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Posts tagged “Topaz Studio AI Clear

WHEN DO YOU USE TOPAZ DENOISE AI, SHARPEN AI, AND AI CLEAR?

Image of a large red hibiscus bloom
I was going to do a review of the updated Sharpen AI, but decided instead to write about when to use all these fabulous Topaz AI plugins since I think it is personally very confusing. I actually had this blog half-drafted a whole year ago and did not publish it as I could not figure out exactly what was going on. This week I finally got some answers in a couple Topaz (see sidebar of my Tidbits Blog for website link) Webinars that Joel Wolfson did in the last few months. So here is my take on what is going on and how I am using these products.

Always apply Topaz DeNoise AI (or any denoise product for that matter) first before applying Topaz Sharpen AI (or any sharpening filter) – you do not want to sharpen any noise residing in your image. Lots of photographers do their RAW processing first, then use DeNoise AI, and finally apply Sharpen AI – both programs can be reached directly from ACR, Lightroom, OnOne, and several other software programs or from within Photoshop as a plugin.

Topaz DeNoise AI

They have upgraded DeNoise AI several times since it was first released a year ago. It has been greatly improved with each revision. DeNoise AI also includes AI Clear and I will discuss that in more detail below.

So why use DeNoise AI? It is especially good for images set to a higher ISO, especially with lots of dark areas like night images. More noise will show up in the shadows and with the newer cameras especially, the ISO can be cranked way up to get that all-important detail. DeNoise AI has the ability to find just the noise in the darker (or lighter areas) areas and leave other noise-free areas alone. I have an older DSLR camera and the higher ISO setting images show lots of noise – this program has been a life-saver for me as I want to take those night-time shots too. The image above was taken in low evening light using 2000 ISO, which is unheard of for me and my camera. Below is the screenshot of what DeNoise AI was able to do to clean up this image – it may appear a little soft looking here, but at 100% it is still pretty sharp.

Screenshot of Topaz DeNoise AI interface

What the Sliders Do:

First, turn off the Auto-update preview or your computer will go nuts running all the time – just remember to click Update when ready to see the changes. Also note that at the top there is a Brightness button – it sometimes helps to see the noise better. To me the Auto button does not recognize the correct amount of noise in my images, so I do not use it. When adjusting these sliders manually, I usually over-adjust the Remove Noise amount, then move it back to the correct setting. And yes, keep hitting the Update button to see the change if Auto Update is turned off. What does the Sharpen slider do if there is a Recover Original Detail slider? According to Topaz, “It sharpens the details in your image since removing noise can sometimes soften the details in images, this allows you to retain that sharpness after processing your image.” The Recover Original Detail slider allows for refinement of details in the image to achieve a more realistic look if it appears that DeNoise AI has over-corrected the image. Still not clear on this, but it does seems to improved some images. It helps add some detail back when the image looks too smooth, especially with Portrait images – it definitely helped this flower image too. Looking at other images, it appears most people use Recover Original Detail somewhere around 25 to 35 for a setting. If there is color noise in your image, moving the Color Noise Reduction slider is very useful – a Size slider will appear where you must decide how much more of the image each pixel will look at – Joel says 0.50 is a good setting for this.

TOPAZ SHARPEN AI

The above image also had Topaz Sharpen AI applied after Topaz DeNoise AI from above. This is turning out to my very favorite Topaz product because I do not often shoot with a tripod and it has saved me on many occasions. One thing Joel pointed out is that when you are looking at your image set to 100% in Topaz, it is really the equivalent of looking at your image at 200% in Photoshop or other image processors. So if your image looks a little “crunchy,” it will not look like that at 100% in Photoshop. I do believe I get some really tack sharp images with this filter and often do not use DeNoise at all, but go directly to this filter before doing any other post work. One down side about this filter is that it takes a while to process and the larger the image, the longer it will take to Update and Apply.

Image of Topaz Sharpen AI InterfaceWhat the Sliders Do:

So more confusion here. Personally I do not use the regular Sharpen mode – it corrects for just general out-of-camera softness and does not do too much for my photos. But usually I will try both the Stabilize Mode (for motion blur or camera shake issues) and Focal Mode (great for bringing an eye in really sharp focus – corrects up to 10 pixels of focus blur). Sometimes one gives better results than the other. I will use the Auto button as a starting point for this filter – it appears to be a little better than DeNoise AI’s. Also, turn off the Auto-update Preview if you do not want to update every time you move a slider or the image –  just remember to click Update when ready to see the changes. Obviously the Sharpness slider will sharpen. But why yet another Suppress Noise slider? Topaz says it is to help remove noise so I am not sure why they put it here when they have DeNoise AI. I have found that if I do not quite remove all the noise in DeNoise AI because I am losing too much detail, by going into Sharpen AI, the noise can be adjusted a little more accurately to keep the sharpness tack sharp. But that is a bit of a pain to do. I never use the Add Grain.

Here is the best part about this filter – it now has masking capabilities and you can paint in just where you want the sharpness to be applied. So if you are doing a portrait and want the eyes sharper, just adjust the whole image for the eyes only, then click on the brush icon at the top, adjust the brush size, and paint out the eye only. The rest of the image stays just how it was. This is a fabulous addition. I like that you do not have to sharpen the background of an image to get a really sharp foreground such as a bird or animal in the foreground. The brush has settings for Edge Aware, Radius Size, Softness, and Opacity. A red Overlay can be turned on and off to show where the mask is being applied and a small mask window appears in the bottom right. Just click apply mask, click update again, and Apply.

AI CLEAR

In the DeNoise AI filter, there is an AI Clear Model. This is supposed to be exactly the same filter as the one that is in Topaz Studio – one big difference is that you can adjust the View with the Scroll Bar in Studio while you must use the parameters Topaz gives in you in DeNoise AI – mainly 100% and 200% are the most useful. I will not go over all the settings as there is an overlap between them and the DeNoise AI sliders – basically one is simplified for quick use. Below is a screenshot of the red flower using only the AI Clear filter in Topaz Studio and using the extra Exposure and Clarity sliders.

Screenshot of AI Clear interface in Topaz Studio 2

I personally like having the other two sliders to help adjust the lost contrast that denoising causes. Also, I noticed that the Recover Details did not work well on this image using either filter. Below is an image of Piccadilly Circus in London after AI Clear (Remove Noise High, Enhance Sharpness High and Recover Details 55) and Topaz Sharpen AI (Model Stabilize, Manual mode, Sharpness 100 and Noise 100) was used. For some reason, when Topaz DeNoise AI Mode was applied it lost a lot of the detail, especially of the very back building.

Image taken at night at Piccadilly Circus in LondonHere is a screenshot of part of the original so you can see all the noise in the image – it was taken at ISO 1600 and F/7.1. I was totally surprised that AI Clear would do a better job, but it did here. I would suggest trying both modes in DeNoise AI if you do not the like the results of one of them.

Screenshot of a noisy close up of Piccadilly Circus

What is the difference between DeNoise AI and Sharpen AI?

From Topaz website “DeNoise AI uses AI algorithms specifically made for digital noise removal. Its sharpening functionality is used primarily to smooth out any artifacts created during the process, and aren’t nearly as advanced as Sharpen AI, whose AI algorithms are custom built for focusing images.”

What is the difference between Sharpen AI and AI Clear?

From Topaz website “The Stabilize (shake reduction) and Focus (focus correction) modes in Sharpen AI have no AI Clear alternatives. These modes serve the purpose of InFocus classic plugin (with better results) rather than pure output sharpening.

The Sharpen module in Sharpen AI does have similarities with AI Clear. The difference here is a bit more subtle and come from the training process between these two products. AI Clear was trained on images with generally more noise, whereas Sharpen AI was trained on images with generally less noise but more blur. Resulting in AI Clear’s main detection is noise whereas Sharpen AI’s main detection is to recognize blur.  This makes Clear optimal for noisy images and Sharpen more effective for a bit more blurry images.”

What is the difference between DeNoise AI and AI Clear?

Joel answered this question and I have found it very helpful. Most DSLR camera’s have a low pass filter in front of the sensor which blurs the image a little. AI Clear is basically a Capture Sharpening and he personally applies it on every normal image first thing. He does not need a lot of denoising or sharpening, but just a little. I know I have used AI Clear in Topaz Studio (he uses it from DeNoise AI) for a long time and it is one of my favorite filters. You should use DeNoise AI when there is a bigger noise issue.

Bottom Line

Use DeNoise AI for images that just have too noise. The Sharpen slider adds back any softness that the filter may have caused, but it has limited capabilities.

Use Topaz Sharpen AI to fix up any images that are a little soft from shake or lack of focus. Especially useful for helping images that were hand-held. The DeNoise slider in this tool does not seem to be as robust as using DeNoise AI’s Remove Noise slider but does work some.

Use Topaz AI Clear (in Topaz Studio or DeNoise AI) for capture sharpening at its default settings for most images. Just really sharpens them up the right amount and helps with the final look.

For me Topaz Sharpen AI may be the best filter on the market right now – it is totally incomparable IMHO! The new Masking Brush is just an added bonus. By having the Suppress Noise slider, it will find any excess noise that was missed in DeNoise AI. I would definitely get this filter if I did not already own it. I think DeNoise is a fabulous program but it is not usually my issue. AI Clear does a wonderful job in Topaz Studio for me so I stick with it. I believe if I upgrade my camera soon, DeNoise AI may be much more important since I will be using those higher ISO settings, but right now, AI Clear fixes most of my noise issues.

Hope this cleared up a bit of the confusion on these filters. It has been a struggle for me to figure out when and which one to use. Have another great week and I hope everyone is catching up on some of that post work that seems to be always waiting for you! ….. Digital Lady Syd


MY ANIMAL BUDDIES THAT TOOK OVER MY BLOG

Image of a Great Flamingo

Since it is the Memorial Day Holiday here in the U.S., I am letting my Animal Buddies take over the the blog and I am going to play hookie. (Hope you all have a sense of humor!) With that, will see you in a couple weeks after a blog breather! Take it away guys!

I am a beautiful Greater Flamingo showing off my new pink beak polish (DLS: Where in the world did she get this?) at the Jacksonville Zoo in Florida. Syd took a selfie for me that involved a bit of post-processing in Photoshop to get my gorgeous looking beak. (DLS: To be honest, she had a pretty bright pink beak as it was). There’s a whole bunch of us in the pen – we love to dance and follow each other around. Please come and visit me and my large family. You can find us on the Main Path – we love it when people visit! (She has some really colorful, noisier relatives called Caribbean Flamingos further back in the zoo so visit them also – see my short blog called I Am Feeling So Sleepy!) (Check out Image 1 for pix info at end of blog.)

***** Image of a Ring Tailed Lemur at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Hi Everyone! Nice to have someone visit! I totally love living here at the Lemurs of Madagascar Exhibit at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm. If you come by early when the Farm just opens, you can enjoy breakfast with me. I am a Ring Tailed Lemur and our family is headed by a female. I always check out my breakfast of tamarind and flowers carefully – I don’t like to share my food. (DLS: I think we’re seeing here a very picky eater!) I also have to share my quarters with several Red Ruffed Lemurs (Here is one sunbathing from a previous Flickr link). Usually after breakfast we all do a group sunbathe in the morning. Come on by and say “Hi” to us – we will be glad to entertain you for awhile. We have lots of fun here! (Check out Image 2 for post work on this image.)

*****

Image of an Eastern Bongo at the Jacksonville Zoo, Florida

OK, Syd thinks I wanted to eat her! Not really – I do not like to eat animals, strictly a vegetarian here. I just thought I would give her a different pose since she seemed upset I was not looking at her so she could take my picture. I am called an Eastern Bongo, which in your lingo is antelope, and there are some pretty weird stories about my species on the Jacksonville Zoo website. It says I can hang from branches by my horns and drop on unsuspecting hunters in the forest. Really??? I have never done that in my life! Where do these tales come from??? Come on by – I am near the Plains of East Africa section and either me or one of my family will be glad to give you a nice camera pose. (See Image 3 below for pix info.)

*****

Image of Spoonbill at the Jacksonville Zoo, Florida

Excuse me while I get situated here! I am not sure what happened! Oh my – this is embarrassing! Well apparently Syd got a shot of me at my worst! I am an African Spoonbill – not pink like the pink Roseate Spoonbills that are always flying into our River Valley Aviary at the zoo this time of year. I spend most of my time walking in the water looking for a seafood lunch, but sometimes I like to hang out on big branches. Did you know I am the size of a 3-year old human? I will be very happy to pose for you, but do not get too close or I will run away (DLS: or lose your balance?). (Image 4 has info this pix.)

*****

Digital Art of a Dolphin's Playground

DLS: Uh….Where did these guys come from? Hi – we are dolphins that are a figment of Syd’s imagination so we decided to make an appearance even though you can’t come visit us. Pretty nice digs though? I think she was thinking about Hawaii or maybe sailing in the Bahamas. Either place is fine since we will fit in anywhere. I know Syd loves dolphins so you will probably see us make other appearances in the future. Hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday and celebrating like us! (Image 5 info below.)

All us animal buddies hope you enjoyed out blog this week. It was really fun to do something different and help Syd out with her blog. She will be back soon with more tips and maybe, just maybe she will let us do this again down the way. Everyone have a great weekend and come see us!…..Animal Buddies for Digital Lady Syd

Image Information:

Image 1: Topaz (for website link, see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog) DeNoise AI was applied first on the image first. Her background was created in Topaz Studio using the Impression Adjustment and the Chalk Smudge III preset where the bird was painted out. Precision Detail and Precision Contrast adjustments were used on the bird. PS’s Fan Flat Blend mixer was used to paint in the bird feathers, neck and head. The Topaz ReStyle filter was applied using the Cadet Gray and Copper preset – lots of changes in there to get the nice texture on the background. On a stamped layer, Skylum’s Luminar 3 (for website link, see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog) plugin was opened and Joel Grimes Details Warmth preset was applied at 52%. The last step was a Curves Adjustment Layer and a Levels Adjustment Layer Vignette. The font is called Style Casual, one of my favorites but is not free.

Image 2: Not much with done with my little friend here. In Topaz Studio AI Clear was applied to sharpen him up a bit. A little dodge and burning with Curves Adjustment Layers and an On1 Color Lookup Adjustment Layer set to 36% was used to pull the image colors together a bit. The font is a free one called kb Sickboy. That was about it.

Image 3: This pix was hard to post process since he was cut out of a larger image. I had to use a Blur in the background to create the DOF I wanted. The color was hard to get close to what he looked like – easy to over-color here and I am still not sure it is that accurate but he looks good. Topaz Sharpen AI was set to Stabilize and the defaults. Then just the standard (for me) dodge and burning, Nik Viveza 2, Spotlight layer and Curves Adjustment Layer to finish up.

Image 4: This Spoonbill took me a long to get right as I had a little trouble with the white feathers. Also the background was just too sharp so that had to be softened a bit. And then pretty much the same ole workflow – edges had to be cleaned up, a little sharpening, and contrast added. The font is another one of my favorites called Honey Script.

Image 5: This image was just total fun and tons of layers. The main attractions, the two dolphins, palm trees, and flying birds are all from my favorite object place, PixelSquid. The square effect is from a free action called Inception by Sparklestock which is what started me on make this composite. The waterfall is a brush from a set by Frostbo called Waterfall Set 2. The waves in the water are more brushes from Aaron Blaise’s water brushes. The overall soft effect was created by going into Luminar 3 using their new AI Filter 2.0 and AI Sky Enhancer filters along with another favorite, the Radiance filter, which gave the overall soft feel to the image. The not free font is called Fratello Nick. Nik Viveza 2 was used to even out the color in the palm fronds. Then just my basic workflow. I love doing this kind of image!


TOPAZ DENOISE AI – AND YES, FREE UPGRADE WHEN YOU OWN DENOISE6 OR AI CLEAR

Image of a home on The Big Island in Hawaii
This week Topaz (for website see my Tidbits Blog sidebar) came out with their new DeNoise AI filter which is supposed to replace the older DeNoise 6 filter and the Topaz Studio AI Clear Adjustment. I am glad we still have access to all of them – and yes, if you own either DeNoise or AI Clear Adjustment, you get the the DeNoise AI filter and stand-alone products for free. What could be better!

So what is DeNoise AI? Once again I have to take info from the website as there is not much info out there on the filter. It seems to me that a pretty noisy image works best when using this filter – for me that means a higher ISO setting or overall darker images. The interface (see screenshot below) is basically the same sliders as AI Clear Adjustment (without the Exposure and Clarity sliders) so it is easy to figure out how the filter works. Definitely need to fiddle with the Noise and Sharpness sliders but I could not see much change with the Restore Detail slider at this time. Also be sure to set the Automatically Update Preview button to Off. It seems this filter produces a much higher DeNoise effect than either AI Clear (which has Remove Noise buttons called Auto, Low, Med and High as choices) and Sharpen AI (which has a Suppress Noise slider). The older DeNoise 6 plugin does not use AI technology so it may not be so useful now.

The only negative I see is DeNoise AI has only a small preview area which limits viewing of the whole effect on the image. It takes a while to get the preview and has to be reapplied each time you move the view area. Once the Apply button is pressed, it takes an even longer time, depending on the size of the image, to set the change on the layer in PS. This will probably be improved with future updates. On difficult images like the one above, it does do a fabulous job and my house image can now be used. Therefore I am finding AI Clear is still working great when I just need a little quick noise clean up but when I see real noise issues, DeNoise AI is excellent. On Topaz’s website, there are several images you can download and try with this software.

On this image when a sky was added (see steps in next paragraph for this), I had to also run the sky layer through the DeNoise AI filter so it would match the image – did not expect to have to do this but it worked! Sometimes textures and sky images are pretty low res and have a lot of noise in them. (Set the sky to Noise Level 0.70 and left Sharpness and Restore Detail at 0.) The house image had these camera settings (ISO 1600, 35 mm using a 18-200 mm zoom lens, F/9.5 at 1/500 sec. taken from a moving car) and was in bad shape. In LR only did a Crop, Enable Lens Profile and Remove Chromatic Aberration. See the screenshot of what the interface looked like after applying the DeNoise filter to the LR image. Click on the image to see a larger view of the interface in Flickr. The noise was particularly apparent in the glass in the windows. Notice all the other reflections from the car window that had to be removed with a Clone Stamp Tool too.
Image of Topaz DeNoise AI filter
And a little trick for adding a sky: if the original sky is basically all white with lots of tree branches and leaves around it – just add the cloud image on top and then double click on the layer to open the layer style for the sky; set the Blend If to Blue and in Underlying Layer move the black tab right to bring back the leaves and branches (split the tab by ALT clicking on it to pull apart and get a more natural transition between sky and trees). Really quick and easy to do. I might also add that Skylum’s Luminar 3 (for website see my Tidbits Blog sidebar) upgraded this week and totally improved their Accent AI Filter – I used it on this image and was very pleased with the result. Their AI Sky Enhancer was also used on the image. This is also a free update for Luminar 3.0 owners.

I plan on writing about this filter again after I have had more time to test it out. If you own either of the other noise products, be sure to upgrade. Definitely worth doing and it really is a nice addition. I am sure there are many ways to use it on your images. Have a very nice week!…..Digital Lady Syd


WHAT ABOUT THOSE COLOR STRIPS IN THE HUE/SATURATION ADJUSTMENT LAYER?

Image of a purple Red Ruffed Lemur
This week I am just going to explain how this Red Ruffer Lemur turned into a purple Lemur – possibly trying on his Easter outfit? This technique that I learned makes this so easy but you need to follow the workflow below. I am finding that this is really a great way to add some creative effects into an image. It was presented in Unmesh Dinda’s totally excellent video called Master Hue/Saturation from Start to Finish in Photoshop. This 38-minute video is by far the best I have seen on the Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer so if you have the time, watch it. You will learn some new things.

After viewing Unmesh’s video, I was able to turn this Lemur fur purple very easily – I was totally blown away by how natural the color replacement looked. What is happening is that by looking at the horizontal strips at the bottom of the Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and moving the gray slider indicator in the middle of the two strips, the bottom strip color will show a very exact color replacement in your image. Don’t worry about this, it it pretty intuitive once you try it. Totally amazing and very easy to get the correct color change and coverage.

A lot of post processing was done on just the original Red Ruffer Lemur image and it seemed finished (see last image of blog for this result). To change the fur color, two Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layers were used to adjust slightly different color tones on the fur (the reddish orange and the really over-exposed yellow white area on the right side of lemur.) My short video shows how to achieve a similar result using the free Lily Pads image from a set called 20 Free Photos From Seychelles. (I use these images all the time for practice.) In this case two color ranges were changed using just one Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer.

The final result of the Lily Pads image from the video is shown below. Two slightly different iterations were created just by setting the adjustment layer sliders and the gray slider between the horizontal strips at different positions.

Image of Lily Pads with creative coloring
This is the workflow:

  1. Add a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and click on the little hand with the horizontal arrow in the upper left of the panel. Click on the color you want to change, in this case the red Lemur fur (or water in Lily Pads image). This will open up the Reds (or Blues in Lily Pads) in the field by the little hand. (For PS Elements users, if you do not have a hand, just select one of the colors that you want to change in the drop down, then sample with the left bottom eye-dropper tool – it will do the same thing. Otherwise all the other steps are the same.)
  2. Move the Saturation and the Hue sliders all the way right.
  3. Look at the horizontal color strips at the bottom of the panel – the area between show a gray slider with tabs on the ends and indicates the range of color PS has chosen. The top vertical strip and bottom strips look the same right now. You can make the color range narrower or larger by moving on the gray slider the little vertical straight line tabs closer together or further apart – look at your now crazy colored image to see what areas are being affected. (This is not unlike the way the Blend If tabs in the Layer Style Panel work.) Basically I just dragged the straight vertical lines out until the red fur was turned to a purplish color (or the water was covered with a color I liked). It will be adjusted more later.
  4. Drag the little pointed outside tabs outward to smooth the color transitions or closer to straight vertical lines for a narrower range. (Again like pressing the ALT key and splitting the tab in the Blend If dialog.)
  5. Now set the Hue and Saturation sliders back to 0 by double clicking on the words.
  6. Last step is to adjust the Hue slider to bring in the new color more cleanly. You will see those colors show up on the bottom horizontal strip and the top line will retain the original colors so you can compare the ranges easily. You can also adjust the Saturation and the Lightness sliders here. Note: when using Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer (or just Adjustment), the Lightness slider should not be used with the Master selected – looks really bad, but in the individual colors, it is fine to move the Lightness slider. Also go back and move the gray slider between the horizontal color bars to possibly get an even better color blend.

The two other examples of the Lily Pads image show that by using this technique, the different colors can be changed to get other looks. Note that all three versions used a Curves Adjustment Layer on top to add a little contrast back into the image.

Image of Water Lilies using Different Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer Settings

Here are the original images used before the Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layers were added:
Tych of Lily Pads and Red Ruffed Lemur

That’s it. This was so easy I could not believe it and the horizontal Color Strips are so handy. Well that’s my tip – short but sweet. If you want to try a slightly different technique, check out Colin Smith’s recent video called Instantly Change Color of Anything in Photoshop without Selections where he uses the Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer’s mask to limit the location of the color change first. I like that I did not have to use the mask to adjust the colors with this technique, although you can. For example, I could have brought back the Lemur’s yellow eyes by painting them back in the Hue/Saturation Adjustments Layer’s mask. Hope you give this fun technique a try. Have a great week!…..Digital Lady Syd


HOW TO RANDOMIZE SOME COLOR WITH THE GRADIENT MAP ADJUSTMENT LAYER


Image of the Trail at Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka, Florida

This week I am getting back to just having some plain ole’ Photoshop fun! Recently I ran across an easy and quick technique to turn an image that looks ho-hum into something great! There are times when an image does not look quite right no matter what is tried. That is when I usually open one of Topaz’s (see the sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) creative filters to see if something connects with me – that is usually the fabulous Topaz ReStyle plugin. (See blog links at bottom of post for more info.) But if you do not own ReStyle, this a pretty nifty way to get a somewhat similar result using a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer. The last two examples do not have extreme color changes, but by adjusting the layer opacity, which seems to be critical in getting certain looks, or trying different blend modes, very interesting results can be obtained.

What does a Gradient Map do? Photoshop maps the shadows in an image to the foreground color and the highlights to the background color. It also allows you to add as many colors as you want by using the Gradient Editor while still maintaining some of the photo’s original tonality. For more on using a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer for black and white images, see my blog links at end of post.

Workflow on How to Randomize a Gradient Map

Recently Kelby One placed a link to a short video by Victor Feyes called How to Get Easy Color Grades in a Simple Way that used this technique. Here are the steps used for getting some pretty fantastic quick results:

  1. Open Gradient Map Adjustment Layer and set the Blend Mode to Color and the Layer Opacity to roughly 50%. Don’t worry about the actual colors in the  color swatch.
  2. Click on the gradient strip to open the Gradient Editor dialog.
  3. Set the Gradient Type to Noise.
  4. Set the Roughness somewhere under 15%, usually nearer to 10%.
  5. Set the Color Mode to HSB or LAB.
  6. Check Restrict Colors box.
  7. Click Randomize as many times as you need to get an effect that looks good.
  8. If the colors are too intense but look good, go out of the dialog and change the layer opacity – less than 50% is best.

That’s it! It is so simple I am not sure why I didn’t try this a long time ago. These settings above are general and there is no reason why the Color Mode cannot be left at RGB, the Roughness setting increased, or Add Transparency checkbox turned on. And all the Color Mode sliders can be adjusted to give a little different result on the image. (See the last image’s screenshot.) Watch the gradient while clicking the Randomize button to see how the different colors are affecting different parts of the image. Once the gradient is applied, in the Gradient Map properties, there is a Reverse button that can give an interesting effect. To save the gradient for reusing, in the Dialog Box click in field to name if you want and click the New button – it appears at the end of the shown gradients. (Note: if the Save… button is clicked, it opens a dialog to save all the presets in one file and not just the new one.)

The image at top was taken at Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka, Florida (with this rather steep trail that tried to kill me!) and was pretty much a basic shadowy shot. The images I took here have been hard to post-process due to the bright sun and blotchy effect on the bushes and flowers which were in bloom. Therefore this image seemed like a logical choice to try out this Gradient Map technique. Below is a Screenshot showing the original image with only LR settings applied and the Gradient Map and settings used to create the new color look in the top image. The Adjustment Layer was set to Color blend mode and 36% Layer Opacity. (Click on screenshot to see larger in Flicker.)
Screenshot of the Gradient Map settings for the Ravine Gardens Trail image

What the Gradient Map Dialog Box and Sliders Do

The Photoshop Wow Book (from years ago but still one of the best PS books around) is the only good source I could find on how the Gradient Map Dialog Box actually works so the following info is from this book. By checking the Add Transparency box, random transparency is provided – by checking this box “….will probably introduce more variability than you want to cope with” so instead use a layer mask after the Noise gradient is applied. The Noise Gradient ranges are set by moving the sliders on the Color Model bars which will determine the Outside limits of the colors that can appear in your gradient but the gradient will often include a much narrower range of colors. The Wow Book also provides the following definitions: Roughness: a higher amount makes more and sharper color bands and a lower amount has fewer bands and smoother transitions. Restrict Colors is checked so that the gradient will not include any colors too saturated to be printed with CMYK inks. To create a gradient of just gray colors, set the Color Model to HSB and set the Saturation all the way to the left – now only the Brightness tabs will have any effect on the image. I could not get a very good result doing this. The pretty Azalea below was also taken at Ravine Gardens in Palatka, Florida and is another example of this workflow.
Beautiful White Azalea image taken at the Ravine Gardens in Palatka, Florida
Below are the settings used in the photo above – click on image to see larger in Flickr. The blend mode was still set to Color and the Layer Opacity was set to 55% – any higher opacity and the image becomes very yellow.
Screenshot of Gradient Map dialog for azalea image
A  different gradient was tried below. A screenshot shows more of a blue toned gradient applied. Used Color blend mode and 42% Layer Opacity. The image is not finished, but it does give a very different pretty result.
Screenshot of Blue-Purple Gradient Map for Azalea
This last image of Old St. Andrews in Scotland is an example of combining the two types of Gradient Maps – the first was a Noise Gradient Map (see screenshot for how image looked before applying the Gradient Map Adjustment Layer – click on it to see settings more clearly in Flickr). On top a regular Solid Gradient Type instead of Noise was selected and Blake Rudis’s action and his gray gradient 19 set to Soft Light blend mode at 41% Layer Opacity was added. Blake has a really good video called Advanced Color Toning Made Easy and he gives away the action and 20 gradients so check it out. It’s a very handy action and I use it all the time! This combination seems to bring some very good results in the images. It is not a huge change but definitely an improvement.
Image of a View of Old St. Andrews in Scotland
Screenshot of Gradient Map settings for St. Andrews image
Hope you will try this technique. It gives some really nice unusual looks and can really pull the colors of an image together for some needed pizzazz! I am having a lot of fun with it. Have a great week – Spring is almost here!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Digital Lady Syd Reviews Topaz ReStyle – from a while ago, but it is still relevant
Four Picture Triptych with Topaz ReStyle
How to Use a Topaz ReStyle Trick for Improving Your Image
How to Do a Black & White Gradient Map Conversion


TOPAZ SHARPEN AI – GOOD OR BAD? AND YES, FREE UPGRADE FOR TOPAZ INFOCUS OWNERS

Image of a Tigress at the Jacksonville Zoo
Recently Topaz (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) released yet another new AI (Artificial Intelligence) filter called Sharpen AI – this comes as a real surprise since just a a while back JPEG to Raw AI was released. What is interesting about this new release is that it was actually based upon the older Topaz Infocus filter. And if you already own Infocus, you get the new Sharpen AI automatically. I love Topaz for this – they do honor their company commitment that if a filter is upgraded and you own it, you get the upgrade free! See section below for info on how to do this as there appears to be a lot of confusion with this. Let’s start by showing what Sharpen AI’s interface looks like and does. I have added several sections so if you are not interested in all the details, you can skip through some of them. Above is the lovely Siberian Tigress named Dorcas at the Jacksonville Zoo – what a lovely creature she is!

Sharpen AI Interface

Sharpen AI And AI Clear both improves an image’s sharpness and reduces its noise. There is a difference with how they each deal with noise reduction. In AI Clear the noise is adjusted by clicking on Auto or the Low, Med and High buttons. So one of these settings must be chosen. Click on the image below to see the settings more clearly in Flickr.

Interface of the AI Clear adjustment in Topaz Studio
In Sharpen AI, there is an actual Suppress Noise slider and it can be applied at any amount and with any of the three modes that can be selected. Therefore there is a lot more versatility. Click on the image below to see a larger view of the interface for the Sharpen AI plugin in Flickr and the settings used on the Tigress. The left side is the original image with no sharpening at all and the right side has Sharpen AI applied. If you look closely, the eyes are definitely sharper in the Sharpen filter and some of the hairs around the face are subtly sharper. (The image above was enhanced with Sharpen AI. In Topaz Studio’s Precision Detail was applied to whole image and Impression applied to just the background, and in PS Lighten and Darken Curve Adjustments Layers to add contrast.)

Image of Tigress using the Topaz Sharpen AI plugin
There are three modes that can be tried on the image before applying it. I like this since one may not work as well as another. I am finding that the mode I thought I should use is not always the best one.

Sharpen Mode – this setting is supposed to only sharpen the things you want and brings out the detail in your image – Topaz says it “only sharpens the good stuff” and I guess this is where the AI comes in. It figures out what needs to be sharp in your image.

Stabilize Mode – it is supposed to be best when used with moving objects or low light situations. It “stabilizes” the motion blur that results.

Focus Mode – Topaz says it “rescues a blur within ten pixels” so that a slightly out-of-focus shot becomes much sharper. If part of an image is in focus, like the eyes, but the nose is not, this mode will fix that and bring the nose in focus also.

The Remove Blur slider is the main slider to adjust any of the three modes. They advise against setting it to 1.00 but I use 0.70 quite a bit. It can make the image look too crunchy but that may be okay if you are just using this filter for just the eyes. (See next section for more on this.) As noted above the Suppress Noise slider will reduce the noise in the image and is set to 0.50 as a default. I am also finding that this can be reduced to give some better results if you do not need the noise adjusted. Add Grain slider is only needed if the Mode over corrects your image resulting in an unnatural surface smoothness or loss of too much detail – some texture can be added back this way. It is probably not something that needs to be used often.

How to Use the Sharpen Filter

I usually use this filter from Photoshop since I like to tweak the results once applied. It also is much easier when using the masking as I am describing in this section. I am also finding that the Focus mode fits my problem areas in photography – many people also like the Stabilize mode. One of the best uses for Sharpen AI is to apply it so the eyes so look really sharp, then go back into PS and add a black layer mask to everything but the eyes. Paint them back with white at any brush opacity to make it look good. I have not tried this on a person pix yet but saw this demonstrated with great success.
Image of a Guereza Colobus Monkey at the Jacksonville ZooThe Guereza Colobus Monkey above used the Focus mode with Remove Blur at 0.70, Suppress Noise at 0.30 and Add Grain at 0 (therefore more sharpening and less noise reduction smoothing) on a layer in PS. In PS a black layer mask was added and just the monkey and foreground was painted back for sharpening. Click on screenshot to see large in Flickr.
Screenshot of Monkey image showing original and Sharpen AI filter applied
Other work was done in Photoshop like using a Lighten Curve to lighten him up a little and the palm shadow was added to take the distracting background away (see 15 Shadow Mockup Overlays by andshesbrave). I am often sharpening the whole image and then masking out completely the other parts of the image in the PS with a 100% white brush or using a lower amount set to reduce part of the effect in the mask. Also Blend If sliders could be handy here.

Below is an example of a landscape hand-held from of all things a bus! Sharpen AI really pulled out all the rigging lines that I have never been able to get clear – this filter saved my image – it may not be the best I have ever taken, but it sure is one of my favorites from Scotland. The filter made the image usable and that is probably the key to what makes a filter a good one. All your images are not going to be that great but some definitely have more meaning and need to be saved of those precious memories.
Image of a sailboat in the Highlands of ScotlandAbove, this whole Scottish image was sharpened, probably a bit too much – used settings of Processing Mode Focus, Remove Blur 0.70, Suppress Noise 0.80 and Add Grain 0. Then back in PS a black mask was added again and just the sailboat and its lines were painted back which made them very sharp. Using the Focus mode sharpened these lines up beautifully – never have been able to do this with any other product. AI Clear could not help this image. Then I took the image into Topaz Studio where Precision Detail was applied just to the boat. Several other clean up and color toning steps were done but the sharpening on the boat makes this image.

I am finding it is best not to use both AI Clear and Sharpen AI on the same image. It will usually over sharpen the image and add artifacting. You can add other forms of sharpening like using the PS High Pass to sharpen or the Sharpen Tool on special areas with either filter. Just be sure to localize your sharpening when doing this. The Monkey above also had a High Pass added at the end of my workflow but it was only added selectively where the foreground elements needed just a bit more sharpness. In other words, this filter does not do it all, but it is a great place to start, especially if an image needs a little extra help.

What is the Difference between AI Clear and Sharpen AI?

The big question is “Why do I need this filter?” To be honest, I rarely used Infocus so I was as perplexed at this as everyone else. And now that AI Clear is such a fabulous product, is it needed? Let’s address AI Clear first. Since Topaz fixed AI Clear back in October of last year, I use it on almost every image I post-process. I think a lot of people feel that way – I have yet to find another filter that does what this one does in just a couple clicks. It is fast and easy to apply from either Lightroom, Photoshop, or Topaz Studio. It almost always improves an image’s sharpness and reduces its noise.

It seems to me that Topaz Sharpen AI should be used for images that have what I consider bigger issues. Topaz claims it is a great asset for shots taken when hand-holding the camera. “The machine learning training process allows it to understand the difference between detail vs. noise. This means that it can selectively apply sharpening to just the image features it perceives as detail.” On landscapes it brings back detail in all parts of an image while removing noise. Sharpen AI is both a stand-alone (which will only accept Tiff, Jpeg and Png files but plans to add Raw file capability are in the works) and a plug-in that can be accessed by Lightroom, PS and Topaz Studio. NOTE: A big tip is to be sure the Automatically Update Preview is set to No or else you and your computer will be going crazy as it keeps updating the filter! The Stabilize and Focus modes in Sharpen AI are not contained in AI Clear – they originated from the original Infocus techniques. It is not fast at processing and can be down-right slow when saving the final settings to the image – this depends on the size of the file you are using. The Tigress image took 2 minutes to save on my computer which has a pretty fast processor. I did run the Shake Reduction filter in Photoshop (remember when we thought this was the greatest filter ever????) for comparison and it is not even close to either Sharpen AI or AI Clear – we have come a long way with this technology.

Topaz describes the subtle differences between the two programs by saying: “AI Clear’s main detection is noise whereas Sharpen AI’s main detection is to recognize blur.  This makes Clear optimal for noisy images and Sharpen more effective for a bit more blurry images.” I believe this is true with my experience using both programs. Sharpen AI does not have batch capability – it is too computer intensive at this point while AI Clear does have the capability.

If you already own Topaz Infocus, Here is how to Upgrade to Topaz Sharpen AI:

Not sure if you own Topaz Infocus? Check out your Topaz Labs Account for purchased products – should be able to tell if you had this plugin originally.

1. Download a trial version of the program and load it on. It should say you have a 30-Day Trial at the top of the program.

2. Now click on the Help Menu and select Update Ownership which should be the second item in the drop-down list. Just click on it and it will remove the Trial information.

If having problems with the above (and hopefully you do not have to do the following steps), here is the info direct from the website forum:

Log into your Topaz Account. Click on Coupon either on the left side of your account page or under Account > coupon then click on the coupon tag. Next go to the Stand alone > Sharpen AI menu at the top of the page and select Sharpen AI. Once on the page, scroll to the bottom and find Buy Now. Once you have the cart it should show the price minus the coupon. Then check out normally to purchase. Finally, download or if you are using a trial go to the Help menu > Update ownership (in the program) and it will change from trial to normal version.

Bottom Line

I am starting to like the Sharpen AI better the more I use it but no way am I getting rid of my AI Clear! Sharpen AI is very slow and I can get fairly similar results with AI Clear and a little Precision Detail or Precision Contrast in Topaz Studio – that is when using an image that is in pretty good shape. If your image does not have that really tack sharp image result (and many of mine do not as seen in the sailboat image), Sharpen AI may really be the answer for you. I believe that as time goes on, Topaz will be updating this plug-in, like they did with AI Clear, and it will be a much faster and better product. In the  meantime, I am going to continue using it to see when it is best for my own images. I know this is not a definite answer, but I trust Topaz and believe they will improve this filter to where it will be a no-brainer to use it (like AI Clear is for me right now). I do believe Topaz is going in the right direction with all the AI plug-ins and are working very hard at staying on top of this new technology. Kudos to them for that! I will continue to keep you updated on all their new products – I love the Topaz products. They fit into my workflow very well.

Hope you download the trial to try Sharpen AI out at least and if you own Infocus, definitely download it and check it out. Have a good week! …..Digital Lady Syd


USING A LEVELS ADJUSTMENT LAYER FOR A VIGNETTE

Image of a Gecko at the Jacksonville Zoo
As promised last week, here is the second new (to me) vignette technique that I am using all the time now. It works really well when you have a single subject like this Henkel’s Leaf Tailed Gecko image taken at the Jacksonville Zoo. This technique was demonstrated by Unmesh Dinda’s (the new PS guru who has so many tricks up his sleeve that I can’t keep up with his posts) excellent video called How to Match Subject and Background – Part 1. You can really drive the vignette towards your subject very easily.

First I am going to list the steps for this workflow – once you do it a couple times, it becomes very easy to do:

1. Select a Levels Adjustment Layer and set the Output Levels to 0 and roughly 90 – 100 – really darkens down the image.
2. Create a large, hard edged round brush – mine is set to Size 1900 pixels, Hardness 100%, and Opacity and Flow at 100%. If you plan on using this vignette often, it would be a good idea to save the brush settings as a Brush Preset.
3. Set the color swatch to black and click one time on your subject in the Levels layer mask with the new brush.
4. Select the Transform command (CTRL+T) and pull out the white circle to fit the subject more closely. It can be rotated and distorted to fit the area to keep clear of the vignette.
5. Next click in the Properties tab (the black round hole in a white square icon) for the Levels Adjustment Layer and set the Feather to 350-500 pixels – very large and soft. Can Free Transform again if it does not look correct.
6. Adjust the layer opacity if effect too dark.

You can see the way the vignette is centered on the little flat hand on the glass and his head. I wanted to emphasize the interesting background pattern that comes from the right corner also. This type of vignette was exactly what was needed – 500 pixel feather was used on this image and set to 59% layer opacity.

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Image of a Ring-tailed Lemur at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm
This ring-tailed Lemur whose image was taken at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm (he definitely looks like he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar!) also uses this same technique. Very little was done to this image other than using Topaz (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website info) Studio’s wonderful AI Clear to sharpen him up a little, and a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer to even out the colors a little (see a nice video by Blake Rudis called Color Toning in Photoshop with Gradient Maps and Soft Light Blend Mode where you can download 26 gradients to use with this technique – I used his Gray Gradient 23 for this image which gave it this lovely warm tone). Last step was the Vignette Effect set to a 386 pixel Feather in the Properties Panel. The vignette color was changed to a brownish tone sampled from the image. To do this, a Solid Color Adjustment Layer was clipped (CTRL+ALT between the layers or can go to Layer -> Create Clipping Mask with the Solid Color Fill Adjustment Layer highlighted) to the Levels Adjustment Layer. It is fun to try different colors to see if one really makes the image pop. The Levels Adjustment Layer was then set to 84% layer opacity. I think it was a nice addition for this particular image’s vignette.

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Image of a Great Egret getting ready to take off at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm
This beautiful Great Egret was in the mist of taking off (the Rookery is getting very busy at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm) when I caught this snapshot – it was not processed using LR/ACR – but just Topaz Studio’s AI Clear and Topaz Adjust was used to get the pretty details in the wings. There was a little blue haloing in the sky area so it was changed using one of my blog techniques called A New Look at Chromatic Aberration where a Gaussian Filter is applied to remove it. The vignette was added as a last step with the Feather set to 200 pixels.

My three previous vignette blogs were from PS guru Matt Kloskowski using his very good technique (How to Create a Subtle Vignette blog), Blake Rudis’ using a very creative technique (Yet Another Great Way to Create a Vignette! blog), and using a Lightroom/ACR technique called Another Great Vignette Method by Jesus Ramirez. Hopefully out of these four very different types of vignettes, you will never have a problem with finding the correct vignette for each of your images. Have a great week – Spring is almost here!……Digital Lady Syd


WHAT IS GOING ON WITH ALL THE “AI” IN PHOTOGRAPHY SOFTWARE?

Image of an Imperial Bromeliad Plant
This blog is a little “long-winded” but it is something I have been trying to figure out and thought I would share. For the last several weeks I have been getting totally confused by all the new Artificial Intelligence (AI) software/plugins/filters and what qualifies them as AI software. This past week Adobe’s Lightroom/ACR modules gave us a new taste of their AI capability with the Enhance Detail command. I decided to do a quick recap on a few of the AI programs. The final image above used Topaz (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) Studio’s AI Clear and AI ReMix. I have used the new AI masking capability in On1’s very recent update and gotten good basic masking results. Also Skylum has two filters, Accent AI Filter and AI Sky Enhancer Filter which are very nice effects on images – check out article on what Skylum’s AI team is doing. Adobe Photoshop has previously used AI to upscale images in the Image Size dialog and in the Quick Select Tool’s Select Subject option and now calls their AI Adobe Sensei. Since these other filters are a little different than these I am showing, I will try to do another blog on their AI Technology. There is so much info on AI that I could create a humongous blog!

WHAT IS THE DEFINITION OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

I found a blog from a C-Net article with this nifty definition -“Enter artificial intelligence — specifically the neural network technology loosely based on human brains’ ability to learn from real-world data, not rigid programming instructions.” In the article Adobe senior research scientist Vlad Morariu said “Using tens of thousands of examples of known, manipulated images, we successfully trained a deep learning neural network to recognize image manipulation.” This may be what started the whole AI software evolution for photographers.

As a good example of how AI is being used effectively in photography software, Topaz Labs ReMix adjustment says on their website that they collected hundreds of classic and contemporary artistic samples; then spent hundreds of hours developing a custom neural network to identify specific artistic styles and replicating the textures, colors, edges and shapes of those styles; and finally the results were put into an adjustment for Topaz Studio. This seems to be the basic process for a lot of the AI software being developed.

LIGHTROOM/PHOTOSHOP’S ACR’S ENHANCE DETAIL VS TOPAZ AI CLEAR

Here is a screen shot of the flower shown above zoomed in to 100% to show a comparison of Lightroom/ACR’s Enhance Detail applied (for LR Develop Module right click and select and in ACR right click on the left strip and select) vs. Topaz Studio’s AI Clear, which was applied with LR as the host program. For a larger view in Flickr, click on image.

Screen Capture of DNG and Tiff file from Topaz StudioThe results to me looks like the DNG file has more texture in it but very similar sharpening – that would make sense since AI Clear has both Noise Reduction which will reduce the texture effect and Sharpening capabilities. All the settings were the same including the Details Panel sharpening and noise before applying the Enhance Detail or AI Clear. (I know, Topaz says do not do this but I do it all the time and it works just fine.) This may be a draw as far as which looks best in this case – the new LR/ACR Enhance Detail works pretty good as well as the AI Clear. But Lightroom/ACR creates a much larger DNG file while Topaz creates a Tiff. I find AI Clear probably the best product out there for subtle sharpening that is needed, especially when hand-holding your camera while shooting. Also Detail Enhance is not available in the Camera Raw filter as far as I can tell, only available when doing your original post-processing. Therefore, if you may want to get back to apply it, definitely open as a Smart Object from ACR or Edit ->Open as a Smart Object in Photoshop from LR. For the Enhance Detail command Julieanne Kost, a PS evangelist, says “I would suggest applying it on an image-by-image basis starting with images that have visible artifacts and which require the highest level of quality (images that will be printed in large format, for example).” Topaz Labs says for AI Clear use it on all kinds of images including High ISO with lots of grain, Nighttime with noisy skies, Action images with some blur, and Telephoto lens shots. My choice at this point is Topaz AI Clear – often my images are just a bit soft and this works wonders – and I can access it as a filter using Topaz Studio in PS on a layer – very easy and quick.

TOPAZ JPEG TO RAW AND TOPAZ GIGAPIXEL

Image of an Old Wooden Windmill in BelarusImage above is the final result after running this file through the various Topaz AI programs – it was from a very old IPhone and had a lot problems already. I do not believe there is an easy way to compare these two standalone packages from Topaz – they each do something that the other does not do, but there appears to be some overlap to me, like in sharpening or noise reduction. JPEG to RAW was specifically developed to take old phone (or current in some cases) and old digital camera jpg images and put them into a RAW format for better post-processing. (See my What Is Topaz’s New JPEG to RAW AI? blog.) I have always loved Topaz AI Gigapixel because it will take a really small image and enlarge it to something that looks pretty nice and detailed. (See my The Best New Software Around-Topaz A.I. Gigapixel! blog for more on it.) Below is a screen capture of how this image actually looked as the original windmill image, then after running running it through JPEG to RAW, then AI Clear adjustment in Topaz Studio, and finally AI Gigapixel (which is at half the zoom since it was doubled in size). This gives a pretty good idea of what is happening here and what basic order to use the software in. For a larger view in Flickr, click on image. The final image was finished up with some Topaz ReStyle effects (not an AI plugin but still one of my favorite Topaz plugins).
Screen Shot of all 3 Topaz AI products
Personally I believe that Topaz is setting the standard for implementing AI use in software and it has some of the big giants scrambling. It is amazing to me to see Photoshop trying to emulate some of Topaz’s software and that can be nothing but good for us Photoshop users. The AI technology seems to be breaking open right now and I can hardly wait to see what is coming next! Okay – I am done!!! Hope everyone has a great one!……Digital Lady Syd

Other Related Digital Lady Blogs:
What is Topaz AI ReMix????
Topaz ReMix – Update and Better Than Ever!
Updates, Updates, Updates! What To Do????
Some Topaz Studio Tips


HOW TO GET RID OF THOSE DARN FENCES IN ZOO SHOTS

Image of a Verreaux Eagle Owl at the Jacksonville Zoo
There’s the easy way and there’s the hard way to do this. And since I love taking images at zoos, I usually fall somewhere in between when post-processing those images with the ugly fence patterns in the foreground. So this blog hopefully will help with some of these issues.

I was so excited to get this beautiful Verreaux’s Eagle Owl image while at the Jacksonville Zoo with my Photo Club – BTW the Zoo is in the process of updating and it is looking fabulous! This guy was located in a very shady area hidden behind heavy black fencing (see images below) and definitely was very hard to see. This guy was so close, like 3 feet and he looked to be at least 2 1/2 feet tall, and yet I could not see his beautiful eyes or beak. It was a major surprise to see he had such colorful eyes and beak once downloaded on my computer! I love birds but the fencing here was so frustrating! (For more on the post-processing, see Image 1 at end of blog – check out how the Charcoal Filter was used for the background of this image.) The closer you can get to the fencing, the easier it was to remove the lines.

Tip 1: Use that Wide Aperture Setting to Remove the Foreground and Background Distractions

But I had done my homework this time and set up my camera to try and eliminate the fence lines. This short 2 minute video called Zoo Tip: Make the Cage Disappear by Tim Migot totally made the difference. The con to this technique is that you have to do this while at the Zoo.
For the above image, the camera was set to its widest aperture with auto focus on and zoomed in. By burst shooting, several shots were obtained that were pretty nice. The above was shot using a 18 to 200 mm zoom lens at 170mm, f/5.6, ISO 200, and -1 1/2 EV. Below is an example of how it looked when it did not work. The image on left does not really show the fencing but it is not sharp at all and one on the right is what the fencing looked like. The image used was in a second set of burst shots that gave much better results. It seems you just have to keep trying until the fence disappears.

Screen Capture of owl shots

Tip 2: To Fix Faint Fence Lines That May Show Up – Use a Darken Curves Adjustment Layer

Image of a Bonobo Monkey at the Jacksonville Zoo
This very striking Bonobo Monkey was sitting in a fairly high up crevice in the Kapok Tree, a new feature at the Jacksonville Zoo. This is a wonderful way for the whole family to view these fun-to-watch monkeys up close. The camera was set up with a telephoto 70-300 mm zoom lens and 300 mm was used to get the close up image. The aperture was set to F/8.0, I could have gone a little wider but this setting seemed to be working. The ISO was set to 400, which allows the shutter speed to increase for this difficult image. In this case the fence was fairly close to me, but the monkey was not. Unfortunately my Exposure Compensation was off a bit at -2 1/2 but it worked out fine – it just made the shot a little darker. In the screen capture below a fence shot is shown and then the used RAW file that did require some light clean up. (Click on images to see larger in Flickr.) See my Image 2 Post Processing Info on the other steps used and how the lighting effect was created.

Screen Capture of the Fencing and RAW file for Bonobo Monkey
If you look closely at the RAW file above (especially through the forehead and ear area), there are definite faint white lines still in the image. The fix? A Darken Curves Adjustment Layer set up so that the curve will overall darken down the image – mine is set up as an action with just one point set to Input 164 and Output 102. Then the layer mask was inverted to black by CTRL+I on the mask. Now with a soft 20-30% opacity round brush, painted over those light lines – set the size to roughly match the width of the lines. If it is too dark, go back into the Curves Adjustment itself and move the point up or down to match. I have used this trick over and over when light is not quite even on an image. And running the image through a sharpener like Topaz (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link) Studio’s AI Clear and for that matter Precision Detail which can help remove an overall soft effect that can result with the fence interference. In the Monkey image the light fence effect was left on the right background as I felt it added a nice soft texture effect to the image. This could have been removed using a Lighten Curves Adjustment Layer. To create a Lighten Curves Adjustment Layer, just set the point to Input 98 and Output 170 and fill the mask with black – paint back area to lighten – then adjust the point to match the surroundings.

Tip 3: Spot Healing/Patch Tools or Paint Out the Fence by Hand

The shooting technique does not work all the time. With the two images above the animal was pretty stationery and the fence fairly close, but when an animal is moving, it is hard to get a good focus on the subject. Doing everything that can be done to speed up the shutter speed, like setting the ISO higher, or turning off the Auto focus setting can help, but sometimes nothing works. If you really want the image, you need to take several shots of the moving animal so pieces can be patched into one if needed. Now you have to resort to removing the fence by hand and hoping you can clone over parts in different images you may have taken. This was done on the Amur Leopard image below. My main tools to start the process are using the Spot Healing Tool set to Content Aware and Sample All Layers, and the Patch Tool – mine is usually set to Patch Content-Aware, Structure 7, Color 5 and Sample All Layers checked. Adjust the Patch Tool settings if those do not work with your picture. After doing this, most of my time is spent using a small brush to sample and dab paint over areas that look rough – this is quite tedious and several different brushes is sometimes necessary. I do most of my spot removing, cloning and painting on individual layers and create a stamped layer (CTRL+SHIFT+ALT+E) on top to finish up.

This may be obvious, but a major key point here is that, if you decided to use a texture to remove a very cluttered background especially, just remove the fence on the subject only. Then create a selection of your subject and place him on top of a different texture. Usually I place a white layer under the subject, then a texture and finally the subject so that blend modes and layer opacity changes can be used. That is what was done on this image.

Image of a Leopard at the Jacksonville Zoo
A lot of spot removing and painting to get rid of the fence and a separate image was flipped and copied over to get the jaw area to look correct. (In screen capture below the original RAW files with the main one used on the left and the copied jaw on the right.) It took several hours to get the image to this point, and I am not sure it is done. He was very agitated in his pen and was pacing and roaring all over the place – very hard to get a sharp image and his mouth really was open and big. Probably 20 pictures were taken (18-200 mm lens at 200 mm, F/5.6, ISO 640, and EV -1 1/2). This was really a difficult shot to get to look realistic while capturing the mood of the big cat. The background texture is one I painted in Corel Painter that had some complementary colors to the leopard. Just about everything was used on this image – Topaz Studio’s Precision Detail and Dehaze, Nik Viveza 2 to bring out the eyes, a Black and White Adjustment Layer set to Luminosity blend mode, Lighten and Darken Curves Adjustment Layers, spotlight effect layers, Color Lookup Adjustment Layer, the Sharpen Tool and Selective Color Adjustment Layer, just to name some of them. His eyes were amazing in several of the images.

Screen Capture of leopard images
Another way to handle the fencing is to remove or paint over the subject and leave the fencing in place – it can possibly look like a fence behind the subject. The image below used this technique. The Monkey image has a similar but less obvious effect on the right side of the image.

Image of a Malaysian Tiger at the West Palm Beach Zoo in Florida
For more info on how the Tiger image was post-processed, check out a short Tidbits Blog I did a while back called The Break Out. It took a lot of time and effort to get this image – to paint out the fencing, one of my a painting brushes, which is based upon a hair brush and set to 35% brush opacity and 65% Flow, was used to sample and paint over the black lines – but it can be done. Topaz Impression was used to gave the Tiger a painterly look instead of hand-painting the whole image back in.

If you like to take images at the Zoo, I hope this blog gave you a couple tricks to try. These same tricks will work if shooting one of your kids baseball games through fencing. I had a great time exploring the Jacksonville Zoo again – the animals seemed ready for our Photo Club – and you will be seeing more of my images in the next few months. Have a great week!…..Digital Lady Syd

Post Processing Info

Image 1: In Lightroom Serge Ramelli’s Safari Animal Vignette Cold Strong preset was used as starter (see my Showing Some of Serge Ramelli’s Effects blog to download them) and then tweaked the Basic, Detail, and HSL panels. In PS Topaz Studio’s AI Clear came to the rescue – used Remove Noise Auto and Sharpen High, Recover Details 0.10, and Exposure 0.21 – then set it to an opacity of 0.71 before applying. Next the Precision Detail Adjustment was added to just the Shadow areas. Last step used the HSL Adjustment to firm up the color in the eyebrows and beak – used a black mask and painted back those areas. I could not believe how good his eyes looked, just needed a little sharpening to pop them with an Exposure Adjustment Layer (see my The Eyes Have – How to Make Them Pop in an Image blog). This is pretty much my standard Topaz workflow for animals. In Photoshop Dodging and Burning was achieved with Lighten and Darken Curves Adjustment Layers. A little white spotlight effect on just his face using a layer set to Soft Light and white brush with low opacity, and that was it. To get that pretty background color, the Charcoal Filter was used on a stamped layer in Photoshop (had to convert the image to 8 bit before using) and set the Thickness to 4, Detail to 5, and Light/Dark Balance to 47 with foreground color a brownish color (2a2319) and background color greenish (1c2715) – this filter uses the Foreground and Background colors in the swatch. The layer was set to Exclusion blend mode at 78% opacity. Used regular soft round brush in mask painting over the Owl head and used the Sharpen Tool on eyes in mask.

Image 2: In Lightroom no preset was used – just adjusted the Basic Panel and the HSL Panel. This time the image was brought into PS as a Smart Object so the LR settings could be tweaked easily if needed in Adobe Camera Raw. Since this image had more problems than the owl above, I felt this might be needed. In PS The first thing done was to add a Darken Curves Adjustment Layer to paint out the light white fence lines where the fencing was not completely removed. A little clean up was done before a stamped layer was created for Topaz Studio. In Studio the AI Clear Adjustment set to its default settings and then Precision Detail Adjustment was used with Shadow Small Detail 0.22, Shadow Medium Detail 0.43, and Large Shadow Boost – painted in a mask of just the monkey so detail only goes on him – kept Edge Aware on and inverted the mask so the background is black and not affected by the detail. Back in Photoshop a Gradient Map was applied using a gray to brown to light blue preset from Blake Rudis (see his nice gradient presets in download from Advanced Color Toning Made Easy video – excellent video). A vignette was created. Then I decided that I needed a little more light on the image so a large Spotlight Effect was created on the Monkey – just washed it over the Monkey from the opening. A few other steps were done, but this describes the major steps.


WHAT IS TOPAZ’S NEW JPEG TO RAW AI?

Image of some pink daisiesI am with most of you – say what?????? I knew Topaz (see my Tidbits Blog for website link) was working on some new software for JPG’s but this one is a real surprise. I have been working with the stand alone program for a couple of weeks, but it has taken a while for its wonderful capabilities to sink into my head. So this is what is going on…..it is somewhat similar to AI Gigapixel which I totally love and AI Clear which I can’t live without. (See my The Best New Software Around – Topaz A.I. Gigapixel! blog.) JPEG to Raw AI (J2r) uses similar machine learning technology to recover lost detail in jpg files and convert them to a dng or tiff extension. This will open up the Raw Converter in Photoshop or gives better slider capabilities in Lightroom.

There is not a lot of info released on this software yet so their website seems to be the best resource to find out more info and where a trial version can be downloaded. Below is a rundown of what Topaz is saying about their product.

Why Use this Program?

  • Topaz states “There’s also enhanced dynamic ranges as shown by deeper shadows and enhanced highlights.” This is important and to me and is the best way to see results from applying the software. The program basically helps clean up jpg issues from smart phones, especially from some of the earlier versions, and older digital camera shots that just created jpg images.
  • J2r uses the ProPhoto RGB Color Space that Lightroom uses. Most jpg files contain the sRGB color space which has very limited color choices. With the ProPhoto color space there will be better saturation and vibrance without any visible artifacting in your image.
  • When an image is run through the program, it goes from 8-bit mode to 16-bit mode. This removes banding and converts the image from 72 dpi to 300 dpi, which usually results in a more normal sized file. I personally really like this. I hate opening up Image Size in PS to find out my image is at 72 bit resolution and 72 inches tall! Also, changing the resolution and downsizing in PS can be tricky.
  • Artifacts in some jpgs can ruin an image and can be accentuated by post-processing, especially when sharpening. Topaz says “This program will remove these artifacts while preserving natural image features.”

The image above is one of my recent phone shots taken at a local Lowe’s Garden Shop using an older Android phone. Below is a before close-up of the  original out-of-phone jpg on the left and the converted to a dng file on the right. It is a very subtle adjustment, but look carefully at the lower green leaves to see more detail in the shadow areas of the dng file and a little more definition in the bright areas of the lower right petals. Even the yellow centers seem a bit more defined. In PS Topaz Studio’s AI Clear Adjustment was applied (I use it on just about every image). The final post-processing for the image above used a clean up layer, a little fine line dodging and burning (see my The Best Dodging and Burning Technique! blog using John Paul Caponigro’s technique), a Curves Adjustment Layer, and a painted in vignette.Comparison of JPG vs DNG

I have had a bit of a problem figuring out why some of my images improve when run through the program and some not so much. One of the engineers explained in their presentation:  “While it will remove noise/blur and recover some detail, you’ll see most of the benefits when you try to edit the photo. Viewing a well-exposed high-quality JPEG before and after running it through J2r may not show a huge difference, but your editing capacity for that same image will generally go up.” After working with the program quite a bit, I believe this is very true. Since I use PS more creatively, I may not notice color shifts or tone changes as readily as many photographers who are looking to improve many of their less desirable images. Below is another example of what this software will do – this time a Casio QV-2900UX, a 2.1 Megapixel camera with a 8X zoom creating only jpg images, was selected. I was pretty impressed with the results – the image on the right is the original jpg file, the middle is the image after running through AI Gigapixel, it is still a jpg file, and on the left is the dng file. It definitely has a lot more detail – I thought it was a little crunchy for my taste but then realized it was little flowers showing up. Who knew they were there? On the sky to mountain line, there was some fringing going on after AI Gigapixel was applied.
Comparison image of the three programsFor the final image below, the fringing was removed by just painting on a new layer over with a small sized Clone Stamp. There was no fringing anywhere else on the image. A gradient map was added with blue and cream tones set to Soft Light blend mode at 71% opacity, a spotlight effect on a few of bright areas of the telescope domes, and Topaz Studio’s AI Clear at default settings. Overall the image turned out really nice and so much better than when I first post processed it back in 2004. We’ve come a long way!Image of telescopes at Kitt Peak, Arizona

What is the Difference between AI Gigapixel, AI Clear and JPEG to RAW AI?

Here is a quote from Celeste during the software release of their new product and pretty much sums up what Topaz is doing here. “While each of these products uses Artificial Intelligence to improve the quality of your photos, there are a few distinct differences. Gigapixel uses AI to enlarge your photos while preserving detail for printing. AI Clear uses AI to reduce noise and sharpen. JPEG to RAW uses AI for a variety of different purposes – it does reduce noise and sharpen, yes, but it also helps to restore details lost in a compressed JPEG, enhances shadows and highlights that are lost in a JPEG file, prevents banding, and reduces blockiness. There are distinct disadvantages to a JPEG file, and the AI for JPEG to RAW was specifically trained to restore the things that were lost when the JPEG was compressed. While they all have their advantages, JPEG to RAW is going to be the best for improving your compressed JPEG file!”

*****

Below is a screen capture image using Snip It that is from the Old Faithful web cam in Yellowstone National Park on January 31st in the early morning- I had never seen bison in the cam camera before and it looked spectacular! There appears to another geyser erupting in the background and Old Faithful was spewing pretty steadily so there was a lot of mist in the air. The screen shot was run through JPEG to RAW first to create a dng file (_edit is added to the end of the file name so you know this program was used). A Tiff file should have been selected, but I was not sure what I was doing. Then I ran it through AI Gigapixel set to 4 times creating a Tiff – Gigapixel puts the _output suffix on the file name.

Bison grazing at Yellowstone National ParkI will tell you what else I did but it is not pertinent to the new program so skip this paragraph if not interested. Next PS was used to open the image and ACR opened up where some changes were made. No sharpening was done at this point. Then it was opened as a Smart Object in PS and cropped. Lucis Pro was used to sharpen the bison – black mask and just the bison painted back. I imagine I could have added the sharpening in ACR. A Color Look Up table was applied – one I created to just create a sketch effect. Now the real magic came with using Topaz Studio – AI Clear (set to defaults and Exposure -0.08, and Clarity 0.48). Next the Edges Adjustment was used – this can really sharpen up an image and worked great on the bison (Edge Tone Dark, Edge Strength 0.15, Suppress Weak Edges 0.21, Suppress Small Edge 0.02, Edge Thickness 0.16, and Edge Resolution 1.00).  Precision Detail Adjustment was added (Overall Small Detail 0.30, Overall Medium Detail 0.43, and Overall Large Detail 0.36-used a Gradient Mask set in middle of the image so sky was not affected, just the middle ground and foreground); and Impression Adjustment used the default settings (set Number of Strokes to High, Stroke Color Variation set to 0.25 and Spill 0.32). To recreate a better mist effect, on a separate layer a fog brush was used to fill in where the screen shot lacked mist and several Grut Cloud brushes (the best around by far) were used to enhance this soft effect.

Okay, here is the original so you can see what a difference this made – all three programs – J2r, AI Gigapixel, and Topaz Studio – helped create the above.Original image of Yellowstone

Bottom Line

This is definitely a program that you should try out. Be prepared to have a bit of a wait if processing a large jpg through the program. It is not as fast as Gigapixel. I do believe that I am seeing some changes, even though they may be subtle, and I know that Topaz will be adding capabilities to the programming so it will be even better in the future. (Don’t forget, if you buy it, all updates are free forever!) They are definitely the cutting edge leaders in AI technology for photography and they have not let us down yet. So I will be trying out more images with the program and plan to write more as I learn. In the meantime, try out the 30-day trial on some of your images and see what you think. And let the Topaz team know if there are having problems, they are always very interested in knowing about them. In the meantime hope everyone is thawing out after this horrible cold spell that came through the US. Have a good week!…..Digital Lady Syd


SOME TOPAZ STUDIO TIPS

Image of statues at Westminster Abbey, London, EnglandThis week I decided to share a few tips and tricks I have learned about the Topaz (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) software since they have had a bunch of absolutely fabulous Webinars in the past few weeks. I have learned so much about so many of the filters and thought I would pass along some of the new things I learned. Believe me, this just scratches the surface of what is shown in the the webinars, so do check them out. The statues above (I do not know who they represent) are from the front of Westminster Abbey and Topaz Studio’s AI ReMix was used to get the interesting color effects. (See end of blog for more Image 1 details if you are interested.)

  • Many of the Topaz experts are going into Studio, running IA Clear, then go into Topaz Adjust plugin from inside the interface – Joel Wolfson calls it the magic exposure balancer. This is a really fantastic effect. Reset the filter by clicking the button on the bottom right. The Adaptive Exposure slider adjusts exposure without losing the shadows and highlights. Set the Adaptive Exposure slider to the right with the Regions, which breaks down the image into sections to apply the correct amount of Adaptive Exposure to it, set to 0. Once the Adaptive Exposure looks pretty good, move the Regions slider to the right to get the perfect look. Keep the two settings fairly close to each other. If the Regions is set to 1, it just applies the effect the same to the whole image. To get the best results, keep the numbers pretty close together. Some people like to use the Color Section which works very similarly. The Adaptive Saturation and Color Regions work together the same way. Also, the same Adaptive Exposure and Regions sliders are also in Black & White Effects also.

TOPAZ STUDIO

It always amazes me what I don’t know about certain programs even though I think I understand them very well. I watched several Webinars from Topaz this week and found out a few little gems I will share. These are things that are really simple but major important! Note that Topaz Studio will not open PSD files from Lightroom or ACR, but will take native camera Raw files, TIFF, PNG and JPG. Below are a few things that had always confused me until recently.

  • When you Apply adjustments to an image, it is the same as creating a flattened composite layer in Photoshop which contains all the previous effects and masks. A new iteration shows up in the row at the bottom of the interface with the blue line around the one just created.
  • What to do when you want to keep both iterations of an image, like one in color and one in black and white. Need to save one that will be stacked with the Lightroom images, but the second one must be Saved As (or it will overwrite the one you just did) – Studio will ask where you want to have it saved. Therefore, both iterations will be retained. If used as a plugin from PS, I am not sure how to do this.
  • If you want to retain all the masks and layers in an image, save the image as a .tsp extension – this is a Topaz unique file extension and can be reopened in the Topaz products. It is helpful if you forgot how you did something for a special effect. I use it a lot – just keep it in the file along with the other image files.
  • Did you know that if you click the little plus (+) sign at the bottom of an adjustment to add additional adjustments, it is actually acting like a clipping mask in Photoshop and filters added only affect the one it is attached to. I always wondered about this.

Image of seven turtles talking on a pondJust AI Clear was used on this image above but not much else. For more post-processing info, check Image 2 below.

AI Clear Adjustment

  • It is important that after the settings are selected, the Adjustment needs to be applied or else it will continue to try and reapply the settings every time you make more changes to the image. This had been driving me crazy – love the adjustment but could not get it to stop running. Well, to me that is a huge tip! (Thank you John Barclay!)
  • Important to remember that if using AI Clear, be sure not sharpen first in Lightroom or ACR – it can mess up the results.
  • The Recover Detail slider keeps noise reduced but is working to bring back some of the detail that is lost in the image from the noise reduction. The higher you set this slider, the more blending that occurs. Set to 1.00 is like setting your opacity to 30%. I find that sometimes this works and sometimes not. Same with the Exposure and Clarity sliders – not always helpful.

Image of a digitally painted jaquarThis image is an example of a more abstract effect you can get with the AI ReMix Adjustment. For actual post-processing info, check out Image 3 at end of the blog.

AI ReMix Adjustment

  • Remember changing the blend modes and opacity can do wonderful things to your image. And try adding the filter using a different Style to get different results.
  • Note it is much quicker to set the Style Strength to Low to decide which one you want to use, then switch to the higher resolutions Med or High amounts.

I feel like I have been writing a lot about the Topaz products – it seems they do have the best creative effects and I use them a lot. I will attempt to show you results of some other plug-ins next time. Have a good shopping week!…..Digital Lady Syd

Image Post-Processing Steps:

Image 1: First in Lightroom the image was cropped and the Transform panel was opened where the Guided lines were added to straighten the image up and make it look more like it at your eye level. This is a really cool tool to use for this. In Basic panel just some changed to Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks. Then from LR, took the image into Topaz Studio where the AI Clear Adjustment was immediately selected and set to Auto Noise and High Sharpen – It was immediately Applied as a new “layer” in the bottom tray (now has a blue line around it). Made sure AI Clear was not still open – if it is close it so it does not keep running. Now selected AI ReMix (set to 0.49 opacity and Color Burn blend mode) and the first Style called A Neon Style at Low Style Strength; Brightness 0.53, Contrast 1.22, Sat 0.77, Hue 0, Smooth Edge 0.17, Sharpness 0.83, Suppress Artifacts 0.49 – Layer mask created using the brush and just selecting the figures. Then HSL Color Tuning Adjustment: Color – Red Sat -0.54 and Lightness -0.25; Orange Sat 0.12 and Lightness 0.28; Green Sat -1.00 and Lightness 0.38; and Aqua Hue -0.86 and Lightness 0.36. Then it was sent back to Lightroom as a stacked Tiff. Next took the image into Photoshop with the Lightroom Changes selected. This is where I tweaked it and made the image very dark with spotlight lighting. Duplicated the layer twice – set one to Multiply blend mode at 59% and top one to Hard Mix at 66% opacity and 9% Fill. This gave the really dark but sharp image. On a couple New Layers painted some color on the faces to lighten them up a bit but kept the layer opacity very low, around 20-30%. Then added a Spotlight Layer using a low flow white brush to direct the eye to the faces. That was basically all that was done – a lot of adjusting the layers in PS had to be done to get the correct color effect, but it was AI ReMix that gave the beautiful colors in the image.

Image 2: Most of the work occurred in Lightroom. Cropping and Basic panel changes occurred. The color of the image was not touched. The background layer was duplicated and Topaz Studio was opened. The AI Clear Adjustment was opened set to Auto for Noise Reduction and High for Sharpening. Back in Photoshop a little spotlight effect was put on the turtle shells and set to Overlay blend mode at 71% opacity. A Curves Adjustment Layer was added and that was it.

Image 3: This funny Jaguar was busy checking out his house I think. I do not believe much was done with this image. Mainly followed the steps in Greg Rostami’s A.I. Magic with ReMix and Clear Webinar – just used similar settings from his dog image and created a preset to use the settings over – check out my SJ AI ReMix painterly Effect in the public list. After Studio was applied, went back to Photoshop. A Curves Adjustment Layer was added and the blue color and the color around her body was darkened (used a dark Curves Adjustment layer with a black layer mask – just painted in where it should be darkened). A little spotlight effect on the white area of the neck and Matt K’s vignette was created to finish up. That was it. I left the colors really strong and I think they are gorgeous