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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.

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.
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.
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.

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

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 DeNoise 5

For years I have resisted the temptation to buy noise software – it seemed awfully expensive for how much I needed to use it. When Lightroom 3 (and Adobe Camera Raw) came out with their new Noise Reduction sliders in the Effects section, I thought – this is all I needed! But as I am learning more about shooting images and attempting the “harder to get” shots, having a more powerful noise reduction plug-in at my disposal is absolutely necessary. I downloaded a trial of Topaz DeNoise 5 and am discovering that some of my images have more of a noise issue than I realized. If you like to shoot at night, or need to set your camera to a high ISO level (1250 and above) due to movement in your image, then you introduce some big problems. That is what happened to me in these examples. The image above is one I took through a window (with lots of reflection) in a low lighted restaurant on a very cool night at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. I really thought there was no way I would get a nice result of this beautiful view from my table. The image was shot at ISO 1250 and the original Camera Raw image was very bright and totally grainy. I was very surprised how quick Topaz DeNoise 5 (for website see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog) fixed up the noise in this night image – just one preset, RAW Moderate Preset, was applied and that was it! Bottom Line – definitely a sound choice for removing noise at any level!

Two things need to be done to use this plug-in effectively: 1) Make sure the Noise Reduction and Sharpening sliders in Lightroom and/or Adobe Camera Raw are turned off (if using Lightroom 3 make sure the Black slider is set to 0 also), and 2) use DeNoise first to avoid other problems cleaning up the image. The sliders are pretty intuitive once you play with them a little – usually all I am using is the Overall Strength slider and sometimes Recover Detail. The manual is an excellent resource if you have a bigger problem in your image.

This Flame Thrower image was cut out of a low resolution movie as a JPG from a luau at the Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island in Hawaii. I have had a lot of trouble getting good image quality from my movie shots of that evening to look clean and sharp. This was a difficult image to clean up but with some effort, it does remind me of the luau show. In DeNoise the settings I ended up using were Overall Strength set to 0.10 and Adjust Shadow set to -0.09, but it also needed Recover Detail slider (which subtly brings detail back into the image) set to 0.30 and Reduce Blur (intelligent deblurring to fix soft or blurry edges) to 0.39. I am finding that when I use the Detail Recovery sliders I have to adjust the Overall Strength more. These sliders appear to be unique to the DeNoise program and I love them.  Topaz recommends creating presets for each of the ISO settings on your camera(s) once you get settings you like. I created a preset for my movie images using the above settings. (Set preset to Absolute only if using preset for a series of images; use Relative when taking different kinds of shots with your camera and are using different ISO settings-the program will read changes in the image.)

This image was taken at SeaWorld‘s large Shark and Manta Ray Exhibit in Orlando, Florida. It was really hard to capture moving fish in a dark environment so they were not too blurry – an ISO setting of 1600 needed to be used to get the shot. DeNoise really helped clean up this image. Below is a comparison of what the image looked liked as a Raw image in Lightroom without Lightroom changes or DeNoise applied at 2 to 1 view.

Here is a similar shot as it appears in Photoshop at 200% view after Lightroom and DeNoise was applied but before the clean up layer and Curves Adjustment Layer were added.

To really see how the effect is being applied, the image should be viewed at 2 to 1 in a mid-tone area. It is not necessary to overdo getting rid of noise, a little remaining will not hurt an image. One of the features very unique to DeNoise is the ability to preview the noise not just in RGB , but also in the Luma, Color, Red and Blue. I usually start by previewing on the RBG mode and adjust the Overall Strength to get a feel for what the noise reduction is doing to the image. Next I go to Luma – sometimes there is more in this preview and the slider needs to be adjusted a little more. What I really like though is that on the tough images, the Blue  and Red Previews are great – you can adjust out splotchy areas by moving the Adjust Color – Red and/or Adjust Color – Blue component sliders a little bit to remove. Usually I finish up with the Detail Recovery sliders. For the above image though, only the Overall Strength slider was set to .33 and Recovery Detail to .30. I really do not use the other sliders very often as I don’t seem to need that much adjustment. Nichole Paschal at Topaz Labs has done a great video called Introduction to Topaz DeNoise – Remove Image Noise, Recover Important Detail that goes into more detail on how to get good results with all the sliders – definitely worth checking out if you download the trial. Also there is a really good banding section if your image has color noise across the image (often seen in JPG images especially) – I have not had to try this yet. I used a Curves Adjustment Layer to open up the shadow areas a little more back in Photoshop.

Bottom line – I am really enjoying this plug-in. It does a good and fast job of noise reduction with just a couple slider adjustments. But if you run into that difficult image, the tools are available to adjust these issues. I am very happy with the results I have gotten – and once again Topaz gives free upgrades when you purchase their products, so any new advancements are yours. Got to love this plug-in!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd’s Related Blogs:

Clowning Around with Topaz!
Topaz DeNoise 5 and InstaTone

Digital Lady Syd’s Photo Art Workflow

I am constantly amazed at how some of my images turn out – not at all what I had expected. This week I am going to go through my photo art workflow step-by-step so you can see what a difference a little tweaking will do. One of my favorite image types to play with in Photoshop are shots of art works. It is a nice break from cleaning up photos of family and large travel landscapes and gives me the opportunity to be creative. This image is of a type of art I had never heard of before that is on display at my favorite local museum – the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine, Florida. These are examples of Victorian era cigar band art. The Photoshop-processed image above is my final photo art result and the one I liked the best, but there were several other choices I considered.

NOTE: If you want to see the settings used for any of the steps, just click on the image and the larger Flickr image will appear.

  • Here is the initial image as a RAW NEF file. The dishes were enclosed in a glass case and the camera settings were a 44-mm lens at F/4.8, 1/8 sec, and ISO 1250. There is a lot of light glare on the pieces. This image is not one I would normally choose to process, but I just loved the composition of the items and the colors in the cigar bands.

  • My next step was to create a Virtual Copy in Lightroom (this does not have to be done if using Adobe Camera Raw in Photoshop) to try to clean up the tone a little before going into Photoshop. Since only a few changes were done here, it does not look much different. First I go to the Lens Correction section and select the Profile tab where I set my lens info, and then the Color tab where I check Remove Chromatic Aberration (this can save a lot of time later). The next step would be to adjust the Crop of the image if it needs it – in this case it did not. Now adjust the Basic sliders. Also check out the noise in the image and try to correct if needed. Next I right click on the image in Lightroom and select “Edit In -> Edit in Adobe Photoshop CS6” which now opens up Photoshop, if it is not already open, with your image.

  • I am a big fan of combining my plug-ins until I get just the effect I like. If I do not like what results, I just delete that layer and try again. I always duplicate the background first so I know what the image looked like to start. On a really difficult image, which I considered this one to be, I usually will first open up Nik Color Efex Pro 4 – they have so many filters, you can sometimes get a great look right away. Shown below are stacked filters Tonal Contrast, which I believe is one of the best filters in this plug-in; Pro Contrast, which is one of my personal favorites, and works wonders on many of the images I have processed; and Brilliance/Warmth, one of the most popular Color Efex filters – just adds a really soft warmth to an image. Usually I like the Detail Extractor, but it really looked bad on this image due to all the glare on the items. Note that before entering the plug-in, I created a Smart Object (right click on your duplicated layer in Layer Panel and select Convert to Smart Object in menu) as Nik plug-ins work very well with Smart Objects. It allows you to go back into the plug-in and all settings and control points will still be in place so they can be readjusted easily.

  • Since there is so much glare in this image, there is only one plug-in I know of that does a good job controlling it and that is my most used plug-in, Nik Viveza 2. It will almost always improve if not remove problem areas on an image. You can see I have added 10 control points on the glare areas (click on image to see the little round circles more clearly in Flickr) to try to even out the tone. By comparing to the above, it is not perfect, but what a difference it makes! The detail and saturation of the image is also much improved. (See my blog Nik’s Viveza 2 Plug-In – A Hidden Gem!)

  • Still have issues where the glare is – it needs to be cleaned up and the pink removed since it draws your eye into the left corner and it is distorted by the glare. The Color Replacement Tool was used to turn the pink color turquoise (see settings used in Options Bar in photo and turquoise foreground color in swatch) and some cloning was done on the dish to even out the pattern where the glare blows out the detail. A Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer was used to get rid of another pink hot spot. I usually try to work completely non-destructively (meaning the original image was not changed by any of the adjustments made on the layers above), but the Color Replacement Tool is destructive and changes are made on the image itself – the Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer may have been a better choice for this problem area.

  • I always add or at least try to add a Curves Adjustment Layer to adjust the contrast towards the end of my workflow. Since I thought I was almost done, it seemed appropriate to add it now. Below is what my curve looked like for this image. I usually just drag the Hand Tool (located in the upper lefthand corner of the panel) in the image to get this correct. It usually is just a subtle change but very significant. In this case I only wanted to brighten up the plate and mug where the color was located, not enhance where the glare was. The Curves Adjustment layer mask was turned black by clicking on the mask and CTRL+I to invert the color from white to black. Then a soft 30% opacity brush was set to white and used to gently paint back the areas where the I wanted additional contrast and color. This was a good point to create a composite layer that combines all the layers below into one on top by clicking (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) – this helps when the number of layers gets large as some techniques need a single layer to work correctly – this can especially be a problem with the Clone Tool.

  • At this point I thought I was getting the image to a final look. I decided I wanted sort of a vintage type edge on the image, so I used one of my very favorite textures, ShadowHouse Creations Old Photo 6. After trying several blend modes, I selected the Exclusion blend mode (which I do not use that much but worked in this case) set to 53% opacity. Still not sure it was quite what I wanted so I decided to add one of his new Assorted Mask Overlay (08) and set it to Soft Light blend mode at 100% opacity. Basically just the beautiful edges were used on both layers, and the image center was mainly painted out using black in the layer masks to keep the basic image intact. I often use the free Russell Brown Paper Texture Panel to try out and stack the various textures (the green square at the top of the icons to the left of the panels opens it up).

  • I must be done???? But then I thought, I wonder what happens if I take this image into the new Topaz photoFXlab (see sidebar for website in my Tidibits Blog). Well that proved to be a problem because I started finding all kinds of new effects I liked on this cleaned up image. The settings below were applied as a first step to the bottom layer for all the different Topaz effects tried on this image.

  • I duplicated the bottom layer in the plug-in and applied from the Effects tab a preset called Lithography by H. Hurst (Topaz used the preset from Topaz Detail) and set the layer to 65% opacity. In the Adjustment tab, the Saturation slider was set to 20. The Dodge Brush was used from the Brush tab to whiten around the pupil of the eyes of the girl on the plate using a brush strength of .10. Next the lips were slightly reddened using the Saturation brush. It was saved in the new Topaz extension .pfxl so the settings could be readjusted at a later date if needed. Clicked OK and applied to it to the image in Photoshop. At this point I did create a note to remind myself exactly what I did in the plug-in since I am still learning about the new extension. The image that resulted is shown below.

  • To be honest, I just didn’t love the final result so I decided to delete the layer where I applied the photoFXlab plug-in and start over in this plug-in. This time I decided to try out the results using the Plug-in tab and selected Topaz Adjust 5. Here I tried out one of my favorite presets I created from the French Countryside preset in the Vibrant Collection. It looked nice and more like what I wanted. I use this preset a lot when I want a nice artistic feel.

  • I decided to try one more preset just to see if I liked it and sure enough, it is the one I selected. It is in the Stylized Collection and is called Painting-Venice. I added several settings in the Finishing Touches section: Transparency – Overall Transparency slider to .7, Color – Warmth 0.03, and Tone – Quad Settings as shown on the image – the correct colors should be set already. Once out of the Adjust plug-in, in the Adjustment tab Exposure was set to 0.38, Contrast to -3 and Dynamics 24.

Well this is a good example of my workflow for a photo art image. I could have used OnOne Software’s wonderful Perfect Effects (see sidebar for website at my Tidbits Blog), or any of the other plug-ins offered by Topaz, but it just depends on what I think will work. Overall the main components are 1) process as discussed above in Lightroom, 2) take into Photoshop and do any clean up, 3) add plug-in effects, 4) add any textures if you want, 5) I always go to Viveza 2 now, 6) do any extra sharpening or noise reduction that might be required,  7) add a Curves Adjustment layer for final tone and contrast, and 8) add any framing. I hope you can see that even though a change is very small, it can be very significant to the photo, and that you can always change your mind. An image can take on such a different feel with different plug-ins and textures applied. I thought originally I wanted a very sharp almost HDR look for this image, but I ended up with a very bright painterly result. I am happy with it but it is not exactly what I had in mind when I started! …..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!
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.

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

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.”)

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.

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.

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.

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

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


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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!“)

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.


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!


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!

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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