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.