Topaz ReMask and Layers

What a gorgeous day outside!! I would really love to be out there with my camera, but since I’m technically still employed for the next two weeks, and therefore have to stay close to my workspace, I decided to spend some time practicing on some photo editing and processing skills. I’m still getting acquainted with my new Wacom Intuos tablet,and I also wanted to get more practice with masking and layers.

I decided to work on this image that I took this past weekend in downtown Tupelo. It’s some sort of sculpture that’s supposed to celebrate water. (I really should pay more attention to what I’m shooting!). Anyway, when I was taking the photo, there were several things going through my mind:

  • I wanted to catch the rising sun coming through the opening at the top of the sculpture.
  • I wanted that sunburst effect, so I used a narrower aperture (f/13) than I would have normally used.
  • I was more concerned about the exposure on the sculpture than on the sky, even though I knew that the sky would be blown out.
  • I forgot to check the ISO setting when I was setting up this shot, but it was at ISO 500, and the exposure time was 1/200 sec.

So here is the raw file (saved as a JPEG):


I got the starburst that I wanted, along with some cool green lens flare. And as expected, the sky was blown out and the sculpture itself is underexposed.

So I thought this would be a good candidate to use for practicing with masking and layers.

The first thing I did in Lightroom was to straighten the image slightly so that the base of the sculpture was more horizontal. (Evidently I can’t hold my camera straight to save my life!). I then exported the image to Photoshop.

Once in Photoshop I took the following steps (as best I can remember):

  • Duplicated the Background layer.
  • On the duplicated layer, I opened Topaz ReMask, and created a mask using only the sculpture portion of the photo. I actually did this step about four or five times, trying to get it right.
  • Next, I duplicated the Background layer again, and on this new layer, I again went to Topaz ReMask and created a mask of everything EXCEPT the sculpture (the sky and the foliage).
  • Back in Photoshop, for the SKY mask layer, I applied Gaussian blur, a brightness/contrast adjustment layer, and a curves layer. This helped bring back some details in the sky and the trees.
  • For the SCULPTURE mask layer, I used the Topaz Clarity filter to brighten the color, exposure and details.

And here is the final result (saved for the web, so it’s only 800 pixels tall, but you get the point):


I’m pretty pleased with it, considering it’s my first real attempt at something this complicated. I’ll have to say that using the Wacom tablet made it a lot easier to make the mask selection, but I’m still trying to figure out all the hand gestures that the tablet recognizes when used like a touchpad. It gets pretty confusing when suddenly the image zooms in or out and I have no clue what I just did.

Pretty fun!! Can’t wait to try more!

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Weekly One-Word Challenge – Broken

Hooray, I am officially caught up with my weekly one-word challenges! The word for the week of March 9, 2015 was “broken”. And after several days of rain, the sun finally came out today, just in time for me to meet the deadline to get some shooting done for this challenge.

I did all my shooting between 7:30 and 9:30 a.m., hoping to catch some good light. My morning started off with a slight hiccup. I drove about five minutes from my house, parked my car, got out and fired up my camera, just to find that my battery was depleted. I could have kicked myself for not checking it before I left home. Fortunately, I had a second battery completely charged and ready to go, so I drove home, swapped them out, and then headed back downtown. Not that far to drive, but it did waste a little bit of that early morning golden hour.

Today I used my Nikon D700 with the 24-84mm Nikkor lens. I’m learning to be more cognizant of my f-stops, ISO, shutter speeds and depth-of-field, rather than just concentrating on composition.

I took quite a few images, processed them in Lightroom and Photoshop, using Topaz filters. I’ve uploaded the ones I liked best to my Flickr account. Here are my favorites from this morning, with a little commentary:

These first three are a little urbex from a partially abandoned warehouse near the railroad tracks. The broken windows fit the theme perfectly. I had to do some perspective adjustments to account for the camera tilt, but all in all, I’m happy with these:




These next two are from an alley in downtown. If you’ve been following along, you’ll recognize the vase from an earlier challenge when I shot it for the word “Open”. In keeping with the rules of the challenge (photos must be shot in the appropriate week timeframe), I re-shot it and processed it differently today to represent “broken”. The photo of the toilet is self-explanatory.



This next image is a whiskey and wine bar in downtown Tupelo. No, the bar is not broken, but the old original lettering at the top of the building seems to be missing something.


The next image is a statue on the lawn of the Lee County Courthouse, erected in 1908 by the Tupelo Woman’s Christian Temperance Union to commemorate the statewide prohibition of alcohol. Not sure when the angel lost her hand, but Prohibition was definitely broken.


Next is a bicycle frame lying in a neighbor’s yard. Those boys are tough on their toys.


Finally, a little something different. Almost a year ago, on April 28, 2014, Tupelo was hit by an E3 tornado, which left a wide path of damage and destruction (but fortunately only slight injuries to people). While the recovery still continues, these bare trees are stark reminders of what happened that day. The trunks are starting to push out new twigs and branches, so even though they were “broken” last year, their recovery mirrors the spirit of Tupelo as businesses, churches and homeowners rebuild for the future.


While I was out shooting this morning, I did take some other shots that were not related to the weekly challenge. I’ll be sharing those separately.

So now, I’m ready for next week’s challenge, which is the word “Ice”. So ironic that we had the ice storm week before last, and now the weather is starting to warm up. Not sure what I’ll shoot for “ice”, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something!

Jerome – The Blacksmi

I seem to have finally resolved all my technical issues with my monitor and software so that I can consistently get good results from my processing. And I’m starting to get my mojo back, thanks to joining a photography club and also setting up a weekly challenge for myself.

So I’ve started going back through some of my old raw images, looking for new material to play around with while I teach myself some of the features and hidden (to me) tricks of PaintShop Pro X7, Topaz plug-ins, and Lightroom. I’ve been watching quite a few YouTube video tutorials, as well as sitting in on live webcasts from Topaz for their products.

Today I pulled out some brackets from our 2011 weekend trip to Jerome, Arizona, where we toured the old Gold King Mine. It’s a veritable treasure trove of photo ops, and I highly recommend that you put it on your photography bucket list.

I processed this image first in Photomatix Pro 4.2 to merge the three brackets into an HDR image. I then did some further editing in Paintshop Pro X7, using some of the tips I’d seen on some YouTube videos today. For instance, I learned that the new X7 version of PPS has the “Magic Eraser” tool, which is a content-aware tool for removing things like dust and flare spots quickly and easily. It’s much easier than the “Object Remover” tool that I had been using. It really made a difference in cleaning up this image!


I really like this image, although I still might go back and try to remove that power line–it just seems to mock me!!

Oh, yeah, I also spent a little money online this week to pick up some other things that I’ve been putting off purchasing for my photography habit. I finally bought the cleaning solution and swabs to clean the sensor on my Nikon D700–so tired of seeing the spots in the sky on all my landscape shots. And this week I used my last bonus from work to order a Wacom tablet to make some of the editing tasks easier–things like fine selections for masks, for instance. I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on that tablet and learning how to use it.

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Getting Ready to Show

Last year I joined a local photography club, Southern Light Photography, here in Tupelo to meet some other people who share my interest in this art form, and who might help inspire me to take more photos and improve my work. The club is preparing to do our first show of 2015, which will be held at the Elvis Presley Birthplace during the entire month of March.

We’re each supposed to choose up to four photos for the show, get them printed at least 11×14, and then have them framed in a standard gallery format (black frame with white mat). So for the past couple of weeks I’ve been going through all my old shots, trying to decide which ones I wanted to prepare for the show. Since printing and framing costs can get expensive, I want to be picky about what I select.

In the process of reviewing the photos, I kept noticing that my images always looked much more saturated in Paint Shop Pro than they did when viewed in any other application. It was driving me batty.  I used my Spyder calibration tool and recalibrated the monitor, but that did not solve the problem. Every time I processed a photo in Paint Shop Pro, it looked perfect…but then when I viewed the finished image in any other application it would look washed out and dull. So, I was afraid to get anything printed, as I didn’t know which version would be likely to come back from the lab.

Finally, I sent off some test prints to MPIX, and when they returned it was obvious that the color rendering in Paint Shop Pro was off. The prints matched the more muted versions that I saw in the other applications. I did some more research and also posted a question in the Corel user forum. I finally got a response today, and it confirmed what I had begun to suspect–the monitor calibration process was the culprit (sort of)!

When I calibrate the monitor with my Spyder, it allows me to save the calibration profile, which is then loaded up each time the computer fires up. All the other applications were using this new profile, but Paint Shop Pro was not. I had to go into the color management menu and manually change the setting for the color profile to the new one that was created when the monitor was last calibrated. After I did that, the image looked consistent with what I was seeing in other applications (i.e. Microsoft Image Viewer, Topaz, Lightroom). Yes, I said Lightroom. At one point I got so frustrated that I actually downloaded a trial version of Lightroom to see if it rendered the colors the same as Paint Shop Pro, but it rendered them in the more muted version like the other applications.

So, now that I got the settings corrected in PSP, I was able to do some quick edits on a couple more photos and then I made my final selection for the ones that I’m going to put in the gallery show. I ordered 12×18 prints of each from MPIX tonight, using a 50% off promo code. Once I get the prints in, I’ll decide if I’m going to have all four framed.


I’m still struggling with getting motivated to shoot anything new. I’m stuck in the house all day for work, and it’s dark and cold by the time the workday ends. But I’ve got to get my shots done for my first weekly challenge, so today I at least put my camera battery on the charger to get ready. One step at a time. 🙂

Capt Johnny in Biloxi

I’m still going through the photos that I took on our recent trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

This one is really a cliche photo, but I still enjoyed processing it.  Everyone who goes to the coast gets a picture of shrimp boats with the fishermen mending their nets in the evening.  I liked the color version of it, but I was drawn more to the black-and-white image.  I wanted the focus to be more on the lines and shapes of the boats, rigging and the people than on the blue and white of the boat.

Capt Johnny

This image was shot with the Nikon D700 and the 24-85mm Nikkor lens.  It was processed in PaintShop Pro X7, using Topaz DeNoise for a little cleanup.  I had to also clean up the sky in the image because I still haven’t had the sensor cleaned in my camera.  That’s my next DIY project.

 I’m going to my second meeting of the Southern Light Photography Club tomorrow night.  They’ve asked us to bring a few photos on flash drives to do a show-and-tell for critique.  This should be fun!  I’m taking this one, this one and this one.

Just want to say “Welcome” to my new followers!  Hope you enjoy the images, and I appreciate your interest!

Testing the New Glass

Testing the New Glass

It’s been awhile since I’ve been excited about shooting anything.  But my nephew is getting married this weekend, and I was asked to shoot some pictures at the reception.  I was happy to do it, but wasn’t happy with the equipment that I have for an occasion like this.  I’ve been wanting a 24-85mm, 2.8 lens for awhile now, and thought about renting one for the weekend.  But I recently got a little bonus at work, so I decided to splurge and get the lens that I’ve really had my heart set on.

And then there was the issue of the flash.  I have a Speedlight SB-700, but I’ve never taken the time to really learn how to use it.  This seems like the perfect time to get better acquainted with that piece of equipment.

So, the new lens arrived yesterday, and for the past two evenings I’ve been prowling around the house, shooting anything that doesn’t hide from me.  And I’m LOVING this lens.  Not only does it give me beautiful DOF, it also has a macro setting that lets me get up really close to things–I’m thinking the wedding cake–for some nice detailed shots.  And I’m finally getting comfortable with the flash, although I still have a long way to go to learn all about lighting.  I’m not trying any fancy off-camera flash–just the hot-shoe mount with the head tilted up to the ceiling.

So, here are some of the test shots that I’ve taken.  These are all straight out of the camera, shot in “fine” JPG mode.  I used aperture-priority with shutter speed of 1/60, and let the camera figure out the ISO.  The D700 is a great low-light camera, so I’m not worried about ISO with this setup.

Now, I’m really excited about shooting again!!  Hopefully this will be the start of a renaissance!!







60 Minute Photo Challenge

Lately I’ve been a little short on inspiration and ideas for doing any shooting.  I was starting to lose the excitement of just going out with the camera and looking for interesting subjects to photograph.  Instead, I was all caught up in the trap of trying to get the “perfect” shot, and getting all hung up on the technical details of F-stops and exposure metering and depth of field.  I just wasn’t having fun with it any more.

I’m a subscriber to the AdoramaTV channel on YouTube.  They post some excellent instructional videos for photographers, both amateur and professional.  The guy who presents the videos, Mark Wallace, works here in the Valley, so it’s kind of cool to see the places here in the Phoenix area where he’s filming his videos.  Not only are the photography tips great, but I get free location tips just by watching where he’s shooting.

Last week, Mark posted a video about his “60 Minute Photo Challenge“.  He talked about the importance of just getting out there and shooting in order to develop your skills, and he recommended giving yourself some sort of general subject (he used “round” and “red”), and then give yourself 60 minutes to shoot everything you see that fits that subject.  No time to worry about tripods, lighting, props….just take the camera and shoot.

I thought that was a great idea, and I actually made a list of subjects that I plan to use in the coming months when I need a kick in the pants.

Now Mark is posting a weekly challenge on Fridays (just follow his Twitter feed at @jmarkwallace to join in!), and this weekend’s challenge was “Shadows and Reflections”.  Since we got an early release from work today for the Memorial Day weekend, I picked up my camera with my 50mm prime lens, and headed to downtown Glendale to see what I could capture.

I had a blast!  I set my watch to make sure I stayed within the 60-minute time frame, and then I just started walking down the sidewalk, looking for shadows and reflections that looked interesting.  It was about 3PM when I got started, and normally that’s a horrible time of day to shoot here in Arizona because of the harsh shadows cast by the glaring sun.  But given the subject of today’s challenge, it was a perfect fit.

I haven’t used the 50mm prime very much, but I really enjoyed playing with it today.  I did put a polarizer on the lens to give me a little more flexibility with shutter speeds (it was REALLY bright out there), but I didn’t fiddle with it very much.

Street Reflections on Antiques

I got some great reflections on the shop windows around the square. I like the one above with the antiques in the shop window, and the traffic from the street being reflected on top of it. Kind of a juxtaposition of old and new that I thought was cool.

I found lots of shadows from the mid-afternoon sun, and the ones cast by the park benches and the overhead gazebo by the police station were among my favorites:

Shadows in Squares

When I returned to the parking garage, I noticed all the cool reflections in the windows of the building next-door. I climbed the stairs on the outside of the parking garage and got shots from several different angles. This one became a self-portrait, and I think it looks even better in black-and-white:

Self-Portrait in Building Reflection

I took about 75 photos in the 60 minutes I was out there, and of course there were quite a few duds. I didn’t spend a huge amount of time processing any of them, but I did find nine (including the three above) that I wound up submitting to the challenge. You can see the entire set on my Flickr page–the set is named “Shadows and Reflections – 60MinPhotoChallenge“.  I used Paint Shop Photo Pro X3, along with Topaz Adjust, for all my processing.

So, in only one hour (plus processing time), I got a little of my mojo back–and it feels great. Can’t wait for the next challenge!

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A Little Something Different – Studio Shots

My hubby has been waiting patiently for me to spend some time taking photos of the handmade silver jewelry and lapidary work that he sells on his Etsy site ( So last weekend, we watched a few YouTube videos on how to set up an inexpensive home studio and we put something together on the dining room table.

We bought a florescent light fixture that had a square white acrylic cover, and Andy wired it to take a wall plug. We bought two inexpensive shop light fixtures on clamps, and Andy rigged up some wooden stands to attach lights to, so we could move them up, down and around. We bought some white foamboard, some white fabric to use as diffusers, and we put together a little bracket strung with fishing line to hang earrings on.

Of course we mounted the camera on the tripod and used a cable release.  I shot all the jewelry with the Nikon D5000 and the 18-55mm kit lens.  I don’t own a macro lens, but I’m strongly considering renting one for the next time we shoot jewelry. (Note: The photos of the studio setup were taken with my Blackberry–not too bad, really!).

We spent about five hours experimenting and shooting, and I’ve started processing some of the shots for website already.  The trickiest part is getting the color corrected so that the color of the stones is as accurate as possible.  When these things are listed as sale items, we can’t afford to get all creative with the color–they need to match the real thing.

We found a lot of things that we’ll change–in fact, we’ve already purchased a couple sheets of acrylic (translucent white and opaque black) to replace the light fixture acrylic which wasn’t opaque enough. But all in all, we got some images that are much better than the ones he had been using on his site.

Here are a few examples–note that they are not in the highest resolution since they had to fit the size requirements of his website:

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Really late post tonight, but I wanted to get this one out there.

I took this shot a couple of weeks ago on our light rail photo crawl. It’s a candid that I took with my 28-300mm zoom lens at one of the train stops. I love the facial expressions, but I wasn’t all that excited about the background.

So tonight I ran it through my usual workflow…Topaz Adjust (popped the details), DeNoise, then back into Paintshop Photo Pro X3 for some adjustment layers (levels and saturation), until I got an image that I was almost satisfied with. Almost, but not quite. The more I looked at it, the more I decided that the color was actually distracting from the facial expressions. So I decided to desaturate it, and go with black and white.

Since I had already popped the details in Topaz and saturated the colors earlier, the black and white seemed to come out better than any that I’ve tried previously. Maybe a new wrinkle in the workflow?

Anyway, here’s “Take-out”:

Shot with a Nikon D700, 28-300mm zoom @ 300mm, F/9, 1/320s, ISO 200

I went to the AZ Photographers Group happy hour and photo shoot at the Vintage Lounge in Tempe tonight. They had a small shooting area set up, and a couple of local models were available for us to photograph using a couple of strobe lights that were set up. I still don’t have a transceiver to trigger flashes and strobes remotely, so I was using my flash on-camera. I wasn’t real excited about any of the shots that I took, but it was fun and educational to see how it’s done and to compare notes on equipment.

Finance and Law

When we did our Light Rail Photo Crawl a couple of weekends ago, we stopped for lunch in downtown Phoenix.  It was a bright, cloudless noontime, which can create some harsh lighting conditions for photography.  But on the other hand, you get these brilliant blue skies that contrast so beautifully against the neutral-colored architecture.

I found this shot of the Wells Fargo building looming over the historic Maricopa County Courthouse building to be one of my favorites from the day’s collection.  The juxtaposition of the old and new architectural styles, as well as the deeper symbolism of the financial sector having such an influence over the justice system…well, that’s a topic for a different blog.

I’ll just stick to the photography:

Finance and Law
Single image shot with my Nikon D700, 28-300mm zoom lens @70mm, F/11, 1/500s, ISO 200

I’ve got a busy weekend of shooting ahead if all goes as planned. Tomorrow night I’m joining some other members of the AZ Photographers Group for a Happy Hour/Open Shoot at Vintage Lounge in Tempe, AZ. On Saturday morning, I’m planning to visit the annual quilt auction being held at the Glencroft Retirement Center, where some of the most beautiful handcrafted quilts are sold as a fund-raising activity. On Sunday evening, I’m doing another complimentary lifestyle portrait session with someone who kindly volunteered to let me practice on them.

I’m still trying to shoot as much as possible, and as many different subjects as possible, to develop my skills and discover my niche. Thank god I don’t have to pay for film processing!

If you like my work, please subscribe to this blog and feel free to offer comments. You can also find me on Facebook at ZannWalker Photography, and you can follow me on Twitter @suzanne_hight.