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Posts tagged “Photoshop

Digital Lady Syd’s Top Ten Photos From 2012

It is that time where I try to put some perspective on my images for the past year and choose the ones that appeal to me most. I had a nice year and got to see some pretty interesting places. I try to see which images I would place in my home. Here is what my “inner critic” thinks are some of my best.

10.  Below is an image shot while in the Lightner Museum looking down at my favorite lunch spot in St. Augustine, Florida, the Cafe Alcazar which is located in the old hotel pool area (see Bathing in Casino on Shorpys website for how the pool looked in 1889). For more info, see my Tidbits Blog Cafe Alcazar and Vintage Topaz Adjust.

9. I love this sort of illustrative and humorous effect. This image is of a whale taken during the Shamu show at the SeaWorld Orlando Theme Park. For details on processing, see my Storytelling with Your Images blog.

8. The Big Island in Hawaii was one of my most favorite places I have ever visited. This photo art image depicts how I think of Hawaii. I discuss how I created the effect in my Using Color Efex Pro and Texture for a Warm Hawaiian Landscape Effect blog.

7. This lovely mallard duck pair’s image was taken at the SeaWorld Orlando Theme Park in Florida. This image used a texture by 2 Lil Owls and the new Topaz (for website link see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog) Detail 3 to bring out details and color, especially in the feathers and eyes.

6. This old corvette was for sale at the 39th Annual Turkey Run at the Daytona International Speedway infield. This is my favorite type of car –  so I had a great time photographing all the corvettes. (More will be showing up in my future blogs as I have a lot more corvette images.) To see how I processed this image, see my Little Red Corvette Tidbits Blog.

5.  Miniature Mums were used in a lot of my images this year. I like to photograph the flowers I grow. I have been trying to improve on my macro shooting  this year. To see how this flower was processed, see my Tidbit Blog Just Bloomin” Beautiful!

4. The wild surf is at Laupahoehoe Harbor on the Big Island. In my Dr. Brown’s Painting Assistant Panel for CS6 and CS5! blog I used this same image with an artistic feel to it. Nik Color Efex Pro’s Detail Extractor filter helped give this image the sharpness.

3. I am always surprised how nice the flower pictures are that I get at the local grocery stores with my inexpensive Kodak point-and-shoot camera. These beautiful pink roses were shot at my neighborhood store. Post processing included adding 4 textures – two I bought from French Kiss’s website and two from a wonderful Flickr site by Lenabem-Anna which contains many beautiful vintage and painterly textures. I used her textures 130 and 72.

2. The purple lily pad image is one of my artistic experiments that I really like. They were taken at the Hilton Waikoloa Village by the Japanese Restaurant. To see how this effect was created with a slightly different result, see my Tidbits Blog Purple Lily Pads!

1.  It is hard to top Hawaii for beautiful everything. I settled on this image from along the road to Waipio Valley as my favorite of the year since it totally reminds me of my trip to the Big Island – the bright sunlight, the beautiful surf and the gorgeous clouds hanging out. To see how I processed this image, see my Nik’s Viveza 2 Plug-In – A Hidden Gem! blog.

It’s been a great year and I have learned so many new things about post-processing my images in Photoshop. Hope you have enjoyed some of my blogs too. I hope next year is as fun and productive. Happy New Year Everyone!…..Digital Lady Syd


How to Create Personal Overlays for Your Images

I have been thinking about this subject ever since I bought some beautiful overlays from the French Kiss website. Their overlays are based on genuine old French letters and postmarks, but it seemed to me that it should be a fairly easy to create your own customized overlays. So this blog is about making your own overlays. The image above is of the pretty light purple Phlox Phloxy Lady flowers I had growing in my front yard and by adding texture and overlays to it, a soft romantic feel is created. This image used a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem “The Flowers” and was a fairly easy example on how to start creating your own overlays. The steps below will guide you through this process.

The Basic Steps to Create a Text or Object Overlay (png) File for your Images.

1.  Create a New Document – I used an 8 X 10 inch document at 300 ppi.

2. If creating text, select the Text Tool, which creates a Text Layer on top of your Background Layer. In the Options Bar set your text color to Black for now (3rd icon over from right) and select an appropriate font. In the case above, the Old Script Font was chosen because the letters actually look like writing.

3. Type in your text. I like to use poetry quotes but use your own work for a real personal feel. Several different Text layers can be created using the same or different fonts. Add Clip Art layers or use a New Layer to paint in your own ideas – I find sticking to black a good idea and then adding color in later.

4. Once finished entering text and/or objects, turn off your background layer click on the eyeball on the left edge of the Layer in the Layers Palette. The image above just had one text layer, so it was duplicated and rasterized (right click on text layer and select rasterize so it is no longer a text layer). If more than one text or object layer is in the file, create a composite layer at top by highlighting the top layer and pressing CTRL+SHIFT+ALT+E so all the text or object layers are combined into one layer.

5. Now turn off all the eyeballs to the left of the layers except for the new top composite layer.

6. Here is the trick to getting this psd layer into a png file format to use as an overlay in your documents. Go to File -> Scripts -> Export Layers to Files. You need to set up a location for your new png file, name your file, and set the File Type to PNG-24. This takes a minute for Photoshop to process, but it eventually puts the png file where you told it to go, and takes you back to your original psd document with no changes made to it. If confused see my How To Make Frames or Borders blog, which uses the same basic process, where a screenshot of how this dialog box should look is provided.

How to Add the Overlay png File to an Image.

1. Open your document and go to Adobe Bridge to find your Overlay. Click on thumbnail, right click and choose Place -> In Photoshop.

2. Now adjust the handles and size (since the file comes in as a Smart Object layer, it works like the Free Transform command) and place the overlay where you want it. Double-click inside the overlay or click the checkmark in Options Bar to set the placement.

3. I always get rid of the Smart Object now by right clicking on the layer in the Layers Panel and select Rasterize Layer from the menu.

4. To change the overlay color go to Layer -> New Fill Layer -> Solid Color and be sure to check Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask. Select any color you want – I usually sample with the eyedropper that appears when hovering over the image to set the color of the text.

5. On the overlay layer, adjust the opacity or add a layer mask and paint with a low opacity brush in the mask to lighten part of the text. This was done on the image above to soften the look a little. Use Free Transform (CTRL+T) to resize, turn or move the overlay.
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This vintage looking pink gerbera daisy that was growing on my porch was a perfect image to try out my own French overlay. First I had to make the overlay png file, then it was added to my final image. I would suggest that you check out the French Kiss website and/or Graphics Fairy website to get a feel on how to set up a custom overlay look. Create your overlay file by following The Basic Steps above. In my overlay, a fancy font called ExtraOrnamental No. 2 was used. The other font used is Easy Street Alt EPS. I found the filmstrip layer from my blog header and removed all the white from it as another layer. Some ornamentation was added using paintbrushes called 100 old ornaments–Buburu Resources – a New Layer was created and by rotating the direction of the brush, you can connect them to create some nice looking ornaments. Once you have all your layers set up, follow the steps in The Basic Steps section to create your png file. Keep you psd file so you can reuse the layers to create different but similar overlays. I did this for the last two images below. Follow the How to Use Overlay section to finish up your image. Four texture layers and a frame overlay were also used in the image above. The overlay was set to 66% opacity. Below is the png file as it appeared before adding to the flower image. …..Here is another example of using several overlays that I created. I began this image by creating a png overlay file out of some daisies I found in an old Clip Art book called Flower Illustrations by Dover Publications that I bought years ago (there are still many similar books available on Amazon very inexpensively and can be a really fun resource). The clip art is just black lines on white. The white was deleted from the clip art by using Select -> Color Range and clicking on all the white so just the black lines were selected. Then I duplicated the selection by going to CTRL+J and just the line art shows up on the layer. This layer was taken into the Export Layers to Files using Steps 5 and 6 in The Basic Steps section above. Now I started a new document and added my new png flower layer. I decided to Warp it using Free Transform (CTRL+T) and selecting Warp in the Options Bar. By pulling on the different lines, you can get some very interesting effects. I felt this image looked like it was now blowing in the wind. Next I added a New Layer above and just painted different colors in the petals and stem. By lowering the opacity of the png flower layer, the lines disappeared and showed just the flower contours. I decided to create a text overlay png new file as described in The Basic Steps section above so I could use it again. Some text from Bob Dylan’s song “Blowin’ In the Wind” was added using 1942 Report font in purple-pink and a new png file was created. It was brought into my original document – the second time it was applied, it warped using CTRL+T again to get the crazy flying type look. A layer mask was added so the text could be removed from the flowers. Then I decided I wanted to create my own grunge border. There are several ways to do this (see my my How To Make Frames or Borders blog). This time I used NIK Color Efex Pro 4‘s Image Border filter and set Size to -100, Spread to 100, all the way Rough, and Vary to 9165. Once back in Photoshop, I selected the border using Color Range and placed it on its own layer. I cleaned up the lines using a fine black line and saved it down as a .png file so I can use it again. As you can see, there is a lot of repetition in this process. Not that difficult once you get a selection of what you want. I experimented with several different background colors and did add a soft white hazy look by painting on a layer using Nakatoni Texture Brush (I still cannot find them anymore) at a low opacity.
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This yellow mum shot uses the sames steps as the gerbera daisy image – a different line of text was added and several other elements removed from the same overlay psd file. Once the png file was added to the image, a Layer Style was applied to the png overlay layer using Bevel and Emboss and Outer Glow effects. The Outer Glow was spread out with a darker color to make the letters stand out a little better.
…..This final example took yet another arrangement of other the text. Once the png file was brought into the image, it was warped to get the old look. Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 was used to get the vintage look. You can get really creative with the overlay layer effects.

Just remember to create a composite of all the layers to include in your overlay and save just that layer as a png. This is such a simple process, but it looks hard. Be sure when you do download a font that you understand what the usage requirements for that font are – just because you can download them does not mean they are free for all uses. This romantic French effect seems to lend itself nicely to flowers and soft texturized images. In my Tidbits Blog Displacing an Overlay I show you how to displace your overlay onto a textures background to give it a real vintage look. Also, check out my newer blog How To Create an Overlay Out of a Texture for more fun overlay tricks. Try making an overlay – it is fun to do!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Checking Out French Kiss Textures
A Vintage Butterfly Postcard Effect


New Lightroom and Photoshop 32-bit Processing Capability


This new feature is taking the Photoshop world by storm! What a great new addition to Lightroom’s 4.1 upgrade. If you have Lightroom 4, you have got to try this. Matt Kloskowski, one of the NAPP Photoshop Guys, created a nice short video, A New HDR Feature in Lightroom 4.1, on how to process your images using the Merge to HDR in Photoshop, and then bringing the 32-bit tonemapped image back into Lightroom to use with the camera raw sliders. The image above is from the Hilton Waikoloa Village – some of the unusual art that is in this complex. After processing the 32-bit image using Lightroom sliders, Nik Color Efex Pro 4 was applied within Lightroom using these filters: Detail Extractor adding (+) control points on only the sculpture itself, Midnight using Neutral mode, and BiColor User Defined Preset 02 Brown/Pink and using (-) control points on the sculpture. The image was taken back into Photoshop (now as a 16-bit psd file) to add OnOne PhotoFrame acid burn controller 06 (see sidebar for website in my Tidbits Blog), which could have also been added in Lightroom. The Nik plug-in could have been added in Photoshop and a Smart Object used to save the setting – instead I created a Note in Photoshop to recall how the settings were used used in Lightroom.
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What is absolutely amazing about this addition to Lightroom is that the images are so sharp and clear with little noise especially in the skies like you get with the other HDR processes. It is totally amazing that neither of these images had any sharpening or noise reduction applied. Wow!

Here is my first attempt at creating a 32-bit image using three bracketed images hand-held of the beach on the perimeter of the Hilton Waikoloa Village – not a very good place to sunbathe but nice and breezy. No other plug-ins were applied to this photo. I was major happy how clear and sharp this image came out. The frame was created using the layer style instructions for my Digital Lady Syd’s Free Layer Style Frames – colors can be sampled from image and changed out easily.

What is happening here is that inside Lightroom you select your bracketed images, right click and Edit In – Merge to HDR. This opens up the HDR program in Photoshop where set the tonemap setting to 32-bit, not 16-bit. Next check the Remove Ghosts box. Close and if you do not have your Preferences set up in Lightroom to save your HDR’s as TIFF’s, you need to do a Save As, name file, and select TIF as your format to bring back into Lightroom. Once back in Lightroom you are free to use all the sliders available to create the look you want on the 32-bit image. The image can be taken back into Photoshop to add your framing or plug-ins if you want, where it is now back at 16-bit mode.
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I am still amazed how great these images are looking. This image is of some colorful plants at the entrance to the Lightner Museum, in the old Alcazar Hotel, St. Augustine, Florida. After processing as a 32-bit image in Photoshop and bringing back into Lightroom, the image was taken back into Photoshop and the new Topaz photoFXlab v1.1 plug-in (see sidebar for website in my Tidbits Blog) was opened and the Dynamics slider applied at 55. I also removed a very small amount of noise with Imagenomics Noiseware. This is my free Thin Double Edge layer style frame (see link above) with colors sampled from the image and that was it. This image is incredibly clear!
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My last example once again was processed in Lightroom as a 32-bit hand-held HDR. I did apply a little Nik Color Efex Pro 4 Detail Extractor to the gargoyle only to sharpen it a little. No noise reduction was applied, only my Thin Double Edge Frame layer style applied to the image. Very easy. This image was taken at Flagler College (the old Ponce de Leon Hotel) in St. Augustine, Florida.

I am going to have to go back through my old HDR images and update them. This process is totally amazing if you want a very natural HDR look. Wonderful new feature! It is a pretty easy procedure to follow and the results are definitely worth keeping!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
32-Bit HDR Using Lightroom and CS6


Showing Off Your Images with Lightroom


Thought I would keep it simple this week so here are some nice templates that can be created in Adobe Lightroom 3 and 4. This image is basically a 4-image triptych. It was a lot of fun playing with the different flower effects but I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the images after I finished them –  as it turned out, this Lightroom template created a nice way to show them off! If you have ever played around in the Print Module of Lightroom, then you can see it is not too hard to create this type of template and then save the resulting image in the Print Job section as a “Print to JPEG File.” And this is one of the reasons I like processing my images in Lightroom over just using Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) in Photoshop.

For processing of the yellow dahlias in Photoshop:
1st image: Just lightened up the image and applied two Flypaper Textures – Chatsworth Taster and Apple Blush Taster using Russel Brown Texture Panel. (See my blog Russell Brown’s Paper Texture Panel Updated!)
2nd image: Topaz Black and White Effects. See side panel of my Tidbits Blog for website link.
3rd image: Used Nik’s Color Efex Pro 4 and stacked these filters – Film Efex Vintage using Film Type 8, Colorize using Method 6 and a light blue color, and Vignette Blur using Type 3. I loved the dreamy look these filters created.
4th image: Used two different Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layers and two Curves Adjustments Layers and with their layer masks, selectively painted out areas to get the effect I wanted.

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This group of images was put together in Lightroom 3 a couple years ago – these signs are from the Jacksonville Landing along the St. Johns River in Florida during one of Scott Kelby’s PhotoWalks (if you get a chance, go do one – they are free and a great way to meet local photo types like yourself). Photoshop Guy Matt Kloskowski, who runs the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Killer Tips website and blog (it is the best one on Lightroom you will find), offered a free Lightroom Print Preset – Multi-Photo Portrait Grid. I used it here although I had some trouble lining up all the photos the way he did since I use a Canon printer and not an Epson (it uses a page set up which makes it line up different). Still I was able to get this result which I think turned out rather nice.
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Here is another example of using the above preset from Matt to create a little different appearance. A trick to adjusting your image inside the cell once placed is to remember to hold down the CTRL key so the cursor turns into the Hand Tool. You can send unused cells to the back by right clicking in the cell. Also, it is best to create a Quick Collection of the images you think you might want to use (click the little circle in the upper right corner in the Library module) so that they are all in one place for adding to the template. All these images are from previous posts – all but the boat image were done using just Photoshop brushes creatively. (See my blogs Brushing up on Circles!, Create a Winter Scene with Photoshop Brushes and Textures and Tree Brushes and a Little Grunge.
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The instructions on how to do the above template are in Scott Kelby’s The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book for Digital Photographers where he takes you through the process step by step. He also shows you how to make the top template along with several others. His Lightroom books are the best!
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I did a Tidbits Blog a while back called Five Image Template Creates Beautiful Collection!  that shows another way to do this with templates in Photoshop.

Also I did a free download timeline template for Facebook a couple weeks ago that uses Photoshop to add seven photos as your header – see
Free Timeline Cover Template for Seven of Your Images. An example of how this turns out is shown below.


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Lightroom and even Photoshop makes it really fun to show off your images and both use very similar techniques. Sometimes just printing the one image does not look quite right, but putting several in a template as shown in these examples can get some really nice results…..Digital Lady Syd


Making An Ordinary Image Your Own


I find that many times my images just look like everyone elses and I really want an image to reflect something slightly different without being over processed or unrecognizable. I struggle with this concept a lot. So this week I have been thinking about what I really like and it is not always what I am seeing. The image above reflects that very sentiment. The image is of the water from one of the boat docks at the Hilton Waikoloa Village but the sky is not the actual color and the highlights were accentuated by using plug-ins. (In Photoshop Topaz Adjust plug-in was used with the Lomo II preset as a starting point, then turned off the Grain setting, readjusted the Vignette by centering off center and adjusting the sliders, and added a little more Warmth. Next Topaz Simplify 3 was added using BuzSim but changed the Simplify Size to 0.05 to make paint strokes very thin, Details Boost to 0.79, Details to 0.13, and then adjusted Saturation to 1.38. See sidebar in my Tidbits blog for Topaz website link.)

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The view of the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Beach Resort and Spa is a similar example. This image definitely has a real blue tone to it even though the original is not nearly as striking. The final result is how I would like to remember this place. (This image was processed using OnOne Software’s Perfect Effects 3 plug-in – Detail-Amazing Detail filter applied first; next a custom Black and White Effect was created with Color Filter set to 0, Contrast -52, and Toner Strength 22 – then a Masking Bug was applied and  inverted so the middle of the image was not affected by the blue tone; and the last step added a Vignette – Big Softy to the image. For OnOne’s website link, see my Tidbits Blog.)

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This is a beautiful Roseate Spoonbill taken at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park in Florida. The bird was not shot with a reflection – that was added with Flaming Pear’s Flood plug-in. I really like the image with the reflection much better than the original – it gives that unique feel that I was looking for. (The canvas was extended at the bottom of the image to make room for the reflection. Even though Flood is an older plug-in, it is still the best one for a good reflection with many different sliders to control the effect you want. See my blog “The Flood Look” for more information on this plug-in.  The frame is from OnOne PhotoFrame called Instant Film B Warm R2.)

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A few week ago I did a blog called “Using Color Efex Pro and Texture for a Warm Hawaiian Landscape Effect” that also creates a very unique look to the images and they make me think of Hawaii when I see them. I believe this is what I am trying to convey in this blog.

I do love the classic images I take from my trips, but the ones I really like are the ones I make my own. The various plug-ins can make those ordinary images unique and if that is a look you want, give them a try. There are so many out there and it has surprised me how varied and unique a look you can get with a little experimenting. And that is why Photoshop rocks!…..Digital Lady Syd


Happy Holidays from Digital Lady Syd!

Since the season is upon us, I have decided to present a few of my favorite holiday creations. For resource and technique details, see information listed at end.

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Image Details:
1. Used the tutorial “Christmas Night Magic scene with flying Santa”  for initial direction – very easy to follow and lots of fun to create; Snow images Frozen Landscape and a different Frozen Landscape from Stock.xchng; my own sky Belarusian sky image; Santa sleigh in Christmas Brushes by Fina; Snow Drops brush by Frostbo (my favorite brush for realistic falling snow); BB’s Fogs & Mists brush #3; and the Fonts are  Old Script and an old Cosmi Font I bought years ago called 41. The images were transformed and blended using a layer mask to get the look above. OnOne PhotoFrame Acid Brn Controlled 05 was applied – (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link).
2. Some of my favorite pictures have been made of these beautiful pink and white tulips I bought this year at the grocery store. This image uses three free textures all by Shadowhouse Creations – Aged and Distressed Vintage 1, Oil Painting 3, and Attic Treasures Creative Texture 7. All his textures are beautiful and he has great tutorials on how to combine the many textures. The first texture was added into a layer mask by opening up the texture in it own document, CTRL +A and CTRL+C to select and copy the texture; ALT+Click on the layer mask to make the layer white; and CTRL+V to place the image into the layer mask. The other two textures were added above and a layer was added with the Snow Drops brush by Frostbo.
3. I guess I was really into Santa sleighs this year??? Very simple image that started with the Bright Christmas Texture by Graphix1 where the color was changed into a darkish blue to appear like a night image using a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer; BB’s Fogs & Mists brush #12; my SJ-Cloud brushes; my SJ-Mountain brushes; Snow Drops brush by Frostbo; Santa sleigh in Christmas Brushes by Fina; Moon brush by Hawksmont; Font is Fantaisie Artistique (my favorite); the pattern used on Santa and it’s sleigh was added in the Pattern Overlay using Pattern 23 from Obsidian Dawn’s Grunge and Dirty Patterns; and Bevel and Emboss and Drop Shadow layer styles were added to the text layers. OnOne’s PhotoFrame Dave Cross 01 was added as a border (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link).
4. This image first appeared in my “Free Calendar Template for Use with Elements” blog. The image is the top of the Standard Life building in Jackson, Mississippi. The gradient used is from Gorgeous Gradients – PrimaveraII, and the snow is a very useful snow brush called Snow Drop by Frostbo. The lettering on the building is called Kingsthings Christmas font, the Flying Santa Sleigh is by Fina, the fog was created using Sampled Brush #3 and #12 from Brushes Fogs and Mists, the green Christmas Tree and Icicles are in Obsidian Dawn’s Holiday set, and the icy edges are an OnOne PhotoFrame Taufer Texture 08 frame ((see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link). I have to admit this image was a bit of a challenge but I really liked the final effect.

5. A tutorial called “Glossy Snow Globe Text Effect” was the inspiration for this image. I used the layer styles and brushes from the tutorial along with my SJ-Cloud brushes on a light to darker blue gradient for the background. OnOne PhotoFrame grunge 15 was applied. It is not hard to do, but it takes some time to create the brushes and styles.
6. This image was posted in my “Christmas Card from Digital Lady Syd!” blog which contains all the resources and information for this rather complicated card.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday and takes time to enjoy the time with friends and family!…..Digital Lady Syd!


NIK’s Champion Plug-in – Silver Efex Pro 2

Since I have been giving such glowing reviews to their newest competitor into the black and white plug-in world (Topaz Black & White Effects), I really should show you why, if you totally love black and white images, this is the plug-in you want. I was reminded by a webinar sponsored by NIK and featuring Dave Devitale called “The Creative Edge in Digital Photography” (the sound quality on this video was not good), that Silver Efex Pro 2 (SEP2) really does give wonderful results. The interface is familiar and similar to the other great NIK plug-ins so it makes getting up to speed really fast. The presets give you excellent quick looks at the different effects and make it easy to get a pleasing result without a lot of adjusting. NIK really knows how to put together a great plug-in and this one is no different. It’s biggest drawback is the price.
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St. George Street in St. Augustine was processed in black and white due to a large contrast in the original image. A simple workflow was followed and was a pretty basic use of NIK’s SEP2. Clean up your image, duplicate it and make it a Smart Object (right click on layer and select Create Smart Object since SEP2 remembers your plug-in settings and control points), got to Filter -> NIK -> Silver Efex Pro 2 and look at the presets. The 015 Full Dynamic (harsh) preset was chosen as a starting point. An Orange color filter was used and Sensitivity colors were adjusted for the image. Toning 4 was added. Back in Photoshop the standard layers were added: a Curves Adjustment Layer to adjust contrast, a Sharpen Tool layer, and a basic layer style for the framing. That’s it and you get a very nice black and white image.
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This image followed a slightly different technique that Moose Peterson, the famous outdoor photographer recommended in a NIK video called “Finishing Techniques Using NIK Software.” The original image was processed in ACR and then brought into Photoshop. The background layer was duplicated and in SEP2, the Full Dynamic Smooth preset was applied for a starting point. Moose prefers this preset. Then he duplicates the black and white layer and opens up the NIK Color Efex Pro 4 plug-in – he likes the Neutral Density filter where he can adjust the tonality of the clouds. Back in Photoshop a Curves Adjustment Layer is added and its layer mask filled with black – it is then painted on with a 20% white brush to darken the foreground and add detail to the clouds. For a better explanation check out the video which is very good.
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Above is the current Casa Monica Hotel (was the Cordova Hotel in 1888 when it was opened) in St. Augustine, Florida, and one of the grand old hotels of city. I have used this technique before when processing color images – a color image is opened, the layer duplicated and turned into a Smart Object, and the top layer is taken into the SEP2 plug-in to create a black and white effect. (See next image explanation for settings used in SEP2.) Once back inside Photoshop, different blend modes are tried for the black and white layer. In this case, the Screen blend mode was selected at 59% opacity. A Curves Adjustment layer was added. Finally a New Layer was created for use with the Sharpen Tool where I went over the edges of the building and some of the window details. I love the final postcard look – perfect for this type of historic building. The SEP2 settings listed for the next image are exactly the same for the hotel except the Image Border is Type 13.
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This is of the backside of run down storefronts in downtown Jackson, Mississippi. I loved the slight touch of color and texture that came through in this image. The workflow was very similar to the one used on the image above – except this time the blend mode was left to Normal at 70% opacity. It gives a very different look even though the same oo5-High Structure (Harsh) preset was used in SEP2 with slightly different settings applied. Different Control Points were used to add extra contrast in localized areas and the green leaves were darkened using a Control Point. In the Film Types section the Orange Filter was used and in the drop-down, Film Type Kodak ISO 32 Panatomic X was selected as a starting point. The creamy color is achieved using Toning 14. A slight dark vignette was created and Image Border Type 2 was added. Be sure to create your own preset at this point if you find some settings you like by clicking on Add Preset and name it. In Photoshop the Sharpen Tool was used on the ironwork to bring out the detail a bit more and a final Curves Adjustment Layer was added.
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The Tomorrowland Sign is an example of using two different layers for your effect. Duplicate your original layer (CTRL+J) and turn off the top layer. On the bottom layer, a Topaz Adjust Spicify preset was applied to the image. This gives the really bright and edgy look of the actual sign. Now on the top layer, go to SEP2 and convert your image emphasizing how you want to the background of the image to appear such as softening the lines. Once out of the plug-in, add a Layer Mask and carefully mask out the Tomorrowland Sign. The final step involves going to Filter -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur to make the black and white background a softer feel so it does not compete with the colorful sign for attention. I believe this is a really nice way to apply the SEP2 plug-in for a different look.

I hope this gives an idea of what can be achieved with what is considered the best black and white plug-in ever created. I have enjoyed trying some photos in this program and I would suggest that if you like black and white, it is worth a trial download to see what you think. Enjoy yourself and try out some new looks and techniques…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd’s Related Blogs:
Black and White Photo or Not? Give It a Try on That Difficult Image
Same Image-Different Plug-in
Topaz B&W Effects vs. Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2
Same Image-Different Look!


Combining Plug-ins – Double the Effect!

NIK Color Efex Pro 4, Topaz Lens Effects, and OnOne PhotoFrame 4.6

The original image was of a shop on St. George Street in St. Augustine. My Vivid Drawing Look preset (see my Tidbits Blog “Settings for Vivid Drawing Look ACR/Lightroom Preset and NIK Color Efex Pro 4 Pseudo HDR Recipe“) in Lightroom was used with some luminance color adjustment before being brought into Photoshop. In NIK Color Efex Pro 4 (CEP4), the Darken/Lighten Center filter and Film Efex: Vintage set to Film Type 27 was added. The layer was copied and Rasterized to get rid of the Smart Object (right-click on layer and select rasterize) and then the Topaz Lens Effect plug-in was used. The Fisheye Lens Effect was applied using 73% distortion amount and adjusting all the Image Adjustment sliders. A New Layer was added above and the Sharpen Tool was used to locally sharpen parts of the image. Finally the “acid burned controlled 05” OnOne PhotoFrame was added to finish the look. This is a crazy look but it shows what an interesting result you can get by stacking the plug-in effects on one image.

Photomatix Pro 4, NIK Color Efex Pro 4 and Topaz Adjust 4


This image is of the famous pedestrian St. George Street in St. Augustine, Florida. It was processed as an HDR in Photomatix Pro 4.0 and then brought into two of my favorite Photoshop plug-ins: NIK Color Efex Pro 4 and Topaz Adjust. To get this vintage artsy effect, six CEP4 filters were stacked into a recipe (Darken/Lighten Center, Brilliance/Warmth, Tonal Contrast, Image Borders, Dark Contrasts, and High Key in that order); and in Topaz Adjust 4, a preset was created from a Topaz video on “Rick Sammon’s Top Topaz Tricks, Tips, and Techniques” that used the Spicify preset to create a soft artsy effect.

NIK Color Efex Pro 4.0, Topaz Black and White Effects, and OnOne PhotoFrame 4.6

All my favorite plug-ins were used on this one. The Flagler Presbyterian Church in St. Augustine is one of the beautiful places to see while enjoying the city. NIK CEP4 was first applied using my Pseudo HDR1 preset from my blog “Pseudo HDR Using NIK Color Efex Pro 4” with an additional white Vignette filter. It was then toned down by using the Topaz Black and White Effects plug-in.  The Albumen Collection – Aubergine preset was used as starting point and then adjusting the Basic Exposure settings and setting the Transparency setting to 0.58. Back in Photoshop this layer was set to 59%, a New Layer was added and the Sharpening Tool was used to bring out the edges on the tops of the little towers, and finally the “acid burned controlled 15” preset from OnOne PhotoFrames was added in a matching cream color. These three plug-ins really do go hand-in-hand to create some stunning results!

It is a lot of fun to use these plug-ins! It is even more fun to mix and match! I use the OnOne PhotoFrames a lot because it can enhance an image that lacks some pizzazz. It is very great that the colors can be changed easily and sampled from the image to match the colors in the image. I also like Topaz Black and White Effects and NIK Color Efex Pro 4 as my two favorite creative plug-ins. Topaz Lens Effects does a great job of recreating the fisheye look without having to buy an expensive fisheye lens – there are several other effects in it that can be a lot of fun to try out. See below for my other blog links to these plug-ins for further information on how to use them.

Try stacking some of these effects – you will be surprised what great results you can create! Have fun experimenting!…..Digital Lady Syd

Related Digital Lady Syd Blog Links:
Topaz Lens Effects Plug-In
Why I Love Topaz Adjust!
Topaz B&W Effects Plug-in – A Real Winner!
NIK Color Efex Pro 4.0 – First Try!
The New Film Efex-Vintage Filter from NIK CEP 4
NIK Color Efex Pro 4 – Digital Lady Syd’s Review!
The Art Corner: Painting and Sculpture by Tassaert
Pseudo HDR Using NIK Color Efex Pro 4
Settings for Vivid Drawing Look ACR/Lightroom Preset and NIK Color Efex Pro Pseudo HDR Recipe


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.

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The image above of Metal Chris at DCHheavyMetal.com 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.

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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.
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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.

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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


With One Good Photo – Try the Pseudo HDR Effect

I am one of those people that does love the HDR effect and I do wish I always had the tripod at my beckon call, but usually it just does not work that way for me. I have spent a lot of time trying to get an HDR look anyway. My camera takes a good image most of the time, so the challenge is to find the right program/filters to get that HDR effect without all the perfectly matched images. This blog addresses what I have come up with so far and all sections used Photoshop CS5.

HDR Toning Adjustment Mode


The above Green Turtle Cay Beach is an example of a JPEG image. It was processed in Photoshop using HDR Toning Adjustment Mode. It is possible to get a decent HDR effect with a JPEG image but not all images turn out good using this method.

This image had all the ingredients to make a nice HDR image – the beautiful detail on the restaurant and the windows and stone on the surrounding buildings. (All the rest of the images are camera RAW files.) This process usually gives a bit of the surreal look as shown in the above. Recently Scott Kelby released his CS5’s HDR Pro preset called Scott 5 that creates a really great “Pseudo HDR” effect. All of HDR Pro’s preset along with this preset will appear in the HDR Toning Adjustment Layer also. This preset was used here with a small increase of the Highlights slider to bring out the color a little. Otherwise that was it. If you have only a single image with some great detail in it, try out the preset in HDR Toning.  The results are considered hit-or-miss and will probably not be as good as using three HDR images. Check out my blog, Different Images-Same Look Using HDR! –  HDR Toning for Single Images section, for more information on this adjustment. Also, several of my images in my blog, Why I Love Topaz Adjust, used this technique before applying the Topaz Adjust plug-in.

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Shadow and Highlight Adjustment Mode

This image had the great bright colors that I thought might create a really nice HDR effect. Unfortunately, when  CS5’s HDR Toning Adjustment Mode was tried,  it just did not look right, even with the Scott 5 preset. Some people have had success using the Shadows and Highlights Adjustment Mode, so that effect was used on this image. It took a lot of manipulation of all the sliders in the dialog, but I believe the “Pseudo HDR” look is present, just not as pronounced as with the HDR Toning Adjustment Mode.

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The Sharpen Tool

The image above required a lot of prep work before even thinking about adding an HDR feel to it. The antennae had to be cloned out first.The Color Replacement Tool (see my Tidbits blog, Like a Chameleon – The Color Replacement Tool) was used to make the sky a blue – this tool was used since the sky and steeple were so close in color, it would have been hard to get a really clean selection. By using Options Bar settings as follows: the Mode to Color, Sampling Background Swatch (in this case, sampling the beige sky color to set as the Background Color and my new sky color, #c2d0d8, set as the Foreground Color), Limits to Find Edges, Tolerance 15% and Anti-Alias checked, it was pretty fast to paint over just the sky area. I used my SJ-Cloud Brush Set to paint in a couple clouds on a separate layer and created a composite above (CTRL+SHIFT+ALT+E).

I did not think the other pseudo-HDR techniques would work on this image since it had a rather flat look to it. I also did not want to HDR the clouds that were just added – only wanted the steeple and roof to have the detail effect. This week I listened to a NAPP Grid where Bryan Hughes, Product Manager for Adobe Photoshop, discussed how much the Sharpen Tool had been improved in CS5 and that it now has the best sharpening capability in Photoshop. That gave me the idea to use it for an HDR effect since I only wanted specific areas processed. So that is how this technique began. Select the Sharpen Tool and in Options Bar, set it to Mode Darken and 50% Strength. Paint over all the areas where the HDR look is to be added. Last, add Curves Adjustment Layer to give a little snap to the color. It may not be as effective as a true HDR processed image (the shadows are probably not as opened up as they would be in a true HDR image), but it does have some of the feel.

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Lightroom HDR Preset

Many people say that with the correct settings, a decent HDR effect can be achieved with Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw. Here is an example of about as close as I could get to this effect using Lightroom and Photoshop.

For this Hawaiian landscape, a Lightroom preset from William Petruzzo Photography called HDR Effect – Heavy was applied. The Blacks slider was  increased a small amount and a Curves Adjustment Layer added in Photoshop for contrast. I tried this preset on a couple other images and got some pretty bad haloing so you need to find the right image to get this nice look. It definitely is worth trying. I am not sure if there is an ACR preset is created at this time, but if you or a friend have Lightroom, you can easily copy the settings over to create an ACR preset.

I hope this has given you a couple new techniques to try and see if you can get a close copy to the HDR effect. I will keep my eyes open for any new ideas and present them as they become available. In the meantime, have fun playing in Photoshop!…..Digital Lady Syd


Getting to the Art of the Matter

This week I decided to try something different. I am reading a book called “The Greater Journey – Americans in Paris” by David McCullough. It is a wonderful read – I am afraid I had never learned history like I should have when growing up. This book is about the various Americans who went to Paris in the 1800’s to learn about art, medicine, and other pursuits. In the first section of this book, a very intriguing discussion occurs about Samuel F. B. Morse, of Morse Code fame, whose actual love was painting. From 1831 to 1833 he created this large 9 foot x 6 foot painting called the “Gallery of the Louvre” where he copied 38 paintings from 25 masters. Since the photography era was in its infancy, he was trying to show Americans some of the art at the famous art gallery. I have read some criticism on this painting, but when you realize how small the copies of the paintings are in the image, and all the styles he was trying to reproduce, it seems like a pretty awesome result. His best friend, James Fennimore Cooper and family, is located in the left corner, and Morse painted himself center stage standing over a student.

Here is a small image of what the painting actually looks like.

The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC is displaying the painting until July 2012. Here is a link to more information on the painting and for a download of a larger version. I am definitely going to see this next time I am in the DC area! It is nice that the book has brought this interesting painting to everyone’s attention again.

Now for the fun! I decided to create my own “Gallery of the Louvre” masterpiece by inserting my images where the master paintings resided. With the magic of Photoshop, the perspective was easy to get inside the painting frames.


This turned out to be a lot of fun to put together. If you would like to try this same thing, I uploaded the template I created and it is ready for download. Just drag your images into the template and place under each of the frame openings.  Then Free Transform to fit. Sometimes it was necessary to use the Distort function to do the side view images. I tried to add a little lighting to match the natural light appearing on the images and I used a texture at a low resolution on the images only to get a painterly effect.

I hope you have as much fun as I did with this. It creates a rather unusual way to look at your images – just like in the Louvre in the 1830’s. ……..Digital Lady Syd


Why I Love Topaz Adjust!

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


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


I do love the HDR effect. Since I am not always very good about using a tripod, especially when taking travel pictures, Topaz Adjust has saved the day many times for me. On the Jackson downt0wn picture, I hand-held my camera for HDR and got such a garbled mess, I ended up using Topaz Adjust’ s HDR Pop preset on the middle exposure  image. This preset needed a few adjustments to get the right look, but don’t pass it over with the first glance. Rick Sammon, who is one of the great HDR guys, did an excellent video for Topaz called “Awaken the Artist Within” where he discusses his settings for this preset. What I did was create a Rick Sammon HDR Pop preset using his adjustments and applied these settings with very little tweaking – and it took just a few seconds to do! (Rick Sammon also has written a very good basic book, “HDR Photography Secrets for Digital Photographers,” which I found to be very useful, although both Photomatix Pro and Topaz Adjust have updated their software since its publication.  (There is some controversy on what people expected from his book – I still found his discussions on when to use HDR very useful. I hope Rick is considering updating his book as it has the best information on Topaz Adjust and how to use it.)
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I wanted to show a comparison of using a single image with  HDR Toning in CS5 and the Topaz Adjust HDR Pop preset. For Photoshop CS5, go to Image -> Image Adjustment -> HDR Toning. (Note: the program will flatten your image for this adjustment so save to a single layer first.) This brings up a dialog box that gives a convincing HDR effect when limited to just one image. There are various Presets in a drop-down menu and you can save your own presets here if you find some settings you like. Overall it is a very nice addition to Photoshop and you should definitely explore it. (Check out my previous blog “Different Images-Same Look Using HDR!” for more information on HDR Toning.) The image on the left was created using this technique. A Nik CEP Tonal Contrast  filter was also added to get more detail into the image. The image on the right just used Topaz Adjust using Rick Sammon’s HDR Pop preset and the same Nik CEP Tonal Contrast filter. I find that combining two different plug-ins can really make an image pop and that is what happened when the Tonal Contrast filter was applied.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Just Plain Fun Brush Effects!

This week I am going to show pictures I basically created from scratch some of the great Photoshop brushes available for free download. You might get a really nice special effect to fill that space on your wall. A few weeks ago I did a blog called “How to Create Photoshop Brushes from Objects or Text” which contains basic information on how to make and save your brushes and might be useful here.

This image was created using Vintage Grunge Brushes by alex16 at DeviantArt, the great Summer Texture8 by Caleb Kimbrough (one I use a lot – love the warm tones in it) and some plain ole splotches and lines I made just by playing with the brush settings in the Brush Panel. Please note that on the DeviantArt downloads, please be sure you look at the terms each individual requires – these people work very hard to bring you all the many free downloads and you should be kind enough to follow their terms for use. Most have very reasonable requirements such as letting them know when you used their items and back-linking to them on your sites.

Once again, brushes from DeviantArt were used to create this image. The flowers were created using Flowers 1 Brush Pack for Photoshop from Texturemate using flower01.png and 03.png brushes. These are really nice large flower brushes that I also used in an image in my linked paintbrush blog above. For the grunge background, abstract grunge brushes pack 2_by xaliasx at DeviantArt were used. Finally a layer style was created using a Pattern Overlay called Noise (in Adobe Photoshop CS5’s Texture Fill pattern set) at 100% opacity and 1000% scale, an Inner Glow using a cream color at 75% opacity and Size of 144 pixels, and the basic Stroke at dark gray, inside and 4 pixels size.


The Fantasy Look was made by selecting a Radial Gradient called Singing the Blues by cazcastalla (Blues21) centered on the flair (my 3 Lens Flare brushes – SJ-Brush Flare). The snowflakes background is from Obsidian Dawn (SS Glitter Photoshop Brushes – snowflakes-glitter brush), the clouds uses several of my clouds SJ-Cloud Brush Set that contains 6 brushes can be downloaded here), white fog from DeviantArt  BB-Brushes Fogs and Mists using Sampled Brush #11. The Female Figure was supposed to be from an image I found on DeviantArt, but was unable to get permission in time to use their photo for this blog, so I improvised with clip art from a book called Dragons & Wizards. The clothing had to be painted in so I used a soft blend brush I created (can be downloaded here). I think in the end it may be as nice as my first attempt. When I get permission, I will post for comparison. Finally a cracked texture effect, I used the one from PhotoFrame plug-in but there are many out there that will give a similar look, was added. Pretty easy and fun to do!

I found this really nice pack of grass brushes and had to experiment. This is what I ended up with. I really love the colors and the image of the girl – and it was a fairly easy image to create. Used my cloud brushes that can be downloaded above, Midnightstouch Grasslands Brushes at DeviantArt (really nice grass and plant brushes), Charfades Ultimate Grass Brush Set (more very nice brushes), Obsidian Dawn’s Flying Bird Brushes (always the best brushes), papyrus brushes in Trees by Horhew Brush Set. The beautiful young lady is from an image called “By the Window” from Eirian Stock at DeviantArt.

This final brush painting was once again created after downloading these great Photoshop Daily Chinese Painting Brushes. Used my Textures – Pastel Watercolor for layer 2  by creating a watercolor texture for the background (see “Create a Colorful Paint Background in Photoshop” by EntheosWeb.com) which is a really fun tutorial to do.  I created a Texture Dots texture and then applied the Plug in Galaxy Warp-Flare Warp to the composite. Painted using the Chinese painting brushes one side of flowers, duplicated the layer and merged. Added a few layers styles, adjustment layers, and the frame from PhotoFrames. That’s it.

Sometimes it seems that the images are so complex you forget to see the beautiful colors and the simplicity of a design. Photoshop brushes bring this back into perspective when creating a document. And it never ceases to amaze me how much you can actually create with brushes, whether from others or your own. Hope you got some ideas on what to do when you just need to try something different. It seems I tend to make these images when I discover new brushes to try out. Maybe you will find some inspiration from the ones I mentioned here. Have fun!…..Digital Lady Syd


The Soft, Dreamy Look

Have you ever just wanted to try a different look on your images? I wanted to try this type of look for a while, so this week I began experimenting. The technique seems to be very popular right now and involves adding a very soft fill layer to get the effect. Most of the time it works best on floral, nature or still life images. It can be effective with some landscape images, especially with the help of textures which I did not address in this blog.

I found that LPDragonfly at Deviant Art has described the steps very well in some wonderful tutorials. Her Background tutorial and the Soft Bright Colors tutorial were used (see linked .jpg tutorial images that can be downloaded). Frames from OnOne Software (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link) were used on all the images.

To summarize her two tutorials and adding a bit of my own ideas, here is the basic workflow (see my action link further down in blog):

  1. For shooting flowers, her basic premise is to put the flowers in the shade and allow the background to be in the sun, preferably with a floral background. I did not do this for my images, but will try to do this on future flower shots. Also use the widest aperture your lens will allow and focus on just one flower or group of flowers.
  2. First clean up image such as removing any objects and getting rid of noise.
  3. Add a Color Fill Adjustment layer set to Soft Light blend mode and adjust the opacity. Try different colors – will give very different looks
  4. Create a Curves Adjustment Layer adjusting the Blue Channel (Try Input 0, Output 64; Input 255, Output 201 – and adjust the curve to taste). May want to use a different channel depending upon the image you are using.
  5. Add a Selective Color Adjustment Layer (be careful not to adjust the black sliders – this increases the contrast) and/or a Color Balance Adjustment Layer. May not need all of these adjustment layers.
  6. Create a composite on top (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E), set layer to Screen,  add a Gaussian Blur with a Radius set to +10 pixels, and adjust  layer opacity.
  7. Add a final Levels Adjustment layer and move the middle tab to get the best look.
  8. Try using the mixer brushes in Photoshop and paint on some of the flowers or objects on a separate New Layer to get a more painterly look. (See my blog “Adobe CS5’s Mixer Brushes.”)
  9. Now would be a nice time to add a texture for further emphasis.
  10. Try using a cream colored vignette (used NIK Efex Pro 3.0 Vignette preset but this can be created easily in Photoshop using a color instead of white for the vignette) as shown on the orange and yellow flowers below to get a different feel to the softness.

This same basic technique was used on all the images.

The same soft feel can be obtained by using some of Florabella’s Actions which are much more extensive and she has many more varieties than the simple one I created. They are fairly reasonably priced, so if you like the look, you may want to check out this website and buy one. She has a nice article on how she creates her look at this link, where she states she is doing basically what LPDragonfly outlined in her tutorial.

Obviously the easiest way to do this is to create an action with these different Adjustment Layers set up in it. OK – I did it for you and it can be downloaded here. You do not have to be on a Background Layer to get this to work and most of the Adjustment Layers do not have any settings in them – the Action stops so that you can adjust them as you go along. I tested it on several images – it contains the workflow from above.


I am sure with a bit more exploring, this effect can be achieved using some of the great Photoshop plug-ins such as AutoFX Software‘s Dream Suite or Mystical Suite. Hopefully I will be able to look into this at a later date.

That about wraps up my efforts for achieving the soft, dreamy look. I do believe adding some textures at low percentages and different blend modes, and using layer masks to mask out where the texture should not be in an image, would really add to the look. I hope you will get a chance to try out this look – it can be quite lovely!…..Digital Lady Syd


Different Images – Same Look Using HDR!

This week I am going to just show some of the results from taking images in Jackson, Mississippi. For starters, this is a classic place to get good pictures – HDR (high dynamic range) or not. It has lots of history and many beautiful churches and government buildings that make for great photography.

There is so much information on how to get an HDR look, and to be honest, I do not think it is all that hard once you get comfortable with one or more of the HDR programs. I have been taking HDR pictures for several years and I still love the effect, but there are many people who do not enjoy this type of artistic expression on an image.

Photomatix Pro 4.0

This first image is of an old abandoned church in downtown Jackson.

The effect above was created using Photomatix Pro 4.0. This is the program I used to learn how to do HDR post-processing, and I still go to this software first when processing HDR. It is reasonably priced with NAPP members getting a 25% discount, and  Mark S. Johnson Photography gives a 15% discount. I have had trouble with slight camera movement since I do not always shoot my HDR images on a tripod. The latest upgrade provides a very good correction due to camera jiggle, or tree branches, people or water movement.

The above image is an HDR Image of the beautiful Mississippi Capitol Building using Photomatix Pro 4.0.

Nik’s HDR Efex Pro

I tried using Nik’s HDR Efex Pro in the image below using the Vibrant Details and Colors preset and then adjusted with some control points. That’s it. If you are interested in HDR, take a look at this software – it has a very different interface from the Photomatix Pro program. Since I love all NIK products, it is hard not to like this program.

Because I got curious, I decided to put the Mississippi State Capitol Building into Nik HDR Efex Pro. Since this software has a bunch of presets to try out on the image before you apply the final settings, I decided to use the Vintage preset that definitely gives a nostalgic feel to the image. This effect would have been harder to achieve in Photomatix or CS5 – to get this result an action would have to be applied in Photoshop after the image was created in the HDR program.

Adobe Photoshop CS5’s Merge to HDR

The HDR effect below was created using Photoshop’s own Merge to HDR command. I used my “Use with Vivid Drawing preset” (download in next section) as a starting point and made adjustments to suit the image. Personally, I think CS5 does a pretty good job.

Adobe Photoshop CS5’s HDR Toning for Single Images

I was unable to get three good image shots off (the picture was taken from the car while at a stop light). Therefore, Photoshop CS5’s new Single HDR Adjustment was applied. First the picture was adjusted using my SJ-Vivid Drawing Look Develop preset in Lightroom (download here) or in Photoshop ACR (download here – wrong extension in the zip folder on file – change to .xmp to get it to work) which gives the start of an HDR effect, and then I opened CS5 to finish the look by going to Image -> Adjustment -> HDR Toning. To apply this effect in Photoshop, the image must be flattened so save your original first and create a new flattened version to apply the HDR Toning. To use the settings used here, download the “Use with Vivid Drawing Preset” I created for the HDR Toning Preset field. It needs to be placed in the following folder for Windows users: (User  Name)\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\Adobe Photoshop CS5\Preset\HDR Toning.

Here is another image using the same Lightroom/ACR preset and the downloaded Use with Vivid Drawing Look preset for the HDR Toning dialog in Photoshop. These settings work very well on landscape images with bright colors. Since the sky was flat, it was replaced after running my favorite plug in Kill White that I have added to Adobe Pixel Bender.

There are many good references if you want to learn more about HDR post processing or just to learn the latest techniques. Trey Radcliff is the HDR guru. His “Stuck in Customs” blog (one I have followed for several years and is one of my favorite all-time blogs) is probably the best you will find on HDR, and he has a great HDR tutorial. RC Concepcion just released a new book called “The HDR Book: Unlocking the Pros’ Hottest Post-Processing Techniques” that appears to cover the programs I used above. Richard Harrington has a good video at TipSquirrel called “HDR with Photoshop and HDR Efex Pro” and they have many other HDR videos available – so check these out. This is just touching the “tip of the iceberg” on this subject.

Try some of your other filters (Topaz Adjust with the Spicify preset a popular look right now – see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link) or add some textures on these images after you have applied the HDR effect. There are many, many possibilities to get some great looking pictures! Go shoot some HDR images and experiment with the post-processing!…..Digital Lady Syd


Same Image – Different Look!

I started playing around with the small image below that was taken of the ruins at St. Andrews Cathedral in Scotland. I loved the composition and feel of the image before I ever did any adjustments to it. This image shows what it typically looks like in Scotland.

The original appears pretty flat but overall it has a lot of interest and the details are very sharp in this shot.

  • First I tried processing the image in Lightroom and applied my Vivid Drawing Look preset, a preset from a previous blog (Great Free Plug-in for Lightroom – The Fader!) and is available for download here. Then only an adjustment to the Luminance slider to get rid of a little noise and the Detail slider to add detail back to the overall image was done. (This can also be done after loading image into Photoshop by using Russell Brown’s script – see my blog called Edit Layers with ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) Script.) I also created this preset for people that use Camera Raw from Photoshop and it may be downloaded here (I just realized it has the wrong extension on the file in the Zip folder – change it to .xmp to get it to work). Just download and load into ACR using the pop-out panel in Presets tab.

I modified his technique to make it faster and I will give you a quick recap of how to do this here:

  1. Open image and duplicate the background layer.
  2. Turn off top layer (click on layer eyeball in Layers Palette to remove) and highlight the original Background layer.
  3. Create a black and white image using any method you feel gives a really contrasty high key (washed out or over-highlighted) look. He used Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 which is a great program but very expensive. I think the Black and White Adjustment Layer does a fine job and if you own Lightroom, there are many really nice Black and White presets for that program that can be downloaded for free.
  4. Make a composite of these two layers by highlighting the Adjustment Layer and going to CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E (keeps image intact so you can adjust later if need be by deleting this layer).
  5. Turn on the top layer (click where eyeball should be and it turn ons) and change blend mode to Soft Light.
  6. This may be all it needs for corrections. If not, create another composite image as in Step 4, duplicate it and set the blend mode to Screen. Add Layer Mask and paint in area to brighten up image.
  • Now this next image really changed up the feeling – it surprised me how good it looks in a monochrome. Nik Silver Efex Pro2 was used but any black and white conversion method that gives a really contrasty appearance can be used. Then a Hue/Sat Adjustment level was added and Colorize was checked. I found a really spooky inky blue color (Hue set to 242) and dropped the Saturation to 25 and this is what you get!

  • Below a totally different look was created in Lightroom and used a preset called whoiswolf_cross_retro – there are several nice free presets in this group that can be downloaded here. Only this preset and then the Luminance and Color sliders in the Noise Reduction panel were used.

  • For this next iteration, Gavin Hoey’s Blast From the Past actions set called Lomo effect Style 1 was applied to create this soft look. This is a very inexpensive set of actions that are great for creating some new effects.

  • In this image below, first the Imaging Factory’s Graduated Fog Filter was applied using a dark blue color for the foggy feel (could just use the Fogs and Mists brush set by BB Brushes to create you own effect – see my Foggy Weather! blog for more on this) ; then a Curves Adjustment Layer to get a vivid blue on top and bright green color on the ground; next a Gradient Map adjustment layer with a tan color (c4b190) to a light blue color (c2d0d8) for the gradient (try different gradients – get some really interesting results doing this) and set layer Blend Mode to Color Dodge at 82%;  a Levels Adjustment Layer to wash out the results to get more of a foggy look; added a New Layer and painted on Wycked – birds-sm brush from the Tranquility brush set (this is a fabulous set to own); and finished off with a PhotoFrame from OnOne Software (simply the best!). This image is presented to show what a very different look you can get with just a little experimentation.


  • The next picture was created using an action I created in my blog “Create Postage Stamps with Your Images” blog under Method Two called Vintage Effect from Cloudy Text Effect (here is the download link). I am presenting it here, even though it has a similar feel to other effects like the Lomo action above, because the action is free and it gives a very nice look on many types of landscape images.

    • My last image is for my son, Metal Chris at DC Heavy Metal (a great music blog with some fabulous musician photography for DC folks), who likes it when I do something different with my photos. The Mirror Filter (Kaleidoscope vertical) was applied from the Plugin Galaxy 2.0 (see my blog Instant Mirror and Quick Mirror for Photoshop for more on this great plug-in), along with the Imaging Factory’s Graduated Fog filter and a Gradient Map adjustment layer. Gives a whole new perspective to the picture.

That should about wrap up the blog for this time. I think I could just keep doing effects – this image lends itself well to that. As I have said before, if you can get a good picture in your camera, you have lots of post-processing options – the image makes the processing easy.

Hope this inspired a few people to try different effects with the same image – it is a lot of fun to see how different the image ends up!…..Digital Lady Syd


More Filmstrip Fun – How Can This Be?

Once again, I am doing a filmstrip blog. Gavin Hoey came out with a couple new tutorials this week and I found an older one from Dave Cross.  So here we go!

Dave Cross is one of the NAPP Photoshop guys and totally brilliant with his use of Photoshop. I have never seen this technique used before or since this tutorial. (Dave Cross recently wrote an article in Photoshop User Magazine‘s March 2011 – pg. 70 called “Bridge Output” using this technique.)  Dave introduced this concept a couple years ago on Photoshop User TV in Episode 155 and called it “Bridge CS4 Outputs – Filmstrip PDF.”

Basic steps for this filmstrip effect occur while using Photoshop’s Bridge:

1. To get images into Photoshop as a small filmstrip, go to the Bridge and select several photos. (As far as I know there is no limit to the number of images you can use – Dave used 12 in his example.) To get the images in the correct order, I would suggest creating a folder and copy and rename each image with a number designation at the start.
2. At the top right of the Bridge, change the workspace to Output – choose it by opening up the drop-down menu and selecting it.
3. On the upper left column, highlight the PDF icon.
4. For this image, create a filmstrip look in the Document section by setting width to 14 inches and Height to 2 inches, Quality to High, and Background to White. You can change the Layout’s columns or rows to get the look you want. There are some Page Presets in a drop-down in the Document section that may work nicely.
5. Press Refresh Preview to preview results of your settings. Make any adjustments and preview again until the effect looks right.
6. At bottom of Output panel, click the Save button – will save to a PDF file.
7. Can now go into Photoshop and open the PDF file or place it into another image, which is what was done above.
8. The filmstrip images may need to be adjusted a little to get the correct spacing or canvas added to make the whole image larger.
9. The Magic Wand Tool was used to select and delete the white background to make it appear transparent.

To create the Photoshop effects above, the technique from Gavin Hoey referenced on my last blog was used. Instead of making the reflected images “true” reflections, a layer was filled with yellow and a layer mask was applied so the filmstrip was not affected, only the reflected images and background. Then a Gradient Adjustment Layer was added using a pink and yellow pastel colored gradient. Finally Topaz Detail‘s Abstraction preset was applied to all but the original filmstrip. The bottom edge of the reflected images was erased slightly. An OnOne PhotoFrame was added to give the interesting framing.

The left image is pretty much a cookie-cutter version of the one Gavin Hoey presented recently. Once the video tutorial “Grunge Filmstrip Template in CS5” is followed, the object can be saved as a template to reuse with a different picture. See smaller image above. A free texture called Color Grunge by Princess of Shadows-Texture 3, (unfortunately she is no longer supporting her wonderful textures at DeviantArt but check out BittBox’s Grunge Frost textures that give a similar look), was used for the background grunge look instead of the Photoshop Fiber Filter from the tutorial. The original image (here on Flickr) was run through Nik’s Silver Efex Pro using control points to highlight the tips of the leaves.  Basic settings for Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask filter were applied, along with a mirror effect (Mirror Vertical Right) and colorize effect from  The Plugin Galaxy. The metallic pattern on the filmstrip was a really nice technique. An OnOne PhotoFrame was used to finish up.

The final image followed a second tutorial by Gavin called “How to Make a 3D Film Strip in Photoshop.” I wanted to create more of a montage feel this time. An Hawaiian panorama of Kapalua in Maui was used instead of trying to place individual images in each slot. (By the way, Gavin discusses how to use Content-Aware to fill in missing areas around a panoramas in the “Photoshop CS5 Top New Features” video from last week – this panorama used 7 images and Gavin’s tip worked great!)  This 3D tutorial starts with creating the filmstrip from scratch. I scanned one in for last week’s blog (download here) if you don’t want to go through these steps or have the new CS5 film shapes. A couple of filled palm tree objects created for a project years ago was added.  The free font is one of my favorites called Fantaisie Artistique.  The beautiful free texture was created by Caleb Kimbrough, the texture guru,  in a great tutorial called “How to Create Subtle Grunge Textures” – this one is called Subtle Grunge-Example 3. (I hope to blog about textures in the near future.)



Once again, these were fun and fairly simple projects to attempt. I like to try different effects from the actual information in the tutorials when I can. I usually get surprised by what happens. It makes Photoshop a very entertaining toy! Now go experiment!