Cool New Plug-in from Topaz Texture Effects- Quick Look Review

Author: Joel Wolfson

©JWolfson_AmbroAged_500px_01

In addition to a Basic Adjustment layer I used Edge Exposure, Dust/Scratches, and Texture layers within Texture Effects to create this vintage look reminiscent of a tintype. It only took a few minutes. Historically tintypes and early methods of creating round bales of hay do overlap. I’m not entirely sure the hay bales looked exactly like this but I like the timeless feel I was able to achieve in Texture Effects.

Texture Effects, Topaz’s latest plug-in (also operates stand-alone) is the easiest way to add textures and a whole lot more to your images. It’s a huge time saver over creating textures in most other programs. In addition to hundreds of fantastic presets, you can also customize them or make your own.

One of the nicer aspects of Texture Effects are the hundreds of presets that come with it. You can use them to spark ideas or as a starting point. In this case I used the “Color Burst” preset to accentuate my image of these tiled stairs and rail. The image was already colorful and the wall textured but it needed a little punch. Although I tried changing various adjustments I liked the preset as is and was able to get what you see above with just one click.

One of the nicer aspects of Texture Effects are the hundreds of presets that come with it. You can use them to spark ideas or as a starting point. In this case I used the “Color Burst” preset to accentuate my image of these tiled stairs and rail. The image was already colorful and the wall textured but it needed a little punch. Although I tried changing various adjustments I liked the preset as is and was able to get what you see above with just one click.

It has a great interface that builds on the innovation they showed in Glow and Impression. It’s really easy to add adjustments and effects via layers, each with its own mask. You can add as many layers of adjustments or effects as you want and save off any combination as your own preset.

Here's a before (left) and after (right). I started in Topaz ReStyle. In ReStyle you can choose your color palette so I used it to get vivid purple and yellow. Then I hopped into Texture Effects and used a Texture layer to create the corrugated metal look for the wall and a Light Leak layer to make it look like a spot of sun is reflected on the wall. I used the masking (available in each layer) to isolate the "sun" reflection. In the end I used only two layers plus a Basic Adjustment layer and a few minutes of my time to make this image.

Here’s a before (left) and after (right). I started in Topaz ReStyle. In ReStyle you can choose your color palette so I used it to get vivid purple and yellow. Then I hopped into Texture Effects and used a Texture layer to create the corrugated metal look for the wall and a Light Leak layer to make it look like a spot of sun is reflected on the wall. I used the masking (available in each layer) to isolate the “sun” reflection. In the end I used only two layers plus a Basic Adjustment layer and a few minutes of my time to make this image.

Topaz has also set up a community cloud that allows you to share or download presets with the click of a button right within the program.

Here I was going for a Polaroid transfer look. I used a Texture layer for the overall mottled look and a Dust/Scratches layer for the peeling marks. I was even able to add the bluish tint of the peel marks right within the layer. Then a little Edge Exposure for good measure. I'm really impressed by the intuitive interface.

Here I was going for a Polaroid transfer look. I used a Texture layer for the overall mottled look and a Dust/Scratches layer for the peeling marks. I was even able to add the bluish tint of the peel marks right within the layer. Then a little Edge Exposure for good measure. I’m really impressed by the intuitive interface.

Topaz obviously worked very hard to come up with a really intuitive interface. This combined with the hundreds of presets that come with Texture Effects and thousands more via the Topaz Community cloud, really makes it easy and quick to produce great results with your images. Not to mention a lot of fun!

Hope you enjoyed this quick review.

Note: For a more in depth look at how I created these images go to my workshop page, scroll down to “Free Webinars” and click on “Travel Through Time with Texture Effects” for a link to the webinar.

Happy Shooting!
Joel Wolfson is an Arizona Highways Photo Workshop instructor/photographer. Here is Joel’s bio.

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Black & White Photography: Top 10 Tips & Techniques

Author: Joel Wolfson

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I just finished conducting an Arizona Highways Photo Workshop entitled See The World In Black and White. We had a great group with a lot of talent and a broad range of styles. We covered a lot of information and did a lot of shooting and processing but below is a condensed version of the top ten tips and techniques. Try these and if you want to explore it further join us next year.

1.    Shoot raw  Except for compact point and shoot cameras, most digital cameras allow you to capture raw images.  This gives you the widest range of tones and colors possible.  It also requires some post processing but if you want the best image possible, use raw capture.  When you shoot in raw you will also be shooting in color (see tip #3).  This may not immediately make sense but most software uses the original color information while you’re optimizing your black and white image.  For example, if I’m using Topaz B&W Effects, I can lower the blue values (Color Sensitivity sliders) in a black and white landscape which has the effect of darkening the grays of the sky.  Likewise I can brighten the gray tone of leaves on a tree by increasing the green values.
•    If your camera isn’t capable of being set for RAW, shoot in color for the reasons just cited.
2.    Shoot with the intention of creating black and white images.  The best black and white images are generally those intended to be that way from the beginning.  If you’re not an old hand at black and white photography then it’s important to train yourself to think and visualize in black in white and shoot specifically with that in mind.  Of course you can discover an image that looks great as a monochrome after the fact but your rate of successful black and white images will be much higher with that intention behind them.
3.    Set the LCD screen on the back of your camera for Monochrome.  Most cameras will allow you to shoot raw and also be able to view the images on the LCD in black and white/monochrome.  This helps you to visualize in black and white as you’re shooting.  Canon calls it “Picture Style” and Nikon calls it “Picture Control”.  You’ll want to set your camera to shoot RAW + JPEG- meaning it will shoot both of these at the same time and what you will be viewing on the LCD is the black and white JPEG. You want the raw image too for optimum conversion to black and white later.
•    A word of caution here.  The LCD on the back of your camera is NOT very accurate whether you view in color or black and white.  If you treat it as a general guideline it can be helpful but don’t try to judge nuances from the LCD.
4.    Compose without color.  This is a mental challenge.  When you’re looking at or thinking about a scene, subject, or moment to capture, ask yourself: Will this image tell the the story best in black and white?  This means trying to think about the lighting, subject, and tonal values over any influence from color.  Look for images you can create that are compelling without color.
5.    Shoot on overcast or rainy days.  For color photography many photographers will avoid shooting on overcast or rainy days.  I think such weather is great for black and white (I could make the same argument for color but we’re talking monochrome here.)  There are all kinds of subtle tones that might otherwise be lost on a sunny day with harsh shadows. It’s also great light for portraits and photos of people.
6.    Think about the non-color visual design elements of your image.  Without color the components of visual design become that much more important.  Look at the lines in the image.  Are they horizontal? Vertical? Diagonal? Do they form a pattern?  Rhythm or repeating elements in a photo are interesting, with a break in the repetition being even more interesting.  Also look at the texture, shapes, and forms in the image.  Concentrating on these will take your mind off the color and enhance your ability to “see” and think in monochrome.

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7.    Use a calibrated monitor and neutral viewing environment.  A properly profiled monitor is essential to making any judgements about, or adjustments to, your images.  This may be even more important for black and white where the subtleties of tone are critical.  Also best to keep your viewing environment as neutral as possible.  White walls are better than bright red and even subdued neutral clothing helps because your clothing will be reflected back into the monitor. I usually wear a gray or black shirt or sweatshirt when I’m adjusting images.
8.    Train your brain for black and white by comparing the same images in both black and white and color.  Most photo software lets you go back and forth between images or look at them side-by-side.  A good way to teach yourself how to visualize in black and white is to look at the same image both ways.  Do this with as many images as you can.  I would include images that you initially intended to be black and white as well as those that were not intended that way.  Sometimes you will discover great black and white images that weren’t shot with that purpose.  More importantly it will ultimately help you be able to look at a color scene in the world and visualize it as a black and white image.

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9.    Crop your image before doing adjustments to it.  If you’re looking at a lot of extraneous information that will be cropped out eventually anyway, you don’t want it to influence your adjustments to the image (which it will if you leave it there). Our eyes and brains look at things relative to what’s around it- so don’t let irrelevant information get in the way of fine tuning your image.
10.    Before converting your color image to black and white make it a bit gaudy.  By this I mean make your image more contrasty and saturated than you would if the final image were to be in color.  Monochrome images are about the contrasts of tones and I’ve found that by exaggerating the contrast in color you end up with a better starting point when you convert to black and white.  This may mean using both contrast and saturation related controls in your software.

Successful black and white photography is a combination of both technical and artistic elements. Good camera equipment and software is only a starting point.  I hope that these tips will help those starting out and serve as reminders for those that are more experienced.  Most of all, have fun!

Joel Wolfson is a photographer/instructor for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops
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From Real to Surreal in 10 Steps

Author: Joel Wolfson

Low Tide Dogs 500px_WM
Normally I go to great lengths to capture and present my subject as I saw it. My approach is based on realism when communicating the experience; whether the awe of a beautiful landscape, the intrigue of ancient architecture, or conveying the essence of a person in a portrait.

What happens if you take this concept to more of an extreme and go beyond realism? I’ll show you how I did this surreal fantasy image. It started as a photo of my two dogs exploring tide pools on their first ever visit to the ocean (above.)

It took 10 steps using Lightroom, Photoshop, and two Topaz plugins: ReStyle and Glow, to create the image below. The beauty of these 2 plug-ins is they have so many presets from which to choose. So if you haven’t learned the plugin yet, you can basically try push-button effects until you find one that fits your image.

When I am with Gypsy 500px

Here are the steps I used to create it

1. RAW is blah.
I start in Lightroom and adjust the RAW file to bring it back to a natural state as you see in the first image above. For those not accustomed to working with RAW files, the images come out of the camera looking somewhat flat and require some adjustments to make them look more like the original scene. Typically they require some increase in contrast and/or clarity, a bit of saturation, and of course, capture sharpening. These everyday tasks can also be done in Photoshop and/or with plugins such as Topaz’s Clarity and Detail.

2. Photoshop After bringing the adjusted image into Photoshop I duplicate the Background layer (Cmd-J/Cntl-J). I relabel the layer “ReStyle.” I always label my layers with something that indicates what I did with it, so I know if I need to go back to a particular layer and change it or just want to remember what I did. I make sure to select that layer and go up to my Filter menu and pull down to Topaz Labs > Topaz ReStyle launching me into the ReStyle plugin.

3. ReStyle In ReStyle I click on the Night collection in the upper left and choose the preset Electric Blue Lights, click OK in the lower right and that saves the preset back into the layer in Photoshop, yielding this:

Low Tide Dogs

4. Layer mask
I make sure my “ReStyle” layer is selected. I create a mask in this layer by going up to the Layer menu and pull down to Layer Mask > Reveal All (or simply click on the Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers palette.) I select the layer mask by clicking on it and then select the brush from the tool palette, choosing pure black as my foreground color (also in the tools palette.) With the brush selected I change the opacity (top left) to 30 percent and lighten the background rocks by painting the brush in those areas. The mask looks like this:

Low Tide Dogs Step 4 mask_WM

And now the image in this layer with the masking looks like this:

Low Tide Dogs

5. Merged layer for Glow Because I want the net effect of what I’ve done to be the basis for using my next plugin, Glow, I make sure this layer is selected, and then hold down the Option key while selecting Merge Visible under the Layer menu. This creates a duplicate layer from the stack below it. I relabel this layer “Glow.”

6. Glow using blending mode
Once I’m in the Glow plugin I go to the drop-down menu in the upper right and select the Neon category of presets. I choose the Natural Neon III preset and the image first looks like this:

Low Tide Dogs Step 6 Glow-NNIII_WM

Then, before clicking OK and leaving Glow, I go to the bottom left to the Blend Mode pull-down and choose the Screen blending mode which has an overall effect of making the image lighter like this:

Low Tide Dogs Step 6 Glow-NNIII-BlendScreen_WM

7. Layer mask in Photoshop
Although I like the look of the colored electrical charges in some of the photo, it’s a little too overpowering in the background rocks and tends to distract one from the main point of interest. So I create a mask in this layer and brush out the effect on everything but the rocks just behind the dogs. This time I have set the brush for 100 percent opacity. The resulting mask looks like this:

Low Tide Dogs Step 7 Glow-NNIII_Rocks-mask_WM

And the resulting masked image in this layer looks like this:

Low Tide Dogs Step 7 Glow-NNIII_Rocks_WM

8. Preparing for a trip to Glow
With the rocks back to a pre-Glow state they don’t fit the rest of the image so I bring them back into Glow and use the same effect as before but will ultimately make it much more subtle once I get it back into Photoshop in the last step. For now, like in step 5, I use the Option (Alt on PC) Merge Visible combination to duplicate the layer including the masking I just did. I relabel it “Glow- background” and launch into the Glow plug-in again.

9. Glow plugin for the background
Once again I choose the Neon category and select Neon Natural III but his time I leave it in the default Blend Mode of Normal. It doesn’t look much like what I have in mind but all I’m looking to do here is to use only the colors from the effect in Glow so I can make the background rocks fit in better with the rest of the scene. I have to mentally block out everything except the color in the background rocks. I click OK in Glow and am back in Photoshop with the image in my “Glow- background” layer looking like this:

Low Tide Dogs Step 9 Glow-NNIII_Rocks_WM

10. Blending mode…mask…final image
The way I accomplish my task is two-fold: First I go to the pull-down menu in the layer palette just to the left of Opacity and change the blending mode in this layer to Color. As the name implies it only reveals the color information without all the neon effects. You might ask why I don’t use the blending mode in the Glow plug-in? The simple answer is that there isn’t a Color blending mode in the plug-in. But even if there were I would still do it in Photoshop because there are several layers and masks beneath this one that affect it (when you’re in Glow the blending mode is only affected by the base image with which you came into Glow). Here’s the image after changing the blending mode to Color:

Low Tide Dogs

Secondly I create a mask and use the brush tool (similar to Step 7) and mask out everything but the background rocks because that’s all I want to add with this layer. Here’s the mask:

Low Tide Dogs Step 10 BlendModeColor_Mask_WM

And Voila! Here’s my final image:

When I am with Gypsy 500px

Behind the image- a personal note
I titled this image “When I Am With Gypsy.” The dog in the foreground dipping her paw in the tide pool is Gypsy. She and Astro (the one behind her), were both rescues and the closest of friends. In people terms they adored each other and did everything together. Gypsy passed away a little over two years ago at the ripe old age of 15. Astro will be 15 in July and is showing her age. So the meaning of the title is a double one. It can bring tears to my eyes when I look at it.

For more examples and a step-by-step video of additional images see the expanded version on Joel Wolfson’s blog.

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Joel is an instructor for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.