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Digital Lady Syd Reviews Topaz Clarity

Topaz Clarity is Here! I was surprised that Topaz (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) was coming out with a new plug-in and am finding that I actually love it! It is very different from any of their other plug-ins. So what are we talking about here? In a nutshell, this program provides two major features for your images: the use of Dynamic sliders to add contrast by using variations already in the image, and the use of  their IntelliColor Technology (keeps unwanted color shifts under control) by adjusting the Hue/Saturation/Luminosity of the image. I believe that Clarity does exactly what you expect a good plug-in to do – it takes a canned program’s limited capability and creates many more options, which is especially useful for that difficult image or for us “creative types.” This plug-in lets you create a very natural, sometimes quite stunning, look without any halos or artifacting (and that alone is a major accomplishment!). I am confident that I will use this plug-in on most of my images now that I have learned how to use it. The above is a farm located outside Minsk in Belarus. I have included the original RAW file images throughout the blog as I believe this is the best way to see what the plug-in can really do. See Image 1 info below for more on how it was post-processed, the Clarity settings used, and the before and after images.
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WHAT I LIKE!

1. The fact that the four Dynamics sliders are very similar to my very favorite Dynamics slider in TopazFXlab and Topaz Simplify. I believe it uses slightly different technology, but Nicole at Topaz Labs describes these four sliders as the original Dynamics slider “on steroids.” They do a great job of bringing out detail (using contrast instead of detail size) without looking unnatural. It has a really subtle sharpening feel to it. This alone is why this program is worth getting!

2. The Hue/Saturation/Luminosity sliders can be targeted to specific areas of your image easily. I like the Overall sliders at the bottom of each section that can give some very surprising results – sometimes just the thing to pop your image! And once again we get Orange (for skin tones) and Purple sliders which I really love. And if you have used Detail or photoFXlab, you know how good the IntelliColor technology is.

3. The addition of Color Range Brush and Feather Brush. I am still working on using these effectively, but so far they are proving to be quite useful. I like that certain areas of my image can be targeted by color(s) – saves a lot of time trying to get your selection in the Masks sections just right. The Color Range works very much like the one in Photoshop, which I use all the time. The Feather Brush is really nice since it now has the capability of softening or sharpening a selection’s edge as needed – once again similar to Photoshop’s Properties Panel for their layer masks. These are both great additions for the Masks panes. (And don’t forget this little Color-Aware Brush that is hidden with the Content-Aware Brush – it is becoming my favorite mask brush!) There is also a Gradient Tool Feature in the brush area that can be handy when working on your masks too.

4. I like that I can create more than one preset collection. I am finding it handy to have one that only addresses Hue/Sat/Lum Section changes and one for the Clarity Section changes. And you get previews for all of your own preset too!

5. The Dynamics/Tone Level section and the HSL Filter sections can be left open at the same time so that you can go back and forth between them to make adjustments very quickly. Small thing but really saves time. Unfortunately this is not true with the two Mask sections.

6. Overall Opacity sliders at the top of each section is proving to be very handy to use – works like the Layer Opacity slider in Photoshop or the Overall Transparency sliders in their other plug-ins. (This is different from the Overall sliders in 2.)

7. Maybe the best thing I like is that Topaz pushed the bar a little and tried something new. There is no one out there that I have found recently who is creating new plug-ins or effects to make your Photoshop experience a little better. Kudos to the staff for this!

WHAT I DON’T LIKE! (Not much)

1. It needs an Apply button so several different presets can be added since the Dynamics and Tone Level effects are so different from the HSL sliders effects. It would so nice to be able to stay in the program and selectively add the different section changes to the image instead of exiting the program and re-entering the plug-in for each change. My understanding is that they are trying to implement this shortly.

2. It can be a bit time-consuming to work on a mask that is at 1:1 – you have to keep hopping back into the Navigator pane to move the preview box to the next area to paint in. They need a toggle shortcut key or something else to make this easier. I left a request with the Topaz folks so hopefully this will be an option soon. On the good side, the Mask pane is much larger and easier to see than in their other plug-ins.

3. Would love to be able to copy the Clarity mask to the H/S/L mask and vice versa. Right now you have to create it again if you want the same areas selected. Possibly a shortcut key would be all that is needed here too.

4. This is a small nag, but when you zoom in on an image to mask out some eyes or something really small, the brush size is really hard to get to a reasonably small size. Some brush preset choices would be nice also, as they have in Black & White Effects.
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This image is actually of some beautiful bright red dahlias (see original below) that I planted in my front yard recently. Since I do not have an Apply button at this point, Topaz Clarity was actually opened three times, on three separate layers, by exiting, duplicating the layer, and going back into the program. For info on the processing and Clarity settings, see Image 2 notes at end of blog. No detail or color enhancers were required – it was all done with the sliders in Clarity. What was so nice is that it was relatively easy to give these flowers a totally different look without a lot of hassle. When playing around with HSL sliders in other programs, it is almost impossible to get two radically different colors on something that was one color to begin with – and make it look believable. Below is the original RAW file as it was brought into Photoshop (and yes, I did add a flower in the top right to balance out the image).…..
Below, this rather ordinary tourist shot taken of Umauma Falls on the Big Island is a good example of the results after processing with just Clarity, showing much improved color and contrast. This image would have been a great HDR candidate due to the large tonal range, except that there was no place to set up a tripod. Since I had the opportunity to get just a few quick snaps of this gorgeous waterfall, Clarity really gave me exactly the feel I wanted to accomplish in the first place. Considering this was a marginal hand-held, very shadowy shot, it turned out much more natural than an HDR tone-mapped image would have created!
See before and after close ups below. See Image 3 note at end of blog for more post-processing info. …..
The photo above is just a little bit of a change up here. This image, taken from Edinburgh Castle in Scotland, used Topaz Clarity and Adjust to get this slightly artistic effect. Clarity was again applied three times and Adjust once. I really love to combine several different Topaz plug-ins, especially in photoFXlab (check out its InstaTone tab to get some really creative results), to try out different looks. See notes for Image 4 below for details on how this image effect was created.
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It is hard to imagine that these beautiful Zinnias were adjusted using only Topaz Detail and Clarity, but it is true. I was really pleased at how I could get an almost illustrative look to the flowers by using Clarity. For more info on how this image was processed and my Clarity settings, see Image 5 notes below.

BOTTOM LINE:
Topaz Clarity is a great addition to the Topaz arsenal of plug-ins. I am not going to quit using Topaz Detail 3, my most used plug-in, just because of its release, but I am finding they work quite nicely together. This plug-in is definitely a great alternative to that over-the-top HDR effect that comes with too much sharpening, or even the over-application of Detail or Adjust. I think it would improve almost any kind of image you apply it on. It does take a few minutes to figure out exactly what each of the sliders will do. But once a combination is found, it is easy to set up a preset and use this as a starting point for your particular type of processing. And once again, you get it at a reasonable price and the Topaz guarantee that upgrades will always be free! Just another quality product from a quality company!

I will be doing more experimenting with this plug-in in the coming weeks and will share my findings, so stay tuned. Download a trial and give this new plug-in a try. You might be surprised at your results – I was!…..Digital Lady Syd

NOTES FOR POST-PROCESSING OF IMAGES
Image 1: No changes in Lightroom except cropping and checking Enabling Profile Corrections and Removing Chromatic Aberration. Once in Photoshop a preset I had created was applied in Topaz Clarity. (Here are the settings for my Very Vivid Sharp preset – Clarity Section-Dynamics: Micro Contrast 0.84, Low Contrast 0.56, Medium Contrast -0.31, and High Contrast -0.09, and Tone Control were all left at 0. In the Hue/Sat/Lum Section: No changes to Hue; Sat – Red 0.25, Orange 0.13, Blue 0.06, and Overall 0.17; and Lum – Red -0.81, Orange -0.09, Green -0.08, Blue 0.23, Magenta 0.33, and Overall -0.12. Then the Blue Lum was adjusted to -1.00 and Sat t0 0.22 to bring out the clouds a little more. See middle image below. Since I felt this whole look was a little too much, the layer was duplicated and this layer was taken into Clarity again. This time a preset I created with a more desaturated look was applied and the result is shown in the left image. (Here are these settings: Clarity Section-Dynamics: Micro Contrast 0.50, Low Contrast -0.42, Medium Contrast 0.03, and High Contrast -0.27; and Tone Level: Black Level 0.25, Midtones -0.37, and White Level -0.52. Hue/Sat/Lum Section: No changes to Hue; Sat – Overall -0.45; and Lum – Red -0.10, Orange 0.10, Yellow 0.10, Green 0.10, Aqua 0.10, Blue -0.10, and Purple -0.10) This gives a bit of spooky look to the image but the opacity of this layer was set to 28% to give the too bright effect a little softening. What an improvement to the clouds! Click on image for a larger view in Flickr.

Image 2: I did nothing in Lightroom except apply the Lens Correction Profile and check Remove Chromatic Aberration before taking the image into Photoshop. Cleaned up some spots on the flowers with the Spot Healing Brush and then into Topaz Clarity. First the Macro preset Flower 1 which changes only the Clarity Sections (Dynamics and Tone Level sliders) was applied. Then the Color Aware Brush (use eyedropper to sample the color first) was used in the Mask Section where the middle red flower was painted to keep the effect from applying on it. Since I wanted the opposite effect, the Invert icon was clicked so now just the middle flower contained the Clarity settings. Said OK to apply this to image and duplicated this layer. Entering Clarity again, the Reset button was clicked to start over. This time I wanted the three small flowers to be softer and a different color. This time only the Hue/Sat/Lum Section was used. To get the yellow flowers, the Hue Overall slider was set to o.41 to get all yellow flowers. In Lum settings, the Orange was set to 0.72 to lighten the center to give a greenish look, and the Overall Lum slider was set to 0.08 just to lighten up the flower color a little. Again these settings were applied and in Photoshop a layer black mask was added to this layer and just a touch of the pink color was brought into the petals. To get the painterly look, Painted Textures Creamsicle texture was layered on top using Soft Light at 100% opacity. The top painterly looking border was created using 2 Lil’ Owls Studio Bonus Texture 4 (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link), turned 180 degrees, and turned into an overlay. (See Related Blogs below for more info on this.) Any border you have would work, but what is interesting is that the border was a then opened up in Clarity and the whole color scheme and contrast was changed. (These are the settings used: Dynamics: Micro Contrast -1.00, Low Contrast -1.00, Medium Contrast 0.26, and High Contrast 0.69; and Tone Level: Black Level -0.72, Midtones 0.16, and White Level -0.03. HSL Filter: Hue settings: Orange -0.44, Yellow 0.50, Green 0.33, and Overall -0.42; Sat settings: Orange -0.20, Yellow -0.11, Green -0.66, and Overall -0.09; and Lum settings: Orange 0.11, Yellow 0.08, Green -0.53, and Overall 0.09. Created Textures preset.) Note: When you change the Hue of an item, and then go to the Saturation or Luminance sliders, be sure you adjust the same sliders and not the new color sliders- there will be little or no change. In other words, if you change the Red Hue to a Yellow color, when you enter the Saturation sliders, you will need to still adjust the Red Saturation to adjust the actual yellow color saturation. Took me a minute to get the hang of this.

Image 3: Lightroom was only used to crop the image, add a Lens Correction profile, and check Remove Chromatic Aberration. In Photoshop the Background layer was duplicated and then Topaz Clarity was opened where the Landscape-Color & Contrast III preset was applied. The Micro Contrast slider was changed to -0.22, and in the Clarity Masks section the waterfalls were lightly painted out – they were  sharper than I wanted for the water effect.

Image 4: First just HSL adjustments to the whole image; second time the Landscape Midday I preset was selected with the effect removed from the sky using the Clarity Masks section – and adjusting some of the HSL sliders; then my favorite Adjust preset – French Countryside – was applied as is; and finally Clarity’s Cityscape I preset was added. 2 Lil’ Owls (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link) Color Bokeh Grunge Set – overlay 2 was added to give a slight vintage vignette effect using Vivid Light blend mode at 74% layer opacity.Image 5: Just the same Lightroom changes – Lens Correction and cropping. If you would like the illustrative look, here are settings: in Clarity Section – Dynamics: Micro Contrast 1.00, Low Contrast 0.28, Medium Contrast -0.50, and High Contrast 0.06; Tone Level: Black Level 0.61, Midtones 0.14, and White Level 0.72; and in Hue/Sat/Lum Section – Hue: Only Red 0.16, Yellow -0.05, and Green -0.17 were adjusted; Sat: only Green -0.22 and Overall -0.45 were adjusted; and Lum: Only Orange 0.36, Yellow 0.89, Green -0.91, Aqua 0.30, and Blue -0.09 were adjusted. Kim Klassen Cafe‘s January Set 2801 texture was applied and set to Multiply at 100% opacity. Shadowhouse Creations Text  Brush 1 was put on its own layer at 61% layer opacity. (These brushes are free and really cool, as is his site, too.) A couple other steps were done to get the nice texturized feel, but overall, the flowers benefited greatly by using Clarity.

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Clarity with Texture!
Topaz Simplify Artistic Workflow
How to Make Frames or Borders
InstaTone in photoFXlabs – Great Fun and Great Results!


Digital Lady Syd Reviews Topaz Black & White Effects 2.1

I first reviewed this plug-in with its initial release back in my Topaz B&W Effects Plug-In – A Real Winner! blog where I cover lots of things I still like about this plug-in. Behind Topaz Detail 3 and DeNoise 3, plug-ins I consider essential for any image, Topaz (for website link see my Tidbits Blog sidebar) Black & White Effects is my next most used Topaz plug-in – even more than Adjust. And black and white treatments are not the first thing I think about when using this plug-in – I think creative expression (as you can see by this and my related blog posts). It is a very easy way to adjust the tones and color effects without having to do more manipulation later in Photoshop, which is usually required with other black and white plug-ins. When I am stuck on what to do with an image and nothing seems to look right, I can almost always find the answer in Black & White Effects – it never ceases to amaze me what it can do with an image! The actual black and white effect creates very good results also. I loved the original version so to me the newer release is just a better and updated version of the original. It now supports very clear large thumbnail views of the large number of presets (over 200) that come with the program. It has a cleaner interface that is more in line with Lightroom (which I think has the best interface of any program) and its competitors.

The image above shows an example of how I like to use this plug-in. The Traditional Collection’s Warm Tool II preset was used as a starting point. In the Basic Exposure section only the Contrast and Brightness was changed slightly. The Adaptive Exposure slider was increased to 0.16 and the Regions was changed to 15.10 – these two sliders are usually where all the Topaz magic occurs when adjusting image exposure. In Local Adjustments, several different brushes can be applied to the image at different overall strengths. A Detail brush was used to paint over the cups, a Smooth brush was applied to the reddish hanging jacket and white sack, a Burn brush was added over the white sack to tone it down a bit, and a Dodge brush was used on the top cup to make it show up a little more. Only the Color brush was not used above, which can really give an image a very special effect. The final step in the program was to set the Overall Transparency slider to 0.35. For more info on the image processing, see Image 1 at end of blog.

WHAT I LIKE!

1. Price! Price! Price! This program has all the features of the other programs and is a great value if you are not specializing in black and white photography. All the bells and whistles are there. And the guarantee that you are will receive free upgrades – this is a no-brainer in my opinion. I got the upgrade for free and this guarantee is true with all their plug-ins. I do not know of any other software developers that offer this type of program. In fact recently, Topaz released a version 2.1 to add more depth to the program.

2. The Quad Tone section is, in my humble opinion, the major reason this program is better than the others. No one offers these Quad Tone sliders for changing the color combinations (except in Photoshop itself using an 8-bit flattened Grayscale, then to Indexed mode) – this is just plain unique! It also is one of the major reasons the unusual soft effects can be created quickly.

3. There is now a full screen window that shows all the presets on large thumbnails of your image. It makes it really easy to compare the various effects from the different presets. And it will also do this on your own My Collection presets and your Favorites. Very handy! If you do not want to do this, a larger thumbnail will appear with the effect applied to your image as you slide over the list of presets.

4. One little feature it now has, and that I love, is the ability to leave each panel open so you can go back and forth without opening up each section every time you want to adjust a slider. Lightroom has always had this capability and it can be very handy to have various panels open. This can be turned on and off in Preferences if you do not like it, but I think it is great feature.

5. The Overall Transparency slider (which maxes out at only 50% of the color in the image) – use this with the Localized Adjustments Color Brush and you can get some wonderful soft color effects on your images. This combination cannot be done near as easily in other programs.

Version 2.1 Update

6. My biggest complaint was answered – Topaz put in an Apply button so you can stack your effects. This allows you to create special Quad Tone presets and Diffusion setting presets that can be applied to an image after you have created your basic black and white image. What a great feature to have – now you do not have to go out of the plug-in and re-enter – it can all be done at once!

7. Another great addition –  I particularly love the Silver and Paper Tone presets shown as drops of color at the top of the right panel in their new Quick Tools section. These can create some beautiful subtle changes to your image. And once again you can set up special preset effects just for this section to use after the original effect has been created. The Color Filter presets are very nice to have handy also.

8. They added many more variations in a drop-down list for black and white borders that makes this section much more functional. It still has a size slider to adjust how large to make it on the image. I will probably use it much more now.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE!

Topaz has been really great about adding new features to this plug-in, so it does not have too many things I do not like, but there are a few.

1. I have a problem with the Adjustment Brushes totally disappearing. This happens when using a brush tool(s) on your image, and you switch to another section to and change a slider in a any of the other section, like Diffusion Effect for example, leaving your brush panel open. When your return to the Localized Adjustments section the brushes will not appear even. This was a problem in some of the Beta versions and that was fixed but reappeared again in this latest version. Why let you keep the panels open if they do not work when you return to them? I have put in a comment on this in the forum so hopefully this will get fixed soon. This should be an easy fix for Topaz. The work-around is to totally close up the brush panel by clicking the little down arrow next to the number 3 Local Adjustments section (do not worry, your original brush strokes will remain), and re-open it up again. Your brushes will now start working again.

2. Wish they would put an Tone Effect slider for the Quad Tones section so just that area could be adjusted. This is available in Adjust5 and Simpify4. It would also be nice to have a Strength Slider active for the Color Brush, as it is for all the other brushes.

3. Watch out after applying an effect that used a Localized Brush – the brushstrokes are not reset after an Apply. This can really mess your next effect you are adding. Just be sure to reset the section if you do not want the same brushstrokes applied again. (This also happens in Topaz Adjust 5 and Simplify 4, but does not happen in Topaz Detail 3 with the Effect Mask.)

4. Still having trouble getting the correct basic settings back when using the image as a Smart Object – I cannot get them to stick. The Last Used preset usually appears from when the program was last opened. I feel this is the weakest point with all the recent Topaz plug-ins. If there are settings I really need to remember, I create a preset or create in Notepad a list of my setting to copy into a Note in Photoshop (sits with the Eyedropper Tool).

5. Little personal complaints here: I miss the old preset image that was on the top left. Sometimes the large thumbnails are just too much and stick a bit more than I like and it would be nice to have that choice back. That is just my personal opinion. Please make a larger Apply button at bottom like in the other programs. Another little request of mine. Please move the size icons back to the right – I do not like going up to the top of the middle of the image to increase to 1:1.

I guess I am sounding a little critical in this blog, but this is such a good plug-in that I would really like it to be perfect. I know Adjust is Topaz’s  best known plug-in, but this B&W Effects has the ability of being one of the best ever created with just a few tweaks. There are some other really nice features too. There is now a Curves Tool section and a nice selection of curves to choose from in a drop-down list which other programs do not offer – this is very handy if you are not liking the way the image looks and need to add some quick contrast. It still has the Diffusion section where the Softness, Diffusion and Diffusion transition can be adjusted gives a slight softness to the whole image – add the detail back in a specific area by using opening the Localized Adjustments and selecting the Detail Brush. This is a wonderful addition to your images and also appears to be unique to B&W Effects. Usually this is found in a color effect plug-in. Another add-on that has been included is a Zone Mode (click the Z at the top right which changes the navigation window into a histogram). By clicking on a number underneath, you can see by different colors which areas are part of that zone on your image. Since I am not into black and white and the Ansel Adams effect to that extent, it is probably not a feature I will use a lot, but many people will find this extremely useful.

If you have other Topaz plug-ins, you will find they all have very similar interfaces and the learning curve is pretty quick for this plug-in. As you can see from my selection of images and previous blogs, I really like the artistic flair this plug-in can add to an image for a needed pop. It is especially strong with the vintage feel. Since I own the other plug-ins and I have been comparing results, I cannot find any areas that Topaz has missed for those interested in doing straight black and white conversions.
……These begonias were just ending up too bright for my taste. To tone it down subtly, as a last step this image was opened up in Topaz Black & White Effects II using a preset I created in the first version that I call SJ Vintage Feel (all my old presets were moved upon updating). This preset contains these settings for Basic Exposure: Contrast 0.06, Brightness 0.06, Boost Blacks 0.26, and Boost Whites 0; and Finishing Touches: Silver and Paper Tone – Tonal Strength was set to 0.64, Balance 0, Silver Hue 12.29, Silver Tone Strength 0.85, Paper Hue 43.90, and Paper Tone Strength 0.38. The Overall Transparency slider was set to 0.55. It gave the soft feel that I needed with just a few clicks. This is something that I cannot do as easily if at all in the other black and white plug-ins. See Image 2 below for more details.
…..Another image from the Native American Festival. These beautiful leather purses being sold by a vendor looked a little overcome by color in the original RAW image. But by using the Black & White Effects plug-in, it becomes much more interesting to view. For the post processing in this image, all I did was click the reset button down at the bottom of the right-hand panels. Then I just went into each section and adjusted each slider until I liked what I saw. One section to look very closely at is the Adaptive Exposure and Regions sliders in the Adaptive Exposure section – these two sliders will give some very good results (this is true with any Topaz filter that has these sliders – always check them out). See Image 3 below for more info.
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These beautiful pink dahlias were so easy to process. It was hard to decide which version to present but this was basically created by combining a very rich texture with Black & White Effects. I used a preset I had created called Hawaiian Morning uses my favorite Quad Tone section to get the results that are always spectacular. See Image 4 below for preset settings if you would like to them. The Black & White Layer was set to a Hard Light blend mode at 75% opacity so the original image is still preset.
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To create my rather dark sepia toned image, Black & White Effects was applied to the image layer and also to one of the texture layers. The Platinum preset was applied with a Diffusion effect added, and then used a Detail Brush to bring back the fairies face. Another preset was applied to add a Quad Tone effect to the image for the nice sepia feel. See Image 5 information for more details, including my preset settings. A colorful texture was added in Photoshop on top of the fairy layer, and another of my old presets was applied to it to give it a similar color tone.
…..I took some artistic liberty on this image of the Towers at Westminster Abbey in London. I wanted to make the picture look different from what everyone else has. My first step once in Photoshop was to go to Topaz B&W Effects 2 and just added Traditional Collection High Pass I with the Creative Effects Diffusion – Softness slider at .16 and Diffusion slider at .14. Then three textures were added to get the final effect. See Image 6 info for more.

Bottom line – if you want a black and white plug-in, this is a fabulous way to go without spending so much and you get all the added color options. This program is one of the most powerful in the Topaz line-up in what it provides and the new upgrade just gives it a fresher look. It is still a solid contender as a black and white plug-in. It is definitely worth a second look if you want to add some creative aspects to your images. Check out my related blogs below – there are many different Quad Tones settings you may like. Definitely try out the trial and see what you think!

Sorry for the long post, but this is really that good a plug-in so I felt it needed to be reviewed thoroughly……Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs – check them out to see how I used this plug-in in different ways:
Beautiful Feathers!
Digital Lady Syd’s Rule No. 7: Check Out Your Local History
Clowning Around with Topaz!
Where Am I?
Hibiscus Flowers – I Love to Photograph Them!
Black and White Effects on Outside Art
Cleaning Up a Messed Up Photo
Topaz Black and White Effects Quad Tones Are Great!
The Art Corner: Painting and Sculpture by Tassaert
Sunny Preset for Topaz Black and White Effects
Quad Tones in Topaz Black and White Effects Plug-in
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IMAGE INFORMATION
Image 1: Topaz Detail 3 using the Overall Medium Detail II preset was applied – a layer mask filled with black was added and the mugs were painted back. Next Topaz Black & White Effects 2 was applied using setting discussed above. Kim Klassen’s Return texture (sign up for Kim’s newsletter and get several of her beautiful textures including the Return texture used in this image) was added with a 78% layer opacity – a white layer mask was added and the center of the image softly painted back into view. Next French Kiss Artiste Breeze texture was set to Overlay and 53% opacity. 2 Lil’ Owls Bonus Texture 4 (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link) was used as a border in white that was placed around the image. A Curves Adjustment Layer was the last step to add some contrast back into the image.
Image 2: This image actually used Topaz Detail 3 twice and localizing the effect on the flowers. Also some leaves had to be added to cover some rather ugly tissue paper that was sticking up. Three textures were stacked: 2 Lil’ Owls Mosaic Set Destine texture was set to Soft Light at 100% opacity, Kim Klassen’s Cloth & Paper Texture Florence set to Soft Light blend mode at 47% layer opacity, and French Kiss Artiste Avril texture set to Overlay blend mode at 29% opacity. A Curves Adjustment Layer was applied and the Auto button clicked to get the good colors. Then the Black & White Effects plug-in was applied as stated above.
Image 3: This image was very simply processed. Just used Topaz B&W Effects 2 to begin with using settings under image, then added a slight S Curves Adjustment Layer and painted out the two purses in the middle to add focus. Next a Levels Adjustment Layer was added with the middle tab set to 0.65 and the Output Levels set to 41 to soften the image just a little.
Image 4: I bought these dahlias to plant in my yard, but before I did, I took their picture using a kid’s bent white poster board for a background. It was then easy to add a painterly texture to the image without any distractions in the background. Mellisa Gallo’s Painted Textures 2 for 5 Friday Spring Sky texture was added. The Dahlia layer was duplicated, moved on top, and set to Soft Light blend Mode at 100% opacity – this removes all the white areas so the texture shows through. A Levels Adjustment Layer was clipped (ALT+Click between layers) and the Output Levels were set to 0 and 229 to lighten the image a little. Next I used created darken and lighten layers to dodge and burn on the flowers (see my The Best Dodging and Burning Technique! blog). A composite layer was created on top (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) was placed on top where Black & White Effects was applied. (Here are the settings I used: Adaptive Exposure:  Adaptive Exposure  0.41, Regions  26, Protect Highlights 0, Protect Shadows  0, Detail 1.11, Detail Boost  1.09, and Process Details Independently; Quad Tone: Color 1 Region (R1/G1/B12) at 15.08, Color 2 Region (R63/G78/B85) at 143.9, Color 3 Region (R216/G211/B129) at 227.5, and Color 4 Region (R255/G254/B237) at 255.0;  Vignette:  Vignette Strength  -.039, Vignette Size  0.83, Vignette Transition  0.58, and Vignette Curvature  0.70.; and Transparency:  Overall Transparency 1.00.). Once back in Photoshop, in the Layer Style Advanced Blending section, the B Channel was unchecked which gives a bluish tint to the whole image. The layer was set to Hard Light blend mode at 75% opacity.
Image 5: Once out of Lightroom, Black & White Effects 2 was applied using the Platinum preset and changing Adaptive Exposure slider to 0.42. Next the Diffusion section was opened and the Diffusion slider was set to 0.79. In the Located Adjustments, the Details Brush at 0.50 opacity was used to paint detail back into the fairy’s face and hair. These settings were applied. Next a Quad Tone preset was applied and set to an Overall Transparency of 1.00. (Here are my SJ_Quad_DkB_Gr_Yel_Wh preset settings: Color 1 Region (R1/G1/B12) at 15.08 ; Color 2 Region (R63/G78/B85) at 143.9; Color 3 Region (R216/G211/B129) at 227.5; and Color 4 Region (R255/G254/B237) at 255.0.) Back in Photoshop Kim Klassen’s Framed texture was added on top and set to Soft Light at 100% to get the slight edge around image. Next Kim Klassen’s Abstract Texture was added and taken into Black & White Effects 2 where my SJ Partial Color Look preset (one of my favorites) was applied. (Here are the settings for this preset if you would like them: Basic Exposure:  Contrast  0.10, Brightness  -0.02, Boost Blacks  -0.10, and Boost Whites  0.50; Adaptive Exposure:  Adaptive Exposure  0.64, Regions  50, Protect Highlights  0.02, Protect Shadows  0.02, Detail  2.28, Detail Boost  1.00, and check Process Details Independently; Quad Tone:  Color 1 Region  (R16/G15/B11) 7.46, Color 2 Region  (R79/G78/B68)  83.33, Color 3 Region  (R159/G156/B143)  164.2, and Color 4 Region  (R255/G254/B242)  255.0; Film Grain:  Grain Kodak TMaxPro 100, Grain Contrast  1.25, and Grain Size  32.50; Vignette:  Vignette Strength  -.058, Vignette Size  0.92, Vignette Transition  0.28, and Vignette Curvature 0.11; and Transparency:  Overall Transparency  0.67). This layer was set to Soft Light blend mode at 43% opacity.) Now just a Levels Adjustment Layer and a couple text layer using free Radium J and Batik Regular fonts.
Image 6: The three textures used in the image were: Melissa Gallo’s Painted Textures Winter Storm set to Linear Burn blend mode at 42%, Taupe Canvas set to Linear Dodge at 48% opacity, and Confetti set to Color Burn at 60%. These textures were all obtained from her specials such as Black Friday or 2 for Friday specials.


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


Digital Lady Syd Reviews Topaz Detail 3


The above was my first attempt at trying out Topaz Detail 3 and I am not disappointed. (For Topaz website link see my Tidbits Blog sidebar.) To sharpen an image I usually use the High Pass filter, Unsharp Filter or convert to LAB and do localized sharpening on the L channel. Detail 3 makes sharpening so much easier and gives several ways to adjust your sharpening to get the detail effect you want. This upgrade was definitely needed – and what I like most is that you can now localize the detail. All I can say is Love It! Love It! Love It!

Since I am such a big fan of Topaz anyway, I decided to use several of their plug-ins on this image from the 39th Annual Daytona Turkey Run Car Show, the largest in the US. If you look close at this guys face, you can see a slight smile – Detail really brought that out. I first started processing this image in Lightroom (see the RAW image below) with just the Basic sliders. In Photoshop I went immediately into Topaz photoFXlab, their new plug-in interface that I love. (See my Digital Lady Syd’s Review of Topaz photoFXlab v1.1 blog.) Next the Black and White Effects plug-in (this plug-in does things like no other filter I have seen) and from the Opalotype Collection the Hand-Tinted Chiffon preset was applied. The only change was to the Vignette which I centered on the car and adjusted the vignette sliders. Back in photoFXlab, Adjustment tab settings using the Dynamics slider (my favorite), Sharpness, Highlights and Shadows were applied. On a +From Stack layer (composite), the new Detail 3 plugin setting using just the Large Detail set to 0.53 was selected. Then in the Effect Mask tab, I lightly painted out the grill so as not to overdo the sharpening effect on it. The Overall Effect slider was set to .78 and that was it. In Photoshop the last step was to add French Kiss’s free Glorious Grunge Edging Overlay with grunge removed from center. It turned out beautifully!

What I Like about Topaz Detail 3!

1.  Totally love the localized detailing that can now be done – the Effect Mask can be used to either paint in or paint out areas of the image so just what you want sharpened is affected.

2. The effect is usually pretty subtle but makes an incredible difference when viewing the image! There is an Overall Opacity slider in the Effect Mask tab that can be reduced to lower the detail globally if it appears to be overdone.

3. The Cyan-Red, Magenta-Green, and Yellow-Blue Tone sliders where you can enhance a single color have always been a favorite, even in Detail 2. Also Color Temperature and Tint sliders are now available. These sliders all use the IntelliColor feature that keeps unwanted color shifts under control.

4. What I just learned is that the Detail plug-in can also be used as a final sharpening for printing your images.  Topaz did a You-Tube video called Output Sharpening for Print with Topaz, presented by Hal Schmidt using this process with Detail 2. I am planning on checking this out when I get a chance.

5.  Details can actually just be added to the Shadows or the Highlights of your image or both with different settings. Really handy when you have a difficult image to work on.

6. New Deblur technology from Detail 2 that brings out micro details – great for macro photos. I have not had a chance to really use it yet but it sounds like a very promising feature.

What I Do Not Like!

1.  I have a bit of a problem with the Effect Mask – I have a hard time making sure I am covering everything I need covered and at the correct amount. It would be nice if they had a colored overlay, as with Lightroom’s Adjustment Brush, that would give you a feel as to where you were going out of the edges.

2. I wish the Undo/Redo buttons would work on the Effect Mask. The only way you can erase an area you accidentally painted over is to move the brush to a different amount and hope it covers. This works okay if using Brush Strengths of either 0 or 1.00, but when in between, it gets hard to fix. Sometimes it is easier to just start over by resetting the mask. The other plug-ins, like Adjust and photoFXlab, have these buttons working. (A request on Technical Problems has been posted in their Forum on this matter.)

3. This is a small nag, but when you apply an effect, you need to make sure you press Reset button in the Effect Mask to clear the mask window or it stays on even after pressing the Apply button. When you start to make other effect changes, the mask is still there. This is also true if you have painted out an area, for a certain preset and then change your mind about that preset, press Reset All in the Adjustments tab, the mask is still in the window. Sometimes this is good if you still want the mask, but sometimes it is frustrating until you realize what happened. Most of the other plug-ins will retain the mask before you apply an effect, but clear it after applying.

4. Another small nag, but often the program gets confused and opens up on my second monitor instead of over Photoshop or photoFXlab – not sure why it happens but just some of the time.

Overall the negatives are not that big a deal although I hope they do fix No.2. The revamping of this plug-in has made it so much more useful – I am looking forward to having it in my workflow!
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These beautiful little miniature mums are once again my subject. This time a little processing in Lightroom, but not much. (See image below as it was brought into Photoshop.) DeNoise 3 was applied with just an overall Strength of .11 – now you do not need to adjust the Recover Detail slider if you are going to use Detail 3. Next Detail 3 was opened and applied 3 times! Yep – First in the Creative Detail Collection, the Overall Detail Strong II preset was applied and it really sharpened the flower petals and center. Next from the Stylized Detail Collection the Desaturated Blush II was applied and that beautiful texturized background appeared. Finally from the same collection the HDR Enhancement I was applied – in the Effect Mask the mask was inverted to black and with a brush set to 1.00, the center of the flower was painted back. Now to get just the right effect for the center, back in the Adjustments tab the Saturation Boost was set to .44. That is all that was done to this image to get this beautiful effect other than adding my B&W Border Frame Layer Style. I was totally surprised by how much detail was in the image that you could not see originally and by how beautiful a texture could be created by playing around with the presets and applying different ones.

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This image of one of the Haunted Houses at for the Halloween Horror Night at Universal Studios Orlando was created very quickly – below is what the image looked like after just basic Camera Raw corrections were done in Lightroom. It is not bad but Topaz added those subtle changes that really improve the image. First Topaz photoLabFX was opened and the layer duplicated. Since the image had quite bit of noise in it as it was taken at night and without a tripod, I felt it needed to have Topaz DeNoise 3 applied first – just a little Strength set to .11 and Detail Recovery set to .26 (did this before I realized that it could be done in Detail 3) – the noise was cleared. (I love DeNoise!) Then I went into the new Topaz Detail 3 plug-in and applied the Architectural Detail II preset.  Exit and a Stamped layer was created where Adjustment tab settings for the Temperature to -8 (for a more blue tone), Saturation to -23 (it was really bright  and the light was coming from everywhere), Dynamics to 27 (my favorite slider in all of Topaz – just works!), Highlights to -89 and Shadows to -23 were applied. French Kiss Glorious Grunge Edging free overlay (see link above) was applied and that was it. I was amazed how much the Detail 3 and the Dynamics slider together made this image pop. I have to say this picture reminds me of one of my kids favorite childhood books, the Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree!

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This is another example of the creative aspect of this plug-in – this image turned out very different than what I thought it would look like. This beautiful Monarch butterfly was not very happy with me taking her picture and it took off about two seconds after I captured this image. I got exactly two pictures! (See RAW image below.) After doing my Camera Raw work in Lightroom, the image was brought into Photoshop and Topaz Detail 3 opened. I applied this plug-in twice to get this effect on the butterfly and background. First application used the Stylized Detail Collection Abstraction I preset – then in the Color Section changed the Temperature and Saturation sliders. In the Effect Mask, at Strength 0.64 on a black inverted mask, the butterfly was painted in so the changes were made to just the background, but a little to the butterfly. This created the very soft background. Then Topaz Detail 3 was opened again and this time Creative Detail Collection Feature Enhancement I preset was used. This time it was applied just to the butterfly and not the background. Changes were made to the Tone sliders,including the Cyan-Red (0.82), Magenta-Green (0.68), and Yellow-Blue (-0.30) sliders – these are unique to this plug-in for Topaz and they can make an incredible difference in an image. These are not new to Detail 3 but are still one of my favorite parts of the plug-in. In Photoshop French Kiss Artiste Collection Charmante texture was added and the butterfly painted out, some text typed in and warped, and that wonderful grunge overlay applied again – I must be on a grunge kick?


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I decided to try a little different effect for this image from the top of the Sky Tower of the Kraken Roller Coaster (check out the link for crazy roller coaster video) at SeaWorld Orlando. This image was pretty complicated as I used 4 different Topaz plug-ins to get the final effect. First my normal workflow in Lightroom. Next Topaz photoFXlab was opened and the Adjustment tab was used to adjust almost all the sliders including Dynamics that was set to 50. On a stacked layer Black and White Effect was opened and from the Albumen Collection, Chocolate preset was applied with Film Grain turned off and the Transparency set to .49. Topaz Detail 3 was applied – there were areas on the image that had been slightly lightened and blurred due to reflections from a window in the Sky Tower.  To get rid of these reflection marks and make them blend into the rest of the image, I selected the Creative Detail Collection – Texture Enhancement II preset. This really over detailed the image as it was pretty sharp due to the wonderful Dynamics slider. In the Effect Mask, it was inverted and with a brush set to Strength .55, I painted over the light areas in the black mask. Then went into Adjustments tab and changed the Exposure to -.08 and Contrast to 0.45 to make the changes blend in. This is a terrific use for this filter and makes its value so much better than Detail 2. Topaz Detail 3 was applied again using just a change to the Cyan-Red slider – it was set to -1.00 to bring out the cyan roller coaster track. Finally Topaz Len Effects Vignette – Selective was set to draw the eye to the highest point of the coaster – very subtle. My Thin Double Edge Frame Layer Style was applied sampling frame colors from the image.

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I love Topaz products and Detail 3 is no exception. I actually purchased Detail 2 as my first Topaz product – I did not use it to the extent I could have but I did use it at times for the detail and color toning I needed. Detail 3 is definitely a big step up and it does create that extra bit of sharpening and detail that is usually needed at some point in your post-processing workflow. And don’t forget that once you buy a plug-in from Topaz, the upgrades are free! I got this version for just owning Detail 2! You should definitely check it out!…..Digital Lady Syd


Using Topaz photoFXlab to Replace Skies

Now that the latest version of photoFXlab (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link) has been released for several weeks, I have had a little time to come to grips with how to use the program and integrate it into my workflow. I have been surprised by how often I am using the Masking Brush to add new skies to my landscape images.


The above depicts a really cool private bar on the beach on one of the more remote roads in  Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas. I had the fortune of sailing there a couple years ago and am revisiting some of the images I did not process. It is so clear for starters because I converted it to a 32-bit HDR image in Photoshop CS6’s Merge to HDR and then processed the resulting TIFF file in Lightroom. (See my blog New Lightroom and Photoshop 32-bit Processing Capability for info on how to do this). So many of my images from Marsh Harbour had no clouds in them –  so I added a few in the background for effect. Now that I am getting familiar with the Edge Aware Masking Brush in photoFXlab, it is turning out to be one of my favorite selection tools.

These are the basic steps to replace a sky and it is very simple:

1.  Once inside the plug-in, duplicate the bottom layer (always do this when using photoFXlab – it can save you from a lot of problems in the long run.)

2.  Go to +From File button and select a cloud image you like – watch out for the way the sun is lighting up the clouds. If you took the original image in the middle of the day, use a cloud image from a similar time of day. Also be sure it is a jpeg or a psd file (it will flatten the layers when it comes in) – photoFXlab does not open up camera raw files. I took a NEF file I liked and saved it down as a jpg in Photoshop – pretty easy.

3.  Use the Tools tab in photoFXlab to Scale, Move or Rotate (or flip) the cloud layer to fit the area you want to fill – line up the part of the image you like, even if the edges go outside the original image size.

4.  Move this layer underneath the duplicated image layer.

5.  Now the magic starts!  Select the Masks tab and create a fairly small size brush setting the Strength to 0 (creates a black line on the mask so you see through to layer underneath), Hardness around .20 (shows a fairly large feather size – set to 1 it has no feather), Flow 1.00 (if you make this .5, you only get a gray or 50% black color and it is hard to keep the tone the same), and Edge Aware 1.00 (set to 0 it will detect no edges).  Start painting on the mask – make sure the crosshairs or inner circle of the brush do not enter into any part of the image you want to keep. Let the feather area of the brush slip over other areas so edges between image layers will be sharp. Zoom in if you need to get the details. Paint around the horizon edges first, and then fill in the background with a larger brush size and Edge Aware set to 0. Voila – there is your new sky.

What is really neat is that even if your little edges disappear – like the coat hangars and chain in the above image, the details can sometimes be brought back by lowering the opacity of your cloud image just a little – in this case I set it to 54% since I did not want the clouds being the major center of attention. Just be careful around the horizon lines – set the Strength to 255 (white) to clean up areas that you painted over – it actually acts like an eraser.

The +From Stack button was clicked to create a Stamped or Composite layer on top. In the Adjustments tab the Saturation was set to 23, Contrast to -23, Dynamics to 51, Highlights to -21, and Shadows to -4. The image was brought back into Photoshop where a Curves Adjustment Layer was added for additional contrast and that was it.

This is so much faster than using the Photoshop selection tools or any of the masking plug-ins, but it really works best on skies. I believe other programs should be used when you have a more complicated selection. Still, this is one of the major things I need it for and it works great!
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I listened to Topaz Webinar A Closer Look at Edge-Aware Brushes with Nicole Paschal, who does a great job creating  interesting and useful webinars that highlight all the Topaz products and how they work together. You can type in questions in an interactive way with both the staff and Nicole as she is presenting the webinar – very informative. Several webinar tips are listed below along with a few of mine:

  • If you find that you are not getting a good distinct line between the items you are trying to select, change the brush size down to a smaller size – it will give you a better result as large brushes do not recognize edges as well. The Edge-Aware technology is based upon the color under the crosshair so this gives a smaller and more accurate sample.
  • Can either brush or click to fill area. Usually the first pass of brushing will leave little areas not covered completely or with a little haloing, but if you brush back over it , they disappear. Nichole finds that it is easier for her to just click several times as she moves through the area of the image instead of actually brushing.
  • Make sure your inner circle is not touching any color you do not want selected.
  • Set the Brush Strength to 255 to paint back in areas that you accidentally covered up when painting on the mask. If you set the Strength to 125, the area allows 50% of the layer below to show through, as done in the last image below.
  • Probably best to create another +From Stack layer if you want to add some of the Brushes effects to an image. Nicole says she likes to do just one major brush effect to each layer at a time. There is then more flexibility in adjusting opacity and changing blend mode for each change done.


If you look closely, you can tell this Marsh Harbour image used the same cloud image, this time at full strength. The same workflow was used to get the clouds in the image. Normally at this point the Adjustments tab and the Dynamics slider would have been used, but it just did not give me the look I wanted.  Therefore Nik Color Efex Pro 4 was selected with these filters stacked: Detail Extractor with control points removing it from the sky, Darken/Lighten Center which gives the slight vignette effect, and Pro Contrast using the Dynamic Contrast slider which I do not always like. Nik Viveza 2 was also used to add detail into the water and sharpen the stones a little. Sometimes you have use more than one plug-in to get the right effect, but the sky still looks great using the Masks tab.
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This beautiful Lion’s Face is atop a tower on Flagler College (the old Ponce de Leon Hotel) in St. Augustine, Florida. They are all over the campus and city. These slightly different steps were followed:  The Adjustments tab settings were: Saturation set to 2, Contrast -37 and Dynamics +96.  From the +From File, Shadowhouse Creations Marshmellow Skies was opened, then scaled and rotated in the Tools tab so it was on a diagonal to fill out the sky area. A Stamp layer was created by clicking the +From Stack button, and in the Effects tab the Black and White Effect preset called Opalotype-Hand Tinted Cream preset was applied. This layer was set to Lighten Blend Mode at 100% Opacity. In the Masks tab again, the middle of image was painted out using a large brush set to a Brush Value of 145 (middle gray) so it just clears the effect from the lion’s face a little. Back in Photoshop my layer style frame was used (see DLS Free Layer Style Frames blog).

Pretty easy and fast to replace a sky in this new program from Topaz. If you have some of their products already, download the photoFXlab trial and see what you think – I personally like the feel of the new interface and am using it a lot!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Digital Lady Syd’s Review of Topaz photoFXlab v1.1
Using photoFXlabs v1.1


Can a Pseudo HDR Image be as Good as the Real Thing? (Part One)



This week I have been pondering this question. Since this is such a large subject for me, I am making this a two part blog so I can show some other workflows to try next time. (See Can a Pseudo HDR Image be as Good as the Real Thing? (Part Two))It seems there is so much software and so many tutorials on both subjects available and it gets pretty confusing. What really works and is it possible to get that HDR look with just one photo (hence Pseudo HDR)? In my many past blogs on Pseudo HDR, I have had a pretty fair amount of success getting one image pretty close to a true HDR look. When creating a Pseudo HDR image, only one image is used. I have to admit that I am horrible about dragging my tripod with me so I hand hold when shooting – many times one or more of the images are totally blurry so I am stuck using just one.

The image above is the actual HDR image to use for a quick comparison. It was taken at Flagler College (the old Ponce de Leon Hotel) in St. Augustine, Florida. Only three shots were bracketed using exposure compensations set to 0, -1, and +1. The shot was taken knowing it would make a great HDR image – the girl never saw me taking the image as she was so engrossed in her book, but she really makes the picture pop. Katrin Eismann’s method for processing HDR images (see my blog HDR Using Photoshop Merge to HDR and Nik”s HDR EFex Pro and Silver Efex Pro? Wow!) was used although there are several other techniques out there that do a great jobs in HDR (see Related Blog Links below for more information on this). Basically I just followed her workflow.
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This image used my SJ Pseudo HDR preset in Lightroom (or ACR) to begin the HDR process on the the 0 Exposure Compensation image. I followed my workflow (see my blog Pseudo HDR Using NIK Color Efex Pro 4 for steps and all download links) which entails using my SJ Pseudo1 Recipe in NIK Color Efex Pro 4. Below is the original NEF file as downloaded from the camera. The presets I created for Lightroom and ACR create a warmer tone than the original image and the processing in both Katrin’s HDR workflow and my Pseudo HDR workflow produced dramatically different colors. To get this closer to what the beautiful brickwork really looks like in the single image, I used Dr. Brown’s ACR script twice to cool down the original major orange yellow tint. Adobe Camera Raw is the only place that is easily accessible to adjust orange (especially for skin tone adjustment) so it was the logical place to work on this color issue. The first attempt I adjusted the HSL panel and changed all three settings for the Reds, Oranges, Yellows and Greens. I still did not like the result so the second time around the Temperature and Tint was adjusted and more Hue changes. I think I finally got the result I like, but it still has a little too much beige-yellow tone in it. (See my blog Edit Layers with ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) Script.) The true HDR image has more colors in the image and the detail is still a little more distinct even though the pseudo image was sharpened extensively. On the other hand, the bikes pop more in the single image and appear to be closer in color to the original image.


Above you can really see in this 2 to 1 blow up of the back wheel chain area the difference between the detail and color toning. (Single image on left and HDR on right.) I definitely like the sharper detail on the true HDR but the color and saturation of the colors in the single image is quite appealing, especially when viewed overall.

When I look at the original, I have to admit I even like the softer tones. Makes you ponder whether an HDR was really necessary in this case – which is a whole other area to cover. Next week I am going to apply some Topaz Adjust and OnOne Perfect Effects filters (for website links, see my Tidbits Blog sidebar) to this image and see if the results are as good. Both plug-ins give some great HDR results with the right image. I also have another totally different type of workflow using just one image that can give some fabulous results when used correctly. Until then, try processing a single image and compare it to your HDR results and see what you get. I am not sure which one of mine I like best…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Different Images – Same Look Using HDR!
Pseudo HDR Using NIK Color Efex Pro 4
With One Good Photo – Try the Pseudo HDR Effect
Why I Love Topaz Adjust!
Nik HDR Efex Pro Example
Another Pseudo HDR from Me!
Problems for Big Ben
Pseudo HDR in OnOne Perfect Effects


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


Use NIK Color Efex Pro 4 and Silver Efex Pro 2 Together to Create Fabulous Landscapes!


I love this Hawaiian image of the wonderful wooden boats that run between the different stopping points along the one mile walkway at the Hilton Waikoloa Village resort. These boats are an absolutely great way to move about – and a great way to meet other people!

I tried a new technique to process all the landscape blog images that was learned from another of Nik’s great webinars! The first example in “Integrating the Complete Collection Workflow to Create the Dynamic Image” by Dan Hughes was used to create all these great effects. It does require that you own both Nik Photoshop plug-ins, Silver Efex Pro 2 and Color Efex Pro 4.

Here is the basic workflow.

1. First adjust the image in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw and bring it into Photoshop – clean up any problem areas and noise.

2. Go into Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 – this image used the High Structure (Harsh) preset, which seems to be a good starting place on most images tried (and Dan Hughes started with this one). Go to the Color Filter section and set the Color and Color Strength slider. Adjust globally the Contrast sliders and Structure sliders. If the clouds look too sharp, which they did in this image, use a (-) Control Point on the clouds to remove some of the effect in this area. Add (+) Control Points in areas you want more Contrast or Fine Structure. The Structure sliders add texture to the image and make it appear very sharp. Exit to Photoshop and change the Layer Blend Mode to Luminosity – this is an important step!

3. Open Nik Color Efex Pro 4. Any of your favorite filters can be selected but the above image and Nik’s example used these two filters stacked: Brilliance/Warmth – use the Perceptual Saturation slider which works like the human eye sees color; and Darken/Lighten Center which acts like a vignette. Exit to Photoshop.

4. Final steps to consider are adding a High Pass filter to sharpen the image further, and adding a Curves Adjustment Layer for additional contrast. Not all images will need these steps, but both were used on the image above using a High Pass Radius set to 8.9 and a Curves Adjustment Point set to -1/2. (See the tip on the image in my Tidbits Blog “I Didn’t Know That! Curves Adjustment Layers.”)
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The view of the coastline from one end of the Hilton Waikoloa Resort used the exact same workflow as above. Nik’s Viveza 2 filter was added after the other two plug-ins to even out the saturation in the brown rock wall. This could have been done in Photoshop using a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer with the mask filled to black –  use a soft brush set to low opacity to bring in the saturation where you want it.
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This is an image of the road up Mauna Kea volcano on the Big Island in Hawaii – it has a bit of a surreal feel but the wild yellow daisies were beautiful and unusual. The same basic workflow was used except that the stacked  filters used in Color Efex Pro are the Detail Extractor, the Graduated Neutral Density to darken the top some, and Pro Contrast to make the yellow flowers show up more. A Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer was targeted for just the flowers (using the same technique as on the wall above) to get the correct yellow tone. The original filters from the workflow were tried first, but the results did not look quite right to me so more experimenting had to be done until I came up with the ones used. Don’t get discouraged if you do not like the results with the filters you start with – there is always something in Color Efex Pro that will enhance even the most difficult images.
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Image is of Lapakahi State Historical Park on the Big Island in Hawaii, which shows part of a 600 year old village ruins. It was processed using the above workflow and adding Midnight to the bottom of the stack to get a little less of that bright daylight look. Otherwise the same workflow was followed.
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The Umauma Falls image is an example of a more difficult image to process. The first iteration used the settings in the workflow – it looked okay but the waterfalls were lost in the all the detail and color in the image. So I went back into Color Efex Pro 4 and started over. This time the following filters were stacked: Detail Extractor; Foliage to make the yellow flowers show up better; Remove Color Cast for the overdone yellow-green feel that is common in nature shots; Midnight – this filter made the image pop and gave it a “later in the day” feel (set to Color Set Blue, Blur slider moved way back to 10%, and the overall opacity of the filter set to 58%); and Vignette Blur using Type 3 to guide the eye through the image – a couple (-) control points were set on the waterfalls so they stayed in focus. After changing the plug-in filters, the whole image took on a totally different look. I think it gives a more unique look to the falls and does not look as much like your typical tourist shot.

QUICK TIPS: When working with Color Efex Pro 4, be sure to experiment with the Shadows and Highlights sliders at the bottom of many of the filters. By moving the sliders even just a little, you can bring out some missing details so be sure to check it out each time. Also, click on the arrow by the Control Points to get to the filter’s overall opacity sliders and try reducing some of the effect. The Midnight filter at 100% looked way overdone on the waterfall image. Press P to toggle between your original and your current look quickly.

If you have these programs, give this easy workflow a try – stacking the different Nik plug-ins can give some great results and takes your work to a higher level. And if you have not listened to some of Nik’s webinars, check them out – they have many great tips by some very knowledgeable people…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
NIK Color Efex Pro 4 – Digital Lady Syd’s Review!
Pseudo HDR Using NIK Color Efex Pro 4
NIK’s Champion Plug-in – Silver Efex Pro 2
Black and White Photo or Not? Give It a Try on That Difficult Image
Using NIK’s Color Efex Pro 4 and Viveza Together


Using NIK’s Color Efex Pro 4 and Viveza Together

If you don’t watch the wonderful webinars and training videos that all the major plug-in makers are offering, you are really missing out on some great tips for using their software. Recently Nik released a really great video titled “Mastering Macro Images with Nik Software and Photoshop Elements, presented by Mike Moats” and is located at Nik Software On Demand Center. Mike Moats (he has a really interesting blog) shows how he changes up the workflow from what one might normally do with the Nik products. He first applies Nik’s Color Efex Pro 4 (CEP4) and then Nik’s Viveza. He is never quite sure what the CEP4 filters will do to an image. Since the Viveza plug-in adjusts the color and light of an image, it does make sense to apply it after adding CEP4 filter changes. Note: All my CEP4 settings for images are listed at the end of the blog.

I bought the Viveza plug-in when it first came out and everyone was singing its praises. I must confess that after getting Lightroom, I hardly used this plug-in. Now I think I was crazy not too! This video refreshed my memory on why this is the great little plug-in that everyone was raving about. The reason this image pops is that Viveza is able to pin-point small or large areas on the image and adjust it individually – adding in a bit of detail, or toning down a certain color. He teaches you how to set the Control Points that Nik is famous for to get exactly the results you want. In this case, both the saturation and structure control point sliders were individually adjusted on the butterfly and flowers without affecting the background. This is very similar to Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw’s adjustment brushes, but with much better control and more variables available. It absolutely made a huge difference to all of the images in this blog. See the comparison below showing the layer with Vizeva filter turned off and then on. Seven control points were set to get this effect and no Global Adjustments were made. Both plug-ins can be applied to the same Smart Object layer and all image control points are saved for each plug-in on this layer so you can go back and adjust a slider if you do not like the results. The final processing involved cloning out some of the brown spots on the leaves and sharpening the body and wing lines of the butterfly.

The pink daisies are in a container on my front porch. CEP4 and Viveza (using 11 control points) were both used along with OnOne PhotoFrame weathered wood frame (see sidebar on my Tidbits Blog for website).

This last image is a different shot of my carnation and daisies Christmas flowers. The original image required me to duplicate the original layer and apply a Gaussian Blur at 9.1 pixels to block out the distracting background. A layer mask was added and the flower painted back into the mask with a black brush. Then the CEP4 and Viveza (with 17 control points) plug-ins were applied. OnOne PhotoFrame grunge 05 was added along with the Sharpen Tool and a Curves Adjustment Layer.

As you can see, by using the control points to your advantage, very interesting images can be attained. The Viveza plug-in definitely helps sharpen up a slightly soft image. And by setting control points with Structure at -100, the background can be smoothed almost like a gaussian blur effect. If you own either or both of these plug-ins, definitely take a look at this video. Even though he is using flowers and close up photography, he illustrates how to use the control points very well. I learned a lot and am very happy Nik released such a good example of how to use their products…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Nik Color Efex Pro 4 – Digital Lady Syd’s Review
Pseudo HDR Using Nik Color Efex Pro 4

CEP4 Settings for each of the images:

The Monarch Butterfly image above was first adjusted in CEP4 with these filters stacked: Detail Extractor (Detail Extractor 26%, Contrast 37%, Saturation 53% and Effect Radius Large); Darken/Lighten Center using #1, Center Luminosity 28%, Border Luminosity -100, Center Size 53% and centered on butterfly head); and Bi-Color User Defined (Opacity 7%, Blend 17%, Vertical Shift 41%, Rotation 46 degrees, Upper Color R66 G68 B98 and Lower Color R184 G103 B4). I would never have thought about using a Bi-Color User Defined filter without viewing this video, but it really enhanced the oranges in the wings and brought out the pink in the flower.

The Daisies used Detail Extractor (Detail Extractor 86%, Contrast 78%, Saturation 39% and Effect Radius Large); Bleach Bypass (Brightness -2, Saturation -20%, Contrast 50% and Local Contrast 50%); and Cross Processing (Method L02 and Strength 45%). This example uses similar setting to his first example.

The Christmas Flowers CEP4 settings were: Bleach Bypass (Brightness -6, Saturation -2%, Control 27%, and Local Contrast 65%), Darken/Lighten Center (#1, Center Luminosity -10%, Border Luminosity -27%, Center Size 44% and Place Center just below red carnation), and Detail Extractor (Detail Extractor 36%, Contrast 6%, Saturation 21%, and Effect Radius Large with control points in background to remove effect).


Topaz Plug-Ins – Same Image Trying Each!

Since I am such a big fan of Topaz, I thought it might be interesting to use the same image and see what effects I could come up with using each of the five major plug-ins in the Topaz Plug-in Bundle (to go to website, click on the sidebar in my Tidbits Blog). The photo is of an old Sears Victorian house built in St. Augustine about 100 years ago. There are still a few that can be seen when driving around the city. Very beautiful houses! I could picture myself living in one! All these images were finished by painting in a flare in the top right corner using my Lens Flare Brushes since the image was blown out by the sun in that corner, and a Curves Adjustment Layer. I have written about almost all of these plug-ins previously, so check out my related blogs at bottom if you find you want more information on one of them.

Topaz Adjust


This is the mainstay of the whole Topaz Plug-in Bundle, in my opinion, so this is the first plug-in used on the image. I used a preset I had created a long time ago to get this effect. Basically it involved using a warm feel to achieve an early morning look. Many different filters could easily have been used – this plug-in is fun to try on new looks to your images.

Topaz Simplify


This is a creative plug-in – definitely gives a more painterly look as opposed to the more realistic look some of the other plug-ins give. The canned Buzz Sim preset was used to create this look, an effect I have always enjoyed – see my blog “Simplifier and Simplify Filters” about the original filter that was picked up by Topaz many years ago.

Topaz Lens Effect


Topaz recently updated this plug-in and added three more filters and several presets to make this plug-in even more versatile. I am not the best at setting up a great depth map, it does take some practice. In the image above, you can see that the center ground is more in focus than the foreground and background. This is where this plug-in really excels and once you get the hang of it, it is quit effective. I do not know of any other plug-in that does this type of effect. In this image, a Bokeh Selective effect was applied and several adjustments made after the depth map was created. This plug-in allows you to stack filters, so next a Filter Dual Tone was created where a Blue/Cyan color was added to the top and a slight yellow cast added to the bottom of the image. Finally a new filter from the latest upgrade was used called Warmth and the Warm I preset was applied. Overall, a bit of a different look with softer lines of the house with the focal point being centered on the palm tree and the color beams in the image.

Topaz Detail


Topaz Detail is an overlooked plug-in but actually gives some wonderful results. This image uses the Desaturation Blush preset with the Saturation slider set to -0.62. It gives a very nice effect on this house and perhaps the most natural of them all. I was surprised how similar it looks to the Topaz Adjust filter result.

Topaz Black and White Effects


This is my favorite plug-in in the bundle and a relative newcomer. Every time I use it, the image comes out really nice – not necessarily like I shot it, but with a bit of artistic flair added, and yet it retains the true nature of the image. It looks like how I envision an old Victorian house should look on a hot summer morning. Totally unique feel. In this image a preset I created for a sunny water landscape was used. (This preset contains the default Basic Exposure settings; Adaptive Exposure Settings: Adaptive Exposure 0.18, Regions 26.10, Protect Highlights and Shadows – 0, Detail 1.11 and Detail Boost 1.09; Quad Tone settings: Color 1 Region (color R1/G1/B12) set to 0.60, Color 2 Region (color R63/G78/B85) set to 95.97, Color 3 Region (color R216/G211/B129) set to 141.2, and Color 4 Region (color R255/G254/B237) set to 255.0; Edge Exposure set; and Transparency set 1.00. The key to this look is the Quad Tone section in Finishing Touches. See my Tidbits Blog “Quad Tones in Topaz Black and White Effects Plug-in” for more information on this.

Topaz Adjust, Detail and Black and White Effects


Topaz has done a wonderful job of providing great videos to learn how to use all their plug-ins provided in the bundle. A video, “Creative Essentials with Topaz Plug-Ins presented by Joel Wolfson,” was presented where he went over his Topaz workflow to create some beautiful works of digital art. I followed some of his suggestions and created this final image. I was very pleased with the results – looks similar to the one above but is more of a black and white effect and, again, not unlike what I visualize an old Victorian house might look like.

I hope this is giving everyone a chance to see the flexibility that this bundle of plug-ins can produce. With just a few of these plug-ins, a great variety of effects can be achieved and they can be used together to get even more interesting results. I am very happy that I have this set of filters at my fingertips – they do produce beautiful results. …..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd’s Related Blogs:
Using Topaz Adjust 5 and Color Efex Pro 4 with Photoshop Elements
Topaz Adjust 5 Is Here! First Look!
Topaz Lens Effect’s Artistic Flair!
Combining Plug-ins – Double the Effect! (Several Topaz Plug-ins)
Little Nighttime Fun from Topaz! (Topaz Adjust and Len Effects Plug-ins)
Loving Both Filters (Topaz B&W Effects Plug-in)
Trying Out the Minimalist Look? (Topaz B&W Effects Plug-in)
Same Image – Different Plug-In (Topaz B&W Effects and Lens Effects Plug-ins)
Sunny Preset for Topaz Black and White Effects
The Art Corner: Painting and Sculpture by Tassaert (Topaz B&W Effects Plug-in)
Quad Tones in Topaz Black and White Effects Plug-in
Get Rid of Those Power Lines Fast – with Paths and Spot Healing Tool! (Topaz B&W Effects Plug-in)
Why I Love Topaz Adjust!
Just Another Topaz Black & White Effect Example
Topaz B&W Effects vs. Nik’s Silver Efex Pro
Topaz B&W Effects Plug-In – A Real Winner!
Topaz Lens Effects Plug-In
Topaz InFocus Plug-in – Digital Lady Syd’s Review
More Filmstrip Fun – How Can This Be? (Topaz Detail Plug-in)
Instant Mirror and Quick Mirror for Photoshop (Topaz Simplify Plug-in)
How to Add Images to Text (Topaz Simplify Plug-in)


Inexpensive Gifts for the Photoshop Lover on Your List


I decided to do something different for this week’s post since I love Photoshop and am constantly on the hunt for the best and cheapest items to make it more fun. The following items are some real treasures I have found in the last year that might help you find that perfect little gift for the person who loves to dabble in Photoshop. (For books and prices listed, see Amazon.com.)

DIGITAL LADY SYD’S BEST INEXPENSIVE PHOTOSHOP FINDS FOR 2011

1. TOPAZ ADJUST 5 ($50)

Since I am such a plug-in lover, simply the best value for the price you will find in the plug-in industry is Topaz Adjust 5 (see my Tidbits Blog for a link to the site). I have written several reviews on this plug-in that was recently upgraded and made even better. Plus, once you buy a plug-in from Topaz, you will always receive the updated versions for free – no other plug-in company does that. Check out my blogs for examples of what this wonderful plug-in can do. (See Digital Lady Syd’s Review of Topaz Adjust 5, Why I Love Topaz Adjust, and Topaz Adjust 5 Is Here! First Look.) The image in the above middle filmstrip was enhanced using Topaz Adjust 5 in Photoshop, but it also works with Elements.

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2. DAVID DUCHEMIN BOOK VISION & VOICE-REFINING YOUR VISION IN ADOBE PHOTOSHOP LIGHTROOM ($25)

Any of David duChemin’s books or E-books (priced at $5.00) are excellent.  “Vision & Voice – Refining Your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom”(see Digital Lady Syd’s Favs – Photoshop Books No. 6) has Lightroom tips that can be used with Adobe Camera Raw also. A very enjoyable read for any Photoshop person. The image on the right uses a preset created after reading the book.

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3. GAVTRAIN’S BLAST FROM THE PAST ACTION SET ($8.50)

The Blast from the Past Action Set is by Gavin Hoey, a British Photoshop guru. Listed as a great value, these actions are lots of fun to use, but can only be used with Photoshop CS and on and not Elements. I bought them a while ago and use them quite a bit. Great stocking stuffer for the Photoshop Nut. (See my blog “Same Image-Different Look! 6th image down for an example of the Lomo Effect from the set.) The filmstrip is also one of the actions from this set.

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4. JIM ZIMMERMAN’S CREATIVE TECHNIQUES WITH NIK SOFTWARE E-BOOK ($9.50)

Creative Techniques with NIK Software downloads as a 79 page .pdf file on the NIK plug-ins, if you have them. Although the book refers to Color Efex Pro 3, it is still very relevant for the new Color Efex Pro 4.  It also covers NIK’s Silver Efex Pro 2, Viveza 2 and HDR EFex Pro. Very good information packed into this file.

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5. JOHN DERRY MIXER BRUSHES ($20)
Mixer Brush Set contains six very helpful video tutorials on how to use them. These brushes are Photoshop CS5 specific. From my Adobe Photoshop CS5’s Mixer Brushes blog, “These brushes are by far the easiest way to get comfortable with the Mixer Brushes and I would highly recommend them if you really like the Mixer Brush effects. In his bundle he includes some textures for the brushes to help get a real painterly look on the image. Also, an action to set up for painting on an image is included and I am still trying this out. What may be the best part of this set is a restore brush that can bring part of the unpainted image back into the painted areas and is totally unique as far as my research indicates.” Needless to say, these are great brushes with great instruction! Great for the artistic Photoshop person.

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6. COREY BARKER’S PHOTOSHOP DOWN & DIRTY TRICKS FOR DESIGNERS BOOK ($29)

I do not have this book but I am planning on asking for it for Christmas. Corey is one of the best Photoshop creatives I have ever seen and the book will not disappoint. (For an example of one of his tutorials, see my blog “That Flaming Fire Brush!“)

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7. DOVER CLIP ART BOOKS ($10 to $25)

I have used these books for several years and always find lots of fun ways to add them into an image. They have many vintage era, butterfly and flower clip art that is equal to none. Makes for a great addition to any Photoshop fans arsenol. The image on the left uses a sketch from Dover’s Floral Embroidery Designs book.

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8. PHOTOSHOP IMPRESSIONISM VIDEO TUTORIAL SERIES DOWNLOAD ($25)

This is a little gem I just discovered. If you like to do artistic looks to your images, this is the information you need. Mark S Johnson has been doing some of the best Photoshop video tutorials for several years – I have learned so much from his expertise and this downloaded information is just an extension of all his knowledge. This would be a great gift for the Photoshop fan!

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9. PRESET VIEWER BREEZE PROGRAM ($20)

I would be lost without this Preset Viewer Program. When you need that special brush to load into Photoshop and cannot remember which set is it in, this program will open them up to view within seconds to help you find what you need. Definitely a real time-saver. It also reads patterns, fonts, jpgs, shapes, styles, and swatches. A great addition for speeding up your Photoshop workflow.

I hope that this list will give you a few ideas on getting that special Photoshop person a nice little surprise for Christmas. So much that has to do with Photoshop is expensive and unfortunately that keeps people from being able to explore all the many new techniques out there. These items should help give everyone some new ideas for the coming year. Happy Holidays and Enjoy…..Digital Lady Syd


Digital Lady Syd’s Review of OnOne Perfect Effects

No question about it, this has been the year of the great Photoshop plug-ins! I just decide that one of them has got to be the best and another one comes along that is just as good!!! What to do, what to do! My personal feeling had been that the Perfect Effects plug-in was not going to be as good as my favorite Topaz Black and White Effects or NIK Color Efex Pro, but I was wrong! Very nice plug-in with a very good interface. It can be used alone or as part of the updated OnOne Perfect Photo Suite 6.0 (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar to access site). I had a great time creating the images below with just Perfect Effects and sometimes PhotoFrames (by far my favorite border app and it has not been updated for the Suite package).
Above is an inside view of some of the interesting antique items in the Florida Heritage Museum at the  Old Jailhouse in St. Augustine, Florida. This image just kept getting better the more the effects were stacked up. This was a pretty easy image to do – just add and click away on all the different effects and see what you come up with. This image has stacked the following effects (press Add after adding an effect to each layer): Black & White effect Chrome with Blending Option set to Softlight at Strength 84; Vintage effect Honky Tonk set to Screen Blending Mode at Strength 99 – Apply Effect To Flesh Colors and Fuzziness 40; and Vignette effect Grunge Vignette Dark – Texturizer set to 73 strength. At this point I created a preset that was placed in my User Presets group and it was defined as a vintage feel. Very handy and easy to do!
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Just another great example of the interesting results that can be achieved with this plug-in. The image is of one of the beautiful covered walkways at the University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida. It is an HDR image created from three photos in Photoshop CS5’s HDR Toning program using a preset I had created for dilapidated buildings. (Be sure to keep your HDR presets if you find one you like.) Next the HDR photo was taken into Perfect Effects and once again I did a vintage effect. Started with a Black and White effect Casablanca set to Darken; on the Empty Layer, the Effect Options was opened and Effect Duotone was selected using an Orange Color for Highlights and Blue Color for Shadows – Strength was set to 35, Midpoint 29 and Mode to Color;  Movie Looks effect Urban Sickness at Strength 40; Vignette effect Subtle Vignette set to Strength 47; and Textures effect Scratched Film Light at Strength 100. A preset was created for this stack as I really liked the results. Back in Photoshop, an OnOne PhotoFrame (also part of the OnOne Perfect Photo Suite 6) border Dave Cross_14 was added – the beige color in the image was sampled to make the border that color.
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In the Old Town Trolley image the basic issue was a very plain blue sky. Following one of the short videos supplied on the OnOne website, the clouds were added using the Masking Bug. It does not sound like it would work, but the bug did a really good job of adding the sky with a slight gradient to it. They also have this feature in the Focal Point plug-in and Lightroom’s Perfect Layers plug-in (also provided with the OnOne Perfect Photo Suite 6), and I like it in this plug-in. This is a big improvement! The border was also added in Photo Effects and adjusted using the Effect Options that are available once an effect is chosen. I have not completely figured out how to determine how to use all these effects as they change with the effect selected. This was a really fast and great way to swap out the sky.
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This is a statue of Sir William Wallace over the doorway of an old church in the town of Stirling, Scotland. I liked the way the stone color turned out and the way the statue stands our from the wall. This stack incorporated Dirty Bird (Strength 83) applied to just Highlights (Fuzziness 60), Warm Polarizer (Strength 100) , Rice Paper Light (Strength 77) with the Masking Bug down center vertically, Amazing Detail (Strength 100 ), and Subtle Vignette (Strength 100). The nice thing about this image is that the first effect, Dirty Bird, the Apply Effect To drop-down was changed to Highlights – this makes for some great looking effects. The effects can also be applied to just the Shadows, Midtones, RGBCYM colors, Flesh colors, Vivid colors and Neutrals. This is a really nice addition. A OnOne PhotoFrame was added to this image (no update to this plug-in but it does not need it – still the best out there for frames!) and it is included in the OnOne Perfect Photo Suite 6.0.

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The good news is that Perfect Effects is a much improved program over OnOne’s old PhotoTools 2.6 and it is now much easier to use. Download the manuals on how to use Perfect Effects and all the programs in OnOne’s Perfect Photo Suite 6.0. A good keyboard shortcut to use is CTRL+P to toggle between the original image and the current image. Go to the Help menu item for a complete list of shortcut keys.

Pros:

1.  The interface is much easier to use. There are many different ways to add interest to the basic effects. Many of them are shown in the preset views across the bottom but there are more variations if you use open up the Effects Options button that is available with each effect. The Blending Options are very versatile and as discussed above, the Apply Effect To drop-down creates some very interesting images – I do not believe this is in any other plug-in I have seen.

2. The Texturize Effect section and Landscape Effect section have some very different presets that can be applied including many weather effects. This could turn out to be a lot of fun. Adding the Clouds to an image is really easy using some of these choices. This is also something I have not seen in any other plug-in. And if you choose, say Dark Clouds in the Textures Section and go to the Effect Options drop-down box on the right, there are five choices for clouds besides many other textures to choose from. Blend mode and strength and scale of the effect can be set also. Very versatile and unique!

3. The Masking Bug that was made famous in the OnOne’s original Focal Point plug-in is a great addition that works very fast and creates some very nice results. It works very good in coordination with the Masking Brush.

4. The speed of the plug-in is much faster than the original PhotoTools plug-in. This had been one of my biggest complaints. It works much faster and you have much better control over the brush when masking.

5. Can Invert the effect and by selecting the Masking Brush, the effect can be brushed in just where you want it at whatever opacity you like.

Cons:

1.  It still bothers me that I cannot access this program like my other filters by going to Filters -> OnOne; instead, to get to the program you must go to File -> Automate -> Photo Effects. I am not sure why this is. This is also true for PhotoFrames. If you have the Suite, all the plug-ins can be accessed from inside one interface and do not have to be opened individually – that is a big improvement.

2. When the layer is first converted to a Smart Object before entering the program, the Masking Bug and/or Mask Brush results are not retained when you go back to adjust one of the effects. This can very annoying if you did not takes notes on what you did. All the other settings are retained. When stack is saved as a preset, all but the Masking Bug/Mask Brush results are retained, which is what you would expect since it is being applied to a different image.

3. If you had PhotoTools, the presets cannot be used in Perfect Effects due to the fact that PhotoTools is based on actions inside Photoshop and Perfect Effects has been re-engineered to stand alone now. They are currently trying to recreate all the presets from PhotoTools and hope to have them available soon.

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In this final image the red trees and flag were selected in Photoshop using Color Selection. A layer mask was then added to the layer before it was converted into a Smart Object. I wanted only the background to be affected by the plug-in (the manual said this could be done so I thought I would try it out). I think the results turned out really nice – these settings were used: Black and White Effect Casablanca; Nicely Toasted (Strength 46) and Apply Effect To: Flesh Colors at Fuzziness 53; and Vignette – Edges to Black with Effect Options Brightness -86, Midpoint 47, Feather 56, and Roundness -28. The Casablanca black and white effect is turning into one of my favorites.

Well I believe this is a very good plug-in – OnOne has really stepped it up to compete nicely in the plug-in field – it is so very user friendly. The Pros definitely outweigh the Cons which I believe can be fixed pretty easily. I had a lot of fun working with all the effects and I know I have not even touched on some of the looks you can get if you get your combinations right. I will be checking out the complete suite when I get a chance. I already use many of the plug-ins included but there are a few new ones I want to experiment with. In the meantime, at least take a look at the Perfect Photo plug-in – it has a 30-day trial that is fully functional. I am looking forward to trying some of the other plug-ins – already tried Perfect Portrait (it is in brand new and in the Suite) and really like it. Hope to report on it soon!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd’s Related Blogs:
Another OnOne Perfect Effects Pix – Got to Love It!
Pseudo HDR in OnOne Perfect Effects
First Try – OnOne’s Perfect Effects 3
“Perfect” Perfect Layers


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


Pseudo HDR Using NIK Color Efex Pro 4

Yep, it can actually do a pretty nice job of creating an HDR effect. I am providing you with the information needed to get the same effect so here we go. The image above is of the inside of one of the most beautiful libraries you will ever see, the Minsk Library in Belarus. I love the results and how Color Efex Pro 4 (CEP4) has turned this image into a reasonable HDR look with just a single image.

To create this effect, the following steps were done:

1. First process the image in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) or Lightroom to adjust tone and contrast. On four of these images, I used my SJ-Vivid Drawing Look preset as a starting point. Gives a nice starting point for a pseudo HDR effect.” Then adjust the exposure or any other settings to get the feel you want. (To get the actual settings, see my Tidbits Blog “Settings for Vivid Drawing Look ACR & Lightroom Preset and NIK Color Efex Pro 4 Pseudo HDR Recipe.”)

2. Next, either open the image as a Smart Object directly from ACR or Lightroom, or convert a duplicate layer to a Smart Object (right click on layer and choose “Convert to Smart Object.”) before opening the plug-in. This is really an important step since CEP4 will save your settings and control points when working on a Smart Object layer.

3. Go to Filters -> NIK -> Color Efex Pro 4 plug-in. My SJ Pseudo HDR1 recipe can be downloaded here. NOTE: Appears the link will not work if the download button is pressed directly, but if you right click it and select “Save Link As”, it will download. (To import, go to the Recipes section on left and at bottom click on the Import button, then navigate to file – it is put in the Imported section, or put the file in this folder for Windows Users: [User Name]\AppData\Local\Nik Software\Color Efex Pro 4\UserPresets). The Detail Extractor may need to be adjusted, especially if the image has too many artifacts or too much noise – try setting the Effect Radius to Large in this filter. Other filter effects may be added such as a Vignette or Color Effects. For settings, click on my Tidbits Blog link above in Step 1.

4. Press OK button to apply the filters . If you do not like the results or want to add another filter, change settings by double-clicking on the actual plug-in name (Color Efex Pro 4) underneath the Smart Object layer. If you click on the symbols to the right of the line, a Blending Options (Color Efex Pro 4) dialog box appears where the opacity and blend mode of the plug-in results can be changed. (Try this out to get  some more interesting effects.) Can also paint with black on the Smart Filters layer mask to reduce the effect of all the filters applied to the layer.

5. A noise filter may need to be applied at this point. It can be done right on the Smart Object layer – the filter will be added on top of the Color Efex Pro filter. Not all images need it, but it can happen whenever you are doing an HDR type effect. (If you do not have a noise reducer, the image can be brought back into ACR by using Dr. Brown’s script as explained in my blog “Edit Layers with ACR Script” and using the Noise Reduction panel – I do this all the time and it works great!)

Basically your image is finished unless you want to add a Curves Adjustment Layer to adjust contrast or add a layer style stroke or border around the outside.  Many resources say to sharpen the image at this point – try it but watch your noise carefully.

Once you have the Pseudo HDR1 recipe in place, it is very easy to get good results. Just remember to use a Smart Object so you can go in afterwards and tweak a slider or two or add another filter to the stack if you want.

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This Tower of London image was first processed in Lightroom using the SJ Vivid Drawing Look preset. Once in Photoshop but before going into CEP4, clouds were added onto a layer above the image from my SJ-Clouds brush set, and then a layer mask was created to paint out any overlap. A composite layer was created on top (CTRL+SHIFT+ALT+E) which was immediately converted into a Smart Object. This image was created using my recipe as in the first image, but then a Bi-Color User Defined filter was added to make the sky and clouds bluer (Upper color a blue R94/G111/B155 and Lower color off-white R192/G192/B192) – it started as an ugly gray.

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Another good example of what you can do with just one image in CEP4. This image just used the Pseudo HDR1 recipe. I did adjust the Detail Extractor slider in that filter and that’s it! The original image was adjusted a bit in Lightroom using no preset before bringing into Photoshop. The image was taken at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Oahu, Hawaii.
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This beautiful Great Egret was processed in Lightroom with the SJ Vivid Drawing Look preset and then in Photoshop using NIK’s CEP4 plug-in and the recipe provided, but also adding Vignette Blur and Vignette filters. Back in Photoshop a layer mask was added to selectively sharpen just the bird.
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This image (of me and my photography buddy, Gary, at the Old Drugstore in St. Augustine) uses the same Lightroom Vivid Drawing Look preset and CEP4 Pseudo HDR preset. I am actually shooting into a huge mirror on the wall!

I really wanted to present the range of images that can be converted into a fairly convincing HDR effect with just one image. I hope you get a chance to try this recipe out and see what you think. This may be the easiest way to get that pseudo-HDR look that I have found! I will show several other examples over the next few weeks – it is really easy to do and gives a nice look to just about any picture. Once again, it goes to show why this updated plug-in from NIK is really great!

Hope you enjoy the recipe and let me know what you think!…..Digital Lady Syd

Related Blog Links by Digital Lady Syd (or click under Categories – HDR Effect):
NIK Color Efex Pro 4 – Digital Lady Syd’s Review!
Another Pseudo HDR Image with NIK CEP4 – Got to Love the Effect!
Pseudo HDR in OnOne Perfect Effects
The New Film Efex-Vintage Filter From NIK CEP 4
Digital Landscape Effects with Nik Software
NIK Color Efex Pro 4 – First Try!
With One Good Photo – Try the Pseudo HDR Effect

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Digital Lady Syd’s Review of Topaz InFocus Plug-in

I bought this plug-in last December when it first came out. To be honest, I did not have a lot of luck with it so I never used it much. This week I decided to look at it again since Photoshop seems to be coming out with a similar effect in their next version. (See “Adobe MAX 2011 – Photoshop Image Deblurring Sneak” video or “Behind All the Buzz: Deblur Sneak Preview” article.)  This sculpture was slightly out-of-focus when I downloaded it after going to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. I decided to try the Topaz InFocus plug-in to see if I could improve the results.  Afterwards the image was processed in Topaz Black and White Effects to get rid of that ugly yellow color cast.

Below is a close up of the original bottom area and the one with the plug-in applied. There has been a very nice improvement.



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The image below is the final result of a photo I took in the Scottish Highlands from a moving bus so it has many issues.


This image is not one you would print out, but since I only got one shot, it was rescued as much as possible by Topaz InFocus. Below is the Original out-of-focus image and the Topaz InFocus image.

It is a very subtle change but can be seen clearly in the plug-in interface. It is important to note that the program works best on images with edges that are straight and have a lot of contrast as in the bridge area. The trees and greenery have bad motion blur issues which the plug-in did not help in this case, so I used a heavy vignette effect in Topaz Black and White Effects along with Quad Tones that creates the warm and cool effect (Color 1 Region R1/G1/B12 set to 9.60; Color 2 Region R63/G78/B85 set to 143.9; Color 3 Region R216/G211/B129 set to 227.5; and Color 4 Region White set to 255.0 which gives a bit of a Vintage Feel). After applying Topaz Black and White Effects, the clouds now become a major focal point along with the bridge and this somewhat saves the image.

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Below is another image that InFocus was used on first and then NIK Color Efex Pro to further enhance the image. The major area where the focus was improved is on the house windows and roof. The original is shown underneath.



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My final thoughts are that there is a place for this plug-in but it does not work on every image, and as noted above it works best on sharp edges and clear features.  Sometimes I could not even find a difference when applied. Yet I thought it worked great on the first image in this blog. I do not like the fact that it constantly is updating as you move around the image trying to see what improved (since you have to run the plug-in at 100% view). It really slows down the computer and it is hard to tell what is working. After looking at the Adobe Photoshop links above, it seems like they are doing the same thing and have the same issues as InFocus. Another problem is that InFocus creates haloing very easily and even though there is an Edge Softness slider, it is hard to completely eliminate. The plug-in can also create a lot of artifacts on some images, which Topaz recognizes is a problem and do have a slider to help get rid of them. I feel like Topaz set the standard for Adobe to try and copy and is a good first attempt at fixing a blurred image. If you are interested in trying it out, go over to my Tidbits Blog and look at the right sidebar for a link to Topaz products. Definitely look at the Topaz videos , especially the second video on Blur Estimation , on using the plug-in before trying it out or you probably will not get good results at all. These videos need to be updated as they are using an older version, but you can get the basic feel of what to do.

I am really looking forward to what Photoshop is coming up with and finding out if it gets better results. Until then, I believe this plug-in is the best you can get for that slightly out-of-focus (blurred) look. Have fun trying this out!…..Digital Lady Syd


Same Image – Different Plug-In

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Conclusion

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


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

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

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

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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


Topaz B&W Effects Plug-In – A Real Winner!

I will start off and say I am a major fan of Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2 so I was not expecting anything as good. Still I have always felt Topaz does a great job for us budget-minded Photoshoppers and they have not let us down with this plug-in! These guys just keep making better and better plug-ins and still keep their prices reasonable. (Click on my Tidbits Blog for a link to Topaz and this new black and white plug-in – they have a 30-day free trial to download, and my short blog called “Topaz B&W Effects vs. Nik’s Silver Efex Pro.”)

The above image was just a basic black-and-white conversion using the Traditional Collection and the Classic preset. Go to the Conversion section on the right and adjust exposure and color to enhance your picture and finally go to the Local Adjustments sections where the best part of the program lies (in my view). You can locally correct the image using a Dodge, Burn, Color (brings color back into the image slightly if you want), Detail (I love this one – like Structure in Nik) and Smooth brush; and you have an Overall Strength slider to increase the effect and a layer mask to see how it is being applied. If you mess up, just switch to the Erase Brush and remove while viewing the mask. This gives similar results to the localized points that Nik has (and which is why everyone loves Nik). It is interesting to see how Topaz has come at this same result from a totally different direction and it seems to work beautifully!


For this image, the Opalotype Collection Effect-Yellowing Lilac preset was the starting point, but major adjustments were made in the right hand sections and this is the final result. I love the partially tinted feel – it really felt like Arizona did that day (it was 110 degrees outside). This is why this program has a lot more to offer than Nik’s plug-in which is essentially a black and white plug-in. In Nik’s defense, their Color Efex Pro plug-in probably does cover what the rest of the this filter is doing.

If you find some settings you really like, be sure to save them as a preset so they appear in the list for the collection you were using. I always put an SJ in front of the ones I create so I know which ones they are. There are a couple of things I do not love. For one, in the Finishing Touches section the Vignette is a little hard to apply, and it cannot be applied in different colors. I do like the Edge Exposure option which frames the image really nicely (like in the image above), but I do not care for the Border option. I do not usually use a plain white or black border around an image, so I will be going back to my old stand-by OnOne’s PhotoFrame for this.  One of the best parts is the Transparency option with the Overall Transparency slider to bring back some of the image color without having to go back into Photoshop and change blend modes.

Here are a couple more examples of what I did rather quickly in Topaz and got some really different results.

Below is an example of an image with the overall Transparency adjusted so you can see some of the color come back in. I believe it is a very pretty effect and has a bit of vintage look to it.

As you can see, there are a lot of variations to this plug-in and I have not even begun to explore all the options. I do believe Topaz has hit a winner  here and will keep most Photoshop lovers busy with all kinds of creative results. I am happy to see this company take on the big guys once again and create what I think is a great new plug-in for a reasonable price! Thank you Topaz! ……Digital Lady Syd


Topaz Lens Effects Plug-In

I am happy to say that I am using the new Topaz Lens Effects Plug-in. I am still learning about all the things it will do but so far I like what I see. They advertise 20 lens effects and over 150 presets so there are plenty of things to try. These filter effects can be stacked to create a final look. Topaz has several short tutorials up on U-tube that walk you through many of the new features. Click here for Topaz Lens Effects Intro and this good basic tutorial called Introduction to the New Topaz Lens Effects to learn how to use some of the features. Here is a link to the Topaz Lens Effects User Manual that will help explain exactly what is going on in each of the listed sections below and lets you see for yourself all the great effects they have included.

Bokeh – Selective Effect and Vignette

The image above used the Bokeh – Selective Effect with manual settings. It helped a lot to watch the second tutorial above to understand how to make a good Depth Map. The Depth Map created by the program is usually a very good starting point. See the next section on how to use the brush to fine-tune your Depth Map. Some adjustments were then added to the Focal Plane and Focus Area sections. A slight Vignette from within this effect finished up the image. Once you have the focus set by using the Depth Map, it is pretty self-explanatory to figure out how to proceed.

Fisheye Effect and Bokeh – Selective Effect

There has been a lot of excitement about the Fisheye Effect since you do not have to actually buy the expensive lens to get the look. It is easy to apply – this funny image below used the Extreme Fisheye Preset for a starting point and just a tweak to center the effect under the FishEye Adjustments section. (To see original image, click here.) Next a Bokeh – Selective Effect was applied. It is really necessary to play around a bit with the Depth Map and understand how to use it to get a good result. First uncheck Use Gradient Brush if you want to paint on your depth map. (Check Use Gradient Brush only if you wish to create a gradient on the Depth Map.) White areas are used for distant objects, black for near objects, and gray in-between – for some reason this seems strange to me. At first I kept getting a completely black Depth Map when the Reset button was pressed – finally realized that the Depth Value Slider was set to 0 so everything started as black or in focus. Set this slider higher, not all the way back or it will be a completely white Depth Map, to get a place to start if you do not like what the program generated for the map. Then add areas in black or white with the Brush and adjust the size to fit the areas you are trying to contour. The manual states that the larger the brush size, the more it will affect the adjacent areas. I found this to be true so a little experimentation is required to get the correct map. The side-by-side view gives you a real-time comparison to see how the effect is working.

I could not get the Lens – Motion effect I wanted for this image so I went back to my OnOne PhotoFrames and chose one from their Zoom Effects. I may be able to achieve this look in Topaz, but for this image it was just not working out. I also did some adjusting with the Clone Stamp in Photoshop where the Depth Map was not quite correct and the edges were smudged a bit. The Eyes were sharpened to make them pop more.

Camera – Toy Effect

This image was created using the Camera – Toy Effect and the FoliageI Preset as a start. The effect was centered on the wheel and Toy Camera Aberrations were set as follows: Vignette Strength (-0.30), Camera Shake (2.22), Camera Shake Angle (8.87), Grain Amount (0.09) and Double Image (No); Placement Adjustments were set to: Region Size (0.01), Transition (0.48), and Angle (130.3); Region A Color Casts were all 0 except for the Blue Cast A slider (0.06); Region B Color Casts were all 0 except for the Yellow Cast B slider (0.06); and Image Adjustments: Brightness (0.41), Contrast (0.09), Saturation (0.06), Saturation Boost (-0.08), Shadows (0.53) and Highlights (-0.01). I listed these settings so you could get a feel for all the sliders that can be adjusted to get a really unique look as shown above. A preset called Bright Colors was then created since it is very different from the ones provided. (Two OnOne PhotoFrames were added to give the grunge and frame effects.) Smashing Magazine has an article, “Uncovering Toy Cameras and Polaroid Vintage Effects (with Photoshop Tutorials),” that shows what some of the original images looked like with different types of toy cameras if you need some inspiration.

Camera – Tilt & Shift Effect

This image was created using the built-in Tilt and Shift Effect after watching another short U-Tube video called Quick Tips – Miniature Scenes 101 from Topaz. It turned out to be fairly easy to create but a little Gaussian Blue was added to the image in Photoshop for a little more blur in a few places. Smashing Magazine has an article on 50 examples of Tilt-Shift Photography if you want to get some good ideas how to use this effect.

Dual Tone Effect

For this image a Dual Tone Effect adding a bit of yellow and red was applied. For the original as seen on Flickr, click here. The preset that was used as a starting point was Top Left Red Leak but then a lot of sliders were adjusted to get the look above. There are four areas that can be adjusted:  Transition Adjustment which includes the Region Size, Transition and Angle – all of these are really important sliders; Region A Adjustment which sets the top color; Region B Adjustment which sets the bottom color; and Image Adjustment which includes the Brightness, Contrast and Saturation – all really important features. An OnOne PhotoFrame filmstrip border completes the image.

My final conclusion on this plug-in is that the Bokeh Effect has a possibility of being fantastic – it just has a bit of a learning curve but with practice, you should be able to get the exact results you want with the Depth Map. The other effects seem to give very pleasing results from the fun effects to the serious effects for doing major adjustments to you image. Even the Saturation and Sharpening effects I found to be really good. The Topaz Lens Effect plug-in is a great plug-in, but then I am a big Topaz fan and use most of their other products on a daily basis. The thing I like best about Topaz is that they keep the price down so for most people it is very affordable and makes Photoshop faster and more fun. (Check around for sites that will give you discounts for their products – NAPP members get 25% off.) Therefore, I give major Kudos to Topaz and all they do for the Photoshop community. That said, I do believe it is important to pool all your resources and if one plug-in does not give the look you want, use another one – they usually all work well together and the results can sometimes be spectacular.

Topaz has a 30-day fully functional download and they present short Webinars almost daily on the different effects. Give it a try and see if you can give your old images some new looks!


New Plug-In for Lightroom – Perfect Layers!

There is a lot of excitement in the Lightroom community this week about this new plug-in from OnOne software (see Digital Lady Syd’s Tidbits Blog sidebar to access website). If you love Lightroom, like I do, you need to try it out. Not unlike my “Fader” blog from a few weeks ago, this plug-in is accessed from the Plug-In Extras under the File menu. Below is a version I created solely in Lightroom (even OnOne’s PhotoFrame can be accessed from Lightroom) except for my signature layer. The following three images are all of Urquhart Castle in Scotland – a wonderful place to take photos!

I spent a few hours looking at the various short videos (most about 2 minutes long) on the OnOne site that were very helpful. When I first installed the program, I had some problems and had to reinstall it. It worked fine after that. Check out both Matt Kloskowski’s and Scott Kelby’s videos (on the same page as the download) for great explanations on how to use this add on. For the above image, I just used the original image and a Virtual Copy with a preset I created called Emphasize Purple (you may download here). A layer mask made inside Perfect Layers masked out the drab sky from the one image and added the beautiful virtual copy sky layer. which was set to Darken Blend Mode at 100% opacity. Very easy and very clean! Most of the Photoshop shortcuts work so it does not have that large a learning curve. Please note that in this version of Perfect Layer, the following Photoshop options are not supported – text layers, vector masks, layer styles, adjustment layers, paths, alpha channels, smart objects, layer groups, and clipping masks. These options will be flattened into a new psd file copy and rendered as a single layer in Perfect Layers.  Simple psd files containing basic layers and masks will open correctly. Your original version with all your original layers is always left untouched.

The image above uses the original image and a virtual copy that was converted to black and white – no preset used. Both copies of the image were selected and loaded into Perfect Layers with the B&W image on top. A Darken Blend Mode at 84% opacity was added along with a “Painted Out” Layer Mask so that the castle itself would retain its color and detail. The B&W layer was copied so the background water and hill could be emphasized even more – this new layer was set to Multiply Blend Mode at 100% opacity with the Layer Mask painted to hide the castle and foreground. An OnOne PhotoFrame was added to finish.

Below, two virtual copies were created and the Fader plug-in applied with a setting of 150% for each preset: the Blue and Gray preset (one I created to correct the water color) and Lightroom’s packaged preset called Direct Positive (for the castle and foliage). Both virtual copies were selected and loaded into Perfect Layers with the Blue and Gray preset layer on the bottom. The Direct Positive preset layer on top was put into an Overlay Blend Mode. A Layer Mask was “Painted Out” using the Brush Tool at 75% opacity over the water on the bottom edge. An OnOne PhotoFrame was added last. I am glad the two plug-ins both work together in Lightroom.

Texture and image blending can easily be handled. In the image below, after bringing a Maui landscape into Perfect Layers, the sky was stretched and cropped to become the whole image.  One of Caleb Kimbrough‘s beautiful free grunge textures (that can be downloaded here) is not in my Lightroom catalog but was added by going to File and selecting Add Layer(s) From File. Really sweet!

I have not tried all the ideas suggested in the videos and hope to try them soon. Once again, this has been a fun week of trying out something new – that is what is so great about Photoshop and Lightroom – there are always new things to explore! Hope you try out this new plug-in – I believe it is worth the time to do so!…..Digital Lady Syd