Topaz Restyle gives life to humdrum images

August 08, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Plug-ins for Photoshop, Lightroom, and Aperture fall into two main categories. Some allow you to do things that you don't know how to do. Others, more intriguingly, make it easy to do things you wouldn't have thought of doing. Topaz Software has always been a leader in the latter category. It was the first to popularize the crunchy, semi-posterized feel that characterized early HDR images, even though the source files were straightforward 8- or 16-bit images. It made it easy to make images look like cartoons, pastel drawings, and oil paintings. There are now about a dozen plug-ins that ease your way into everything from black and white photography to masking. 

The metaphor for all Topaz plug-ins is the same. You open your image in the software, preview what it might look like in a variety of presets (to which you can add), then go to work customizing it ... or not. The output is a TIFF file that you can further tweak in the editing program of your choice ... or not.

The latest Topaz entry into its suite of imaging play toys is Restyle. It brings together some of the tools available in other modules, but specializes in targeted color manipulation. Rather than simply offering a range of global color shifts, Topaz analyzes the image when you launch it and divides it into five primary shades. Those familiar with the Adobe Kuler palette generator will feel right at home.

I'll get to how you use this tool in a moment, but first, the easy, fun part. Along the left are what are promised to be 1,000 presets divided into nine collections that manipulate various parts of the color spectrum. As you mouse down them, a small thumbnail gives you a preview of what the final version will look like. For this image of Yaquina Head Lighthouse taken during a typically overcast summer day on the Oregon Coast, I picked a Landscape preset called Midday Hay Field. It made the foreground vegetation pop. 

After clicking on the preset, I went to work on controls on the right side of Restyle. (In fact, I might have started there, without using a preset at all.) For each of the five color palettes selected, I could tweak the color, saturation, and luminance. I could also add texture, increase the detail level, and adjust the white, black and mid-tone levels, important since some of the presets will darken areas of the image in unintended ways. Finally, the content-aware brush tool allowed me to brush in or brush out the effect from areas of the image. Here, I painted out the lighthouse to tone down the blue look that crept into the lighthouse. 

Back in Lightoom, I raised the exposure a bit. This raised the saturation considerably, so I toned it down a bit. Topaz Restyle fills a flat photo taken on a cloudy day with vibrant color, makes the lighthouse come alive, and frames both it and the foreground against a sky that seems a bit more foreboding. This is only one of hundreds of looks I could have applied to this image, some further emphasizing the grayness, others creating a moody nighttime feel (which was not right given that there was no light coming from the beacon), and many other variations on the theme.

Here's one taken on the same trip, attempting to deal with some of the same issues. Here, Restyle has allowed me to suggest more sun coming through the thin layer of clouds than existed and to make the figure of the little girl stand out a bit more. There were no tweaks to this image. This was straight out of a Restyle plug-in. 

Any of this could have been done in Photoshop, but the point is that it wouldn't have been. I simply wouldn't have thought of it. That's the magic of Restyle in particular and Topaz plug-ins in general. The ability to preview presets suggests new ways of thinking about your image, and the controls on the effects allow you to turn that idea into an individualized personal creation. It helps you turn ordinary images into something special and eye-catching. 

For special pricing on Topaz Restyle, please visit my website or go directly to the Topaz website. And have fun!

Photoshop introduces powerful new shake reduction tool

July 15, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Adobe recently moved from individual releases of updated Creative Suite products to a rolling update through what it calls Creative Cloud. CC products are not available as individual releases (e.g., "Adobe Photoshop CS6"), but only as a subscription-based service that is constantly updated. While you can subscribe to individual products in the suite (e.g., a Photoshop-only subscription), Adobe hopes you will pay a flat rate for access to all its products. If you only use Photoshop, this may not be such a great deal, but if you use other Adobe products, it can provide substantial savings.

The first iteration of Photoshop under the Creative Cloud subscription program includes new sharpening technology called the Shake Reduction filter. When our daughter sent us a somewhat blurred Iphone image of our grandson, I took this new filter for a test run.

I have previously used a product called Focus Magic that provides some tools for recovering pics that are either out of focus or suffering from motion blurring. I have found it to be marginally effective, depending on the conditions under which the image was shot, amount of contrast, etc. In this entry, I compare the new Photoshop tool to both modes in Focus Magic, motion blur, which I refer to as "FM Shake Reduction" in the examples to distinguish it from Photoshop's version, and out of focus blur, "FM OOF."

In keeping with my normal workflow, I opened the image in Lightroom and provided some initial adjustments in the develop module — the lens adjustment for the Iphone, lowered highlights and blacks, a slight increase in contrast, and a small sharpening adjustment. I opened the resulting image in Photoshop , created three duplicate layers, ran the Focus Magic filters on the first two of these layers, and opened Photoshop's Filter>Sharpen>Shake Reduction on the third. Photoshop shows you the area it is sampling (enlarged in this example for effect) and presents you with some options on the right of the screen.

Keeping the preview button on will redraw the screen, but it can really slow things down fora big file. I was able to leave it checked for this Iphone image. If the preview exhibits too much noise, as this did, adjust the blur trace setting. The smoothing and artifact suppression sliders help reduce artifacts and other unwanted effects. In the actual test, I increased both settings to about 37. 

The following image compares full frame versions of the original, the two Focus Magic settings, and Photoshop's Shake Reduction filter.

Even in this small sample image, it us clear that the new Photoshop filter outperforms either of the two Focus Magic settings. The differences between the original and the PS Shake Reduction filter, however, are startling. These differences become even more dramatic on this cropped image of Caeden's face.

I'm hard pressed to see much difference between the original and Focus Magic's motion blur setting ("FM Shake Reduction"), but there is some improvement when using its out of focus setting. The Photoshop Shake Reduction filter is clearly the best of the lot, however. It's not a home run. I'm not sure you can get that from the original, but since the goal of this image was to give his grandmother another acceptable 4x6 to show her friends, it gets the job done quite handily. 

This filter alone does not justify the move from a standalone Photoshop upgrade to a monthly subscription, but if it's any indication of the level of technology Adobe will be bringing us, it's worth waiting around for. 

Simple black and white conversion in Lightroom

August 16, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Here's a simple technique for producing striking black and white images in Lightroom. Make a virtual copy of your color image, convert to black and white using the one-click setting under the Basic tab of the Develop module, and ... here's the magic ... play with the color temperature sliders, both TEMP and TINT. These sliders change the underlying color mix of your image and, in so doing, the contribution the three color channels make to the black and white version. 

Some adjustments will darken or lighten the overall image, and you can then play with the exposure and contrast sliders. Finally, of course, you can use the B&W tab to further tune the filtration. But if you've moved one of the color temperature sliders radically, you may find that moving the black and white mix has little effect. (If your color temperature is far to the warm side, moving the blue slider will have little effect, since there's so little of the blue channel in the image.) 

This may or may not work on a particular image, but remember that Lightroom adjustments are non-destructive, so you can always move back through your history tab to find a state that worked ... or start from scratch. The following image of rapids along the Mackenzie River in Oregon is one that used this technique, plus a small boost of exposure in the foliage at upper left using the adjustment brush. 

Geotagging in Lightroom after the fact

June 23, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

In an earlier post, I reviewed a neat little product called GPS4cam that allows you to use your smart phone to geotag your photos. But what about all the images you've taken in the past? Lightroom 4 makes it easy, if you know where they were taken. 

In Lightroom, you simply select a group of photos to which you want to append geotag data. Then open the Map module and use the search bar to find the location they came from. Your search term can be as loose as "Paris, France" or, as in the example below, as precise as "Ste. Ettienne du Mont, Paris." (I am using this method to try to get down to the neighborhood level for as many of our Paris pictures as possible.)

Once Google Maps has found the location, use the slider just below the map (to the right of the word "Hybrid" in the above example) to zoom in and navigate to the precise point you want to tag. Once you're satisfied, simply select the images you want to geotag in the strip, unless you have already done so, as then drag and drop them onto the spot you want to tag. Your photos will be added to the map.

How do you conveniently locate candidate photos? If you've placed photos in collections by location, as I have, it's easy work. If you placed locations in your keywords, use them to filter your results, or filter by location. Of course, that depends on your having entered this information into your metadata.

If not, you might browse "All Photographs" in your collection sequentially, finding photos taken at the same location and adding them a quick collection by pressing B on your keyboard. (Or, better yet, add them to a permanent collection. Then call up the map module, place your photos where they belong, and move on. 

In any collection, you can restrict your view of what is NOT yet geotragged by selecting "Untagged" from the Location Filter at the top of the Map Module screen. 

There's also a way to find photos anywhere in your catalog that are not geotagged. Set up a Smart Collection called "Not in Map" using the following criteria (whether you match "any" or "all" from the pull-down menu makes no difference in this case, unless you add other criteria): 

This Smart Collection will dynamically contain all your images that lack geotag data. You might use it to select sequences of photos shot in the same location and manually add them to your map using the above method. When you return to this Smart Collection, you will find they are no longer there, telling you you've been successful. 

Film is not dead

June 12, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

I shoot with a Canon 5d and 7d and use Photoshop, Lightroom, and a variety of plug-ins for my post-processing. Most would consider me an all-digital photographer. I also own a film scanner, however, and have been scanning and restoring old black and white negatives and color transparencies.

A few days ago, something possessed me. I pulled my Canon EOS Elan7E from the shelf, installed new batteries, loaded a roll of Kodak Professional Elite Chrome Extra Color 100 Film, fitted a macro lens, and headed for the International Rose Test Garden in Portland, Oregon. The results? Decide for yourself. Fifteen keepers out of 36. Not bad. Here's one of my favorites. 

I scanned all the slides on my now venerable CanonScan FS-4000US using Ed Hamrick's Vuescan, which I have profiled using an IT-8 target. As a result, most of these images needed no curves adjustment. After taking them into Photoshop, I cropped the few on which it was necessary and used the spot healing brush to remove dust. (There was a surprising amount of it despite the fact that I took the slides individually from the box as soon as I returned from the lab.) I applied varying amounts of high pass sharpening. That was it.

I imported them into Lightroom to organize them, and applied only standard output sharpening to get them onto my website. Nothing more. The results in most cases match and in some cases surpass those I took with my Canon 7d during the same session. 

Where will I take this? I think that color slide film will return to being a part of how I shoot. Nothing beats the convenience and low incremental cost of an all-digital workflow. Scanning your own slides is a lot of work, though I can skip that step by having the lab give me a high resolution disk. But when I'm working on subjects with a lot of color saturation, I will take the 7E along and use it whenever I think it will bring a more pleasing tone. Kodak has discontinued this emulsion, but I've purchased a few rolls while it's still to be found and there's still Velvia available. 

Finally, what I enjoyed about this process was the discipline it imposed. When using my film camera I simply could not afford to shoot six shots of every flower. I had to compose carefully, think about the light, and get the right focus. That's the way we used to work, remember? An all-digital workflow has allowed too many of us to get sloppy. I see it all the time in others and, I hate to admit, in my own work.

Because I must be more thoughtful while using film, I believe the reimposed discipline will improve all my photography. 

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