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
This week I am going to discuss textures since I suggested using them in last week’s blog on “The Soft, Dreamy Look,” which created a free action to apply to your images. Textures are a very popular effect and can give a totally nice and different look to an image if applied correctly.
The basic technique involves just adding a texture image (a jpg can be added to a raw, psd or tiff file at this stage) on top of your image. Do this by dragging the texture into your photo as a Smart Object from Photoshop Bridge or just open the texture file and copy and paste the layer onto the photo. At this point I usually rasterize the layer by right-clicking on the Smart Object in the Layers Palette and select Rasterize from the menu. A Smart Object is not necessary unless you are applying a filter to the texture and may want to adjust the settings at a later date. Most texture effects are achieved by changing the layer blend modes and varying layer opacities, then using layer masks to delete out areas where the texture is too obvious. The uniqueness can come from stacking several textures using different blend modes and opacities. There are many resources available on textures and how to use them effectively. The linked article, called “Tips for Texturing Photographs,” has several great tips – some that I want to share.
- How do you match your image subject to a texture? Look for subjects with a soft quality like flowers, misty images, or of simple composition.
- Figure out what you are trying to do with your picture – fill open spaces, get a painterly look, vintage feel, or grunge look?
- If the texture does not work, try a different one. Usually match the texture strength with the subject – soft textures for flowers, stronger textures for structures.
If using textures over photos of people, please check out this short video, “Guide to Using Textures with Photos in Photoshop (must be a member to access now),” to adjust the tone on the people and their skin. It uses the Average Filter in Photoshop instead of layer masks.
Textures can be bought or downloaded for free
There are many beautiful textures that can be bought. Florabella Collections has two very nice sets of textures. I like the Ash Textures that I purchased several years ago, but I just figured out he is no longer selling them. This is a shame since they are really nice textures. Flypaper Textures (blog linked above to Tips for Texturing Photographs) also has some very nice textures for sale. This site also has a lot of good information on textures so take a look. Caleb Kimbrough has released several hundred textures, some of excellent quality and most are free, at his website Lost and Taken. He has also written a really nice blog entry called “How to Create Subtle Grunge Textures” that shows how to make your own interesting textures by combining several different ones.
The top image uses a very popular effect. It is made simply by adding a worn-looking board texture at Hard Light blend mode over a flower photo (Curves Adjustment Layer on photo gives the blown out look). This particular texture is one from BittBox, another great free texture site – this particular texture can be downloaded from the Bittbox Flickr site here – just select the size you want, right click on image, and choose Save Image As to save on your hard drive.
This image was created using a brownish Ash texture layer set to Hard Light at 75% opacity and one of Caleb Kimbrough Summer textures, which I really like, set to Overlay at 73%.
The daisy image started with my “SJ-Soft Dreamy Look Action” that I created in last weeks blog. The image can be cleaned up on a layer before applying the action since it does not require a labeled Background Layer to run. An Ash Texture was added using the Hard Light blend mode at 75% opacity, and an OnOne PhotoTools (now OnOne Perfect Effects 3.0 – website link at my Tidbits Blog sidebar) layer using the HDR Enhancer effect and HiKey Color – Cool Fade preset as a second effect layer (I am getting some nice results with its stacking capabilities). The OnOne PhotoTools effect was basically a darkening of the edges and brightening in the middle, a heavy vignetting feel. Finally an OnOne PhotoFrame was added.
Textures can be found in plug-ins
As shown in the daisies above using the OnOne PhotoTools 2.6, this plug-in has many texture options as does its sister application, OnOne’s PhotoFrame, which surprisingly has many textures that can be applied with various blend modes, just like in Photoshop’s Layers Panel. Even plug-ins like Plugin Galaxy 2.0 have some interesting effects, such as Rain-Short Streaks, Snowflake effects, and Color Effects section, which can add some interesting textures. You just need to play around with whatever filters or plug-ins you have and start trying different settings with them.
Once again my action was applied to the Scottish home picture which starts you off with a really nice soft look (create a composite layer or CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E layer on top of the action layers to apply the plug-in). An OnOne PhotoTools 2.6 Overlay Effect with the Antique Paper preset at Normal blend mode and 100% opacity was added. A similar look could probably be achieved by adding a final Color Fill Adjustment Layer using a golden tone or a Photo Filter Adjustment Layer using a warm color at a fairly high density, and a layer mask to reduce the color in the house area. That is all that was done to get this nice look.
This image does contain a brownish Ash texture, but any darkish brown texture would look good, set to Vivid Light at 38% but the painterly effect of the sky was achieved in Topaz Lens Effects – with the Graduated Color Blue1 preset applied. Then the layer was copied and set to 62% opacity to make the sky bolder.
Textures can be created within Photoshop itself
I want to show that a texture does not have to be some fancy texture that you have to buy or download – it can just be a really nice paintbrush effect on a layer that you create. Then just experiment with the blend modes, layer opacities, and layer masks to get the exact feel you want.
The above image of Scotland has a rather vintage feel to it. This was accomplished by running my SJ-Soft Dreamy Look Action and then creating a New Layer above and using Grungetract Brushes Sample #16 by alex16 at deviantArt at 2500 pixels with a light tan color. The brushed layer’s blend mode was set to Screen, the layer opacity to 66%, and a layer mask was added using a 50% opacity brush to mask out the texture in certain areas.
In the floral photo, a coral colored Mixer Brush layer was created above the other texture layer using a 300 pixel brush, and was set to Soft Light blend mode. (See my blog “Adobe Photoshop CS5’s Mixer Brushes” for more information on the Mixer Brushes.) It can be quite addictive once you start playing around with the Mixer brushes and create some beautiful textures. I found that the by varying the size and the color of the same Mixer Brush, and actually painting with them by moving slightly, you can get really nice effects. I have included my favorite texture Mixer Brush that can be downloaded here (there area two brushes – same brush at different sizes) and added to your Tool Presets. (Put the file in the User Name -> AppData -> Roaming -> Adobe -> Adobe Photoshop CS5 -> Tools file. Restart Photoshop to add brushes to your Tool Presets – go to the top upper left corner icon under the Menu line and click on down arrow, click on right pointed arrow in upper corner to open fly out menu, and select Load SJ Mixer Brushes Presets. I usually Append the tools and they will appear at the bottom of the list. NOTE: You must have the Mixer Brush selected in the vertical Toolbar to get the Mixer Brush variations to appear in the Tool Preset drop-down.)
This is a very simple example of applying texture that can be done just using Photoshop. First two New Layers were created and the Mixer Brushes I created above were used, the small brush in beige on the bottom layer and the larger one with the same color on the top layer to create an interesting texture. A layer mask was added to the top layer to bring out the center part of the flower. Now here is the neat part, a New Layer was created and a gradient applied with the Gradient Tool . This image used Graphix1 Gradient Muted4 which is a white to yellow beige color, but try out different gradients to see what effect you like. In the Options Bar select the Radial Gradient icon and drag with your cursor from the center of the flower outward to create the gradient. Set the layer blend mode to Soft Light and add a Bevel and Emboss Layer Style (2nd icon from left at bottom of Layer Panel) and double click the Texture option. This image used the Fractures Pattern Overlay, which is located in the Texture Fill set of patterns that come with Photoshop CS5, and set the Scale to 555% and the Depth to +34. Create a layer mask to darken the center again so the pattern is not as apparent over the center of the flower. That’s it – a texture applied that gives a really different look. Try other patterns – you can find lots of them on the internet.
And don’t forget the nice filters that come with Photoshop to create pleasing textures. I really like the Texturizer Filter using the Canvas texture set to Relief 3 to add a painting touch to an image.
I have tried to show that adding texture to an image can be done in many different ways and the different techniques can be combined to get some unique looks. Once again, it is just another way the versatility of Photoshop makes it so much fun to use. It is so satisfying to create your own textures that can actually go towards creating your own artistic style. Have fun creating!…..Digital Lady Syd
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.
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