A Strong Impression

By Mark

Every once in a while I bemoan that I have no drawing or painting talent at all.  One of the things about Photoshop and all of the available plug-ins that add to the fun are the creative tools which can help anyone overcome their own natural artistic limitations through the application of math and technology.  

Photoshop used to have a lot more “artistic” filters included including the “oil painting” one.  For a couple of releases they removed it, but they have brought it back. I think it has fairly limited tools. 

I recently had the opportunity, thanks to a loyalty coupon to get a copy of Topaz Impression.  Topaz makes some good software, but I have never purchased the whole set, because between the Nik Google collection and the OnOne software they had everything covered.  Impression is intended to convert images into drawings, sketches and paintings.  It works from Lightroom, Photoshop and as a stand-alone application. 

I’m really just starting to play with it, but have found it pretty easy to use.   The Menu has two parts, some starting presets which are grouped according to the various art forms you are trying to emulate and a panel where you can create your own effects.  

I’ve always loved impressionist paintings so naturally I started there.  I had the chance to shoot in Monet’s Garden in Argenteuil at his lily pond.  

France-4-192.jpg

Topaz has presets recreating the styles of many artists including Monet.  They even give you the option of his earlier and later periods.  

I tried different effects on the same image so you can see the range of options.  I used the later Monet, Renoir and Cezanne and you can really see the changes from picture to picture.  

 Base Photo

Base Photo

 Monet 2

Monet 2

 Renoir

Renoir

 Cezanne

Cezanne

The software also allows you to apply texture effects like different types of canvas, wood or brick, but I haven’t really explored those yet.  You also can mask out the effect from various areas of your photo directly.  Of course if you open the image from Photoshop, and create a new layer first, you can apply more complex layer masks.

So far, the software has been fun to use and provides some pathways to overcome my inability to draw anything beyond stick figures.    

A Gorge-ous Hike

By Mark

While we were at the Homestead Resort, one of the other fun activities we went on was their Cascades Gorge Hike.  There is a unique rain forest area nearby, which the resort also owns.   We were very fortunate, in that it rained all night and only stopped an hour before our group was scheduled to go out, which meant that we had a relatively small group.  Each hike is led by a naturalist and professional cat herder.  We were very fortunate to get Brian La Fountain as our guide and master level bad joke teller.   His puns, Sarah said in amazement are worse than mine.   He has been doing this for 30 years and you can tell totally loves his job.   You can read a bit more about him here; http://bit.ly/1Yxtlhy.

Anyway, the hike goes past 12 beautiful small waterfalls along its three mile path.  Each cascade has a very unique look.  This blog is about how I tried to process the images to capture what I saw there. 

When you go out chasing waterfalls, you have some key choices to make.  Are you trying to capture the energy of the rushing water, or are you trying to show the silkiness of the water that comes with the passage of time?  Normally, I shoot with my camera on Aperture priority.  I like choosing what elements of my image are going to be in the sharpest focus and then letting the camera figure out the right shutter speed to deliver that.   Waterfalls, like sports are best shot in Shutter priority mode.  You decide how much of the activity you want to freeze.   The longer the exposure, the smoother the water appears.  Since we were on a group hike, I didn’t have the luxury to really stay and linger, so I couldn’t do any true “long” exposures.   

I’m going to walk through three representative images from the hike.  I processed each of them slightly differently to try and experiment a bit.  Each image was initially processed in LR, but then sent them all over to Photoshop were I took slightly different approaches towards finishing each one.  

 Image 213 Initial

Image 213 Initial

Image 213 wasn’t slow enough to get the really silky water, but also not crisp enough to capture the spray.   After opening the image in Photoshop, I used Nik Perfect Effects and applied the Dynamic contrast filter.  That filter made the image look too “crunchy”, so I reduced the opacity of that layer down to about 75 percent which made it look more natural.  I then returned it to LR and used the brush adjustment tool only on the water.  I applied negative Highlights and fairly strong De-haze and Clarity along the path of the waterfall.  I finished the image by applying a slight edge vignette to help draw the viewer’s eye towards the now visible details.

 Image 213 Final

Image 213 Final

For image 218 I went strictly old school Photoshop, using a combination of luminosity masks and targeted adjustment levels.  

 Image 218 Initial

Image 218 Initial

Under the Channels palette, I made copies of the blue and Green Channels and then made them into a selection.  

That creates a mask for applying a curves adjustment layer.  For each channel I applied the same method.  First I used the eye droppers on the side of the Curves panel to set the black and white points for the image.  I then dragged the shadows curve downward on the left and slightly raised the highlights into a gentle “S” which increased the contrast on both sides of the scale.

I repeated this for the blue Channel as well.  Finally I added a Vibrance adjustment layer to make the greens “pop” just a bit more. 

 Layers Palette

Layers Palette

 218 Final Image

218 Final Image

For image 228, I liked the silkiness, but thought the background was pretty blah.  Again I used the Nik Perfect Effects filters starting with the Dynamic Contrast, this time though I added a slight bit of Tonal Contrast as well to brighten and sharpen the overall image.   

 228 Initial

228 Initial

You have to be careful, because some of those effects can rapidly take your image to cartoon land.  Because the Nik tools get added as a separate layer in PS, you have the option of using the masking tools on top of the effects.  The Dynamic contrast added too much detail into the water and so this time I used very soft brush set with about 10% flow and slowly painted out about half of the filter’s impact over the water.  Exactly the reverse of what I did on the very first image. 

 228 Final

228 Final

The final images show how you can use the tools available to get the image you shot in your mind, and that there is always more than one way to accomplish an effect.   

Perfectly Clear for Landscapes

By Mark

Last week I wrote about how much I like this plug in for quickly and effectively editing portraits.  It also has settings for Landscapes and for fixing dark images.

 With just basic Lightroom adjustments

With just basic Lightroom adjustments

 With Perfectly Clear applied

With Perfectly Clear applied

I have to say that I don’t think it is quite as good on those as it is on people.   The top level menu is exactly the same.

The presets only impact the top part of the adjustment menu.

They pump up the vibrancy and detail and they certainly have a visible impact as can be seen from this side by side comparison. 

I like the effect on the sky and clouds, but am not thrilled with the color changes in the foreground.

The fix dark images preset actually does a nice job in brightening up those shadow areas while managing the noise levels those areas create. I think that it adds a strange glow however to the trees.  

Ireland3-259.jpg
Ireland3-259-Edit.jpg

Applying it to this nice water and castle crisped up the details and made both the sky and lake much more vibrant, but did nothing really special. 

Ireland3-288.jpg
Ireland3-288-Edit.jpg

I understand that the next update to the software plans on making significant improvements to the non-portrait features, so I am not giving up on them yet.  It’s just not going to displace some of the other tools in my bag of tricks for landscapes.  

Let me be Perfectly Clear

By Mark

 

A thousand years ago, last fall, we attended the Kelby training in DC. We had the chance to visit with Levi Sim and Rich Harrington from Photofocus who were demonstrating their new editing app. Perfectly Clear.  Originally developed to automate and speed up batch processing of photo shoots, they have released it as both as a stand-alone program and as plug-ins for Lightroom and Photoshop. The interfaces are very different from either program and are intended to be much more user friendly.

I've been very impressed at how well the results work and have been reprocessing some of my favorite portraits.  I've always liked the way that OnOne’s Perfect Portrait worked, but in some cases it was a bit over processed and looked too “retouched”.  So far, I've found it easier to get more subtle results much more quickly and in far less time.  Here are the “After “and “Before” images of what I was able to do to a photo of my sister.   

These adjustments took less than 2 minutes of work. 

The user interface is much simpler and the Presets Panel is really the easiest place to start. 

 They have 2 beginning points for people, Beautify and Beautify+.  Since I’m focusing on portraits for this one; this is what they look like when they are applied.   

 Beautify

Beautify

 Beautify+   Looks like a bit too much Botox

Beautify+   Looks like a bit too much Botox

You can tell that Beautify Plus really smooths out the skin, perhaps just a bit too much.

Luckily there is a very easy to use adjustment panel.  

The panel gives you precise control over most of the attributes you are trying to adjust. 

In the “Portrait”  sub-panel you can adjust just how smooth you want the skin to appear, how white you want the teeth to be and it will help you find and treat any pimples or other blemishes.

Face slimming is a smarter and much more controlled way to basically use the PS liquefy filter.  It subtly and realistically narrows the facial features.  It can counteract both camera induced and any natural jowls.

 Jawline and collar subtly adjusted

Jawline and collar subtly adjusted

The “Eye” panel brightens the eyes and even fixes the Dark Circles and lines around the eyes. 

 Dark Circles effect at 0, or off

Dark Circles effect at 0, or off

 Voila--No more circles

Voila--No more circles

The “eye enlarge” helps achieve the popular model effect where bigger eyes are considered prettier.   You can easily go too far.

The SW also automates adding in a “catchlight” into your subjects eyes.   This gives them that extra “pop”, that you see in most magazine shots.

One of the things that make Perfectly Clear stand out is something you may not have noticed in these brief descriptions.  Nowhere along the way are you required to find and carefully select any of these features.   They have designed the algorithms to automatically and very accurately find them and only apply the effects in those areas.   Once you have made adjustments that suit you and your style, then you can save them as your own preset.   The software lets you batch process lots of images in the background, which can really speed up your workflow.     Next time, we will look at the other tools for working on landscapes and the tools for working on really dark images.