging the (+).  I exited out of the filter and ran it again using Vertical Right and dragging the (+). A layer mask was applied so the leaves at the top left showed through from the layer below. I finished up with Topaz Simplify Sketch Hard Pencil effect. There is a book called “Photoshop Plug-ins” by Jim Zuckerman and Scott Stulberg that does a great job of discussing this filter in detail.

With this spica image, the Mirror Preset called Kaleidoscope No. 08 was applied to create the border. Kaleidoscope Vertical was applied next for the plant effect. Finally Topaz Detail was used to bring out the color and detail in the image.

The second mirror plug in is a free download and called Quick Mirror by Julia World.  The thing I like about Quick Mirror is the images are not distorted at all.   It is basically just a flip {that can be done in Photoshop with a Free Transform) but it is easy and more effects can be generated by selecting different part of the image.  Once again I used my London Eye image.  The basic steps to for using this filter are:   Duplicate the layer you are mirroring, create a selection around the areas you want to duplicate (I used the Rectangular Marquee Tool and made my selection from top to bottom around The Eye),  invert the selection (CTRL+ALT+I), erase selection (BACKSPACE), deselect the selection, and run the filter.  In this case, a layer mask was then added to give less of a total duplication look on the bottom and upper left.

This last London Eye image shows a creative effect that can be achieved by using the steps above but making the selection just around The Eye itself. Continue along with inverting the selection and deleting, deselecting and applying the filter. It is a pretty simple workflow to achieve very nice results – and it is FREE!  I also used Nik Color Efex Pro Reflector Filter (Gold, Light Itensity 64, Light Falloff 42, Position 48, Source Direction 0).

The last plug in I will mention is called Filters Unlimited 2.0 – a fully functional demo with 150+ effects can be downloaded but the results cannot be applied (the full version has over 350 filters).  There is a setting called Tiles and Mirrors with several different kaleidoscope and mirrored effects.  I used my original The Eye image and applied the Seamless Blend (horizontal) to the image.  The results gave great looking clouds but the fine lines were not clear, sort of a ghosting effect.  I do believe it is not that bad an effect, just not as good as the other two filters discussed.  My personal opinion is that both the Instant Mirror and Quick Mirror are great plug ins and easy to use.  You get more options with Instant Mirror but more distortion to the image when you use it.  Quick Mirror is pretty basic but gives great undistorted results.

Once again, this has been a blast putting this blog together.  There are so many effects with these filters that I did not cover.  Hope I can get time to play some more with these plug ins!